Jose Ramirez: The Fresno Franchise
Last weekend, while he was watching boxing from his home in Southern California, something tickled the fancy of longtime observer Larry Merchant (who still very much keeps tabs on the sport he covered with distinction for so long). And it wasn’t a broadcast on his old network HBO but the fights on ESPN from the Save Mart Arena in Fresno, California.
In front of 13,838 partisans, Jose Ramirez stopped Mike Reed in two rounds, in what could be considered a bit of a statement victory.
During his guest appearance on “The Next Round” podcast, this Monday, Merchant explained, “He’s a throwback fighter; it was a throwback event, a medium-sized city with its own hero. Maybe he’s not good enough to be a world-class champion or a superstar but he touched a nerve of the people in his community.
“It just reminded me of way back in the day when there were neighborhoods and towns, small-city champions and they went on and some of them became great men but, in the meantime, he performed. I think we need about 20 more fighters who fight like he does, with his smart, relentless aggression. Again, I don’t know if it translates into world-class stuff. He’s going to to see some fighters that can punch and that can box, as he moves up, and we’ll see how he takes care of them. But, for that one night, I just thought it was a thrilling boxing event.”
This isn’t the first time Ramirez has headlined at the basketball home of the Fresno State Bulldogs. The 25-year-old from nearby Avenal now regularly draws over 10,000 for his events in this region. Much of it due to the hard work put in by his do-it-all adviser Rick Mirigian, who has designs on one day showcasing Ramirez at Bulldog Stadium, the football venue for Fresno State.
There’s no denying that the 2012 U.S. Olympian is a legitimate gate attraction, in fact, one of the leading American-born ticket sellers around currently.
His promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank said, last week, prior to this event, “(Ramirez)’s a draw in the Central Valley in the same way Terence (Crawford) is a draw in Omaha (Nebraska). Every time they fight, you can count on 10,000-plus people, 12,000-plus people to watch them fight, which is, in this day and age, really satisfying.”
The business of boxing is better off when you have fighters who can carry a region or have a hometown base. Throughout the years, Top Rank has been as good as anyone at developing such entities. “Unfortunately with the way boxing is, the way the world is, take some of the other fighters, take (WBO junior lightweight titlist Vasyl) Lomachenko; he doesn’t have a hometown in the United States, although New York, the (Madison Square) Garden tells me that he is going to be be huge for the future of New York, assuming he beats (WBA junior featherweight beltholder Guillermo) Rigondeaux. But there’s no hometown,” said Arum.
(On December 9, Lomachenko-Rigondeaux will be played to a sold-out audience at the Theater of MSG.)
Arum continued, “You have Gilberto Ramirez and he’s from Mazatlan (Mexico,) so we’re going to bring a fight to Mazatlan but there’s no hometown in the United States, so you have to be very fortunate for a guy to have a hometown base in the United States and it generally won’t be in a primary city. Y’ know, it won’t be, for example, in L.A., there’s so many fighters in L.A. that it’s tough for one fighter to have a hometown base in L.A. Same as New York but, in a secondary-sized city, like Omaha or Fresno, it’s possible. It’s possible.”
Fighters from New York or Los Angeles also have to contend with professional sports franchises in the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball, NHL and collegiate programs.
“They’re big cities and the fact that a guy comes from the city is no big deal,” opined Arum. “I mean, that’s pretty much Houston. That’s pretty much Dallas and so forth. The fact that a kid is born in Dallas, well, OK but you get something like Denver, it matters a little bit – it’s a smaller city. We had great success – until we went off the rails – with Mike Alvarado in Denver.”
In their respective regions, Crawford and Ramirez have become franchises in their own right in largely college towns.
Top Rank announced on Tuesday that “Zurdo” Ramirez, the WBO 168-pound titlist, would be headlining a card at the American Bank Center in Corpus Christi, Texas, that will be televised on ESPN. Corpus Christi has a large Mexican-American population and has hosted boxing events in the past.
Back on September 22, Top Rank staged a show in Tucson, Arizona, that served as a homecoming of sorts for WBO featherweight titlist Oscar Valdez and the results were good enough – despite going up against a rare University of Arizona football game on a Friday night – that Arum believes they will return. “Absolutely,” stated Arum, who then added, “Phoenix is only an hour away.”
There was a time when some of these events would land in the desert oasis of Las Vegas but that part of the business has changed over the past several years.
Arum says, “It is not the same; it is very different. You have to remember – and it’s not the popularity of the sport, necessarily – a number of years ago you came to Las Vegas and you ate good and you played on the tables and, then, boxing was a big diversion. Now, as far as the casinos are concerned, especially in a place like Las Vegas, there’s clubs, so many great things to do, that, unless the fight is really special or unless the kid can travel in a lot of hometown people, it’s a very difficult place.”
With the emphatic victory over Reed, Ramirez is now in line to face Amir Imam (who was featured on the undercard, last weekend) for the vacant WBC junior welterweight title. Arum believes that will take place in February back in Fresno.
And should that happen, Merchant will be watching.
“I can’t wait to see him fight again.”
But according to Todd duBoef, the president of Top Rank, what’s really important is how they do in key demographics. For years, there has been this narrative that boxing skews to an older audience.
DuBoef, who has access to the Nielsen numbers, points out that, last weekend, in the 18-to-49 demographic, while HBO had 240,000 viewers, the UFC card, that same evening, had 443,000 and ESPN had 643,000.
And in the 18-to-34 age group, HBO had 94,000, UFC 226,000 and ESPN had 331,000.
While it was a lively scene in Fresno, it was a much more subdued setting at the Nassau Veterans Coliseum, in Long Island, New York, where less than 7,000 fans came out to see middleweight Daniel Jacobs’ debut as Matchroom Boxing’s Eddie Hearn got a dose of reality about the U.S. boxing market.
As already mentioned, Larry Merchant joined Gabriel Montoya and me for the first hour of “The Next Round.”
Yes, if/when Ramirez fights in Fresno, in February, I plan on being there…It was announced that James DeGale will face Caleb Truax on December 9…I just have one question about Gilberto Ramirez’s opponent on February 3, Habib Ahmed: Who the hell is he?!…Hearing that Gary “Spike” O’Sullivan vs. Antoine Douglas could be the co-feature on December 16, on HBO, before Billy Joe Saunders defends his WBO middleweight title against David Lemieux…RIP to noted cutman Rafael Garcia, best known for his work with Floyd Mayweather Jr., who passed away at the age of 88…So the Hurricanes come in at No. 3 in the College Football Playoff rankings. Still plenty of football to be played and Clemson looms on the horizon. Every game from here on out is an elimination game…I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and I tweet (a lot) at twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at instagram.com/steveucnlive and can also be found at tsu.co/steveucnlive.