The cameras are rolling: On Jose Ramirez vs. Amir Imam
NEW YORK – Fighting for the first time in New York City, Fresno, California’s Jose Ramirez notched a spirited 12-round unanimous decision over a game Amir Imam at the newly-named Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden. Though the fight was fairly one-sided, pitched as it was at Ramirez’s aggressive pace, it featured enough back-and-forth action to sustain the boozy, rambunctious demands of a St. Patrick’s Day crowd of 4,672 (many of whom were here for no other reason than to see their Irish compatriot Mick Conlan rack up another win on the undercard). The scores were 115-113, 117-111, and 120-108. With the victory, Ramirez, now 22-0 (16), won the WBC 140-pound belt, which was rendered vacant after former unified champion Terence Crawford moved up a division.
“This is a dream come true for me,” Ramirez said after the fight. “It is an honor to be a world champion. I’m thankful for the talent God gave me. I dedicate this fight to all the immigrants. I fight for them.”
While the age-old rivalry between Top Rank’s Bob Arum and Don King – the most shopworn promotional device in the book – was trotted out ahead of the fight, it was, in the end, a superfluous gimmick. Ramirez-Imam was an honest scrap and it needed neither Arum’s pro-immigration speech nor King’s malapropisms to be so. There were many variables that made the match-up intriguing on its own. Ramirez was still an unknown quantity, whose quick dispatch of Mike Reed in his previous outing offered few suggestions on how he would comport himself in the late rounds against a power-puncher. For his part, Imam, Albany, New York, faced questions about how he would fare against a pressure fighter after his upset TKO loss in 2015, to Adrian Granados, a volume puncher himself.
With a left hand hardwired to land on his opponent’s rib cage and right cheek, Ramirez stormed out of his corner in the opening round and never looked back, repeatedly finding his way inside Imam’s hard but inconsistent jab. And that, in its simplicity, was largely the difference in the fight. Whereas Imam, who falls to 21-2 (18), fought largely off the back foot and was economical with his punches, Ramirez carried out a torrid plan of attack with uninterrupted commitment – the result, no doubt, of countless sessions repeating the jab-straight right-hook combination under the tutelage of Freddie Roach. And all too often, Imam made it easy for Ramirez to conduct his best work by retreating to the ropes, where the Mexican-American could unload with a barrage of punches. After the fight, Imam seemed to acknowledge his indecision in the ring when he said, “I just keep thinking about all the things I should have done.”
There was a telling moment in the first round that depicted Ramirez’s singular mentality. Lunging in without a jab, Ramirez got caught with a sharp, right uppercut from Imam. However as soon as the punch landed, Ramirez answered right back with a left hook that landed cleanly to the head. Credit goes to Imam, who, despite the variety of punches that were landed on him, never went down. And even when it looked as though Imam was out on his feet, he threw enough punches to dissuade Ramirez from closing in on him.
Imam’s best chances of shifting the tide of the fight came in the seventh and eighth rounds, when he was having some success timing Ramirez with pinpoint counters, as the latter barged in. At that point, it also appeared that Ramirez’s punches were beginning to lose some steam. But Imam could never put together a sustained offense for an entire round, much less find a home for his best punch, the straight right hand. So concerned was he with Ramirez’s automatic left that Imam kept his right arm tightly wedded to his chest the entire fight, in effect, barring him from throwing it with any kind of accuracy. And though the placement of that right arm was key to blunting Ramirez’s body shots, it also exposed him up top to Ramirez’s cleaving left hooks. By the 12th round, Imam’s right eye was completely disfigured.
“There was a point in the fight that I said to myself, ‘Jose what are you doing?’” noted Ramirez. “That’s why I caught my second wind and I gave it my all in the championship rounds.”
Throughout the bout, the mostly Irish crowd cheered in support of Ramirez, putting a slight twist on the classic soccer chant, “Olé, Olé, Olé!” with cries of “José, José, José!” But Ramirez is no draw in New York and likely will never be – and yet, it hardly matters. Ramirez, the son of a farmer, has already proven that he is a ticket seller in his hometown of Fresno, a fact bolstered by his recent social activism regarding water issues in the drought-ridden Central Valley. Indeed along with Top Rank stablemate Terence Crawford, Jose Ramirez is one of the few American fighters in the sport who can routinely sell out arenas on the regional level.
Rick Mirigan, Ramirez’s manager and the man credited with developing his charge’s enormous local appeal, believes now is when “the fun starts.”
“I think he showed everybody that he’s ready for the next level,” said Mirigan. “There’s no question he’s a star. He’s sold out seven arena where we live, in Fresno. You saw his trunks; he’s a corporate Fortune 100-endorsed, marketable kind of fighter. He’s action-packed and built for TV.”
Asked if the plan was to bring Ramirez back to New York at least once a year, promoter Bob Arum replied, “Yes, sure but the farmers up in the Central Valley will kill me if they don’t have his first title defense in that area.”
Ramirez is mandated to defend his WBC title against mandatory challenger Regis Prograis, who was also in attendance on Saturday night. Arum hopes to have each fighter take one interim bout before they face off at the end of the year.
Mirigan admitted it was not an easy decision to bring Ramirez over to New York for his title shot, noting that Fresno was, and remains, the number one destination. But after a long discussion with Arum, Mirigan realized that the time slot on ESPN and New York media exposure were all part of “the bigger picture.” Nevertheless, Mirigan does not see Ramirez jumping around cities anytime soon.
“As he gets bigger and the fights get bigger, Vegas is gonna see one; New York will see one,” Mirigan explained. “But obviously I would love for a majority of (Ramirez’s fights) to be in California. Again, I just think if a fighter draws 15,000 people anywhere, if it’s in Antarctica or in New York, etc., that’s just a special thing. There are less than five guys (in boxing) that can assimilate that many people.”
And there are perhaps just as few fighters who employ a fan-friendly style, conducive to TV. After months of less-than-competitive matchmaking, Top Rank/ESPN aired their most compelling fight to date two weeks ago, a gutsy barnburner between WBO featherweight beltholder Oscar Valdez and Scott Quigg. Fights like that will determine how far Top Rank goes with ESPN. Fortunately for them, they have fighters in Valdez and Ramirez, who do not ever need to be reminded that the cameras are rolling.