Jose Ramirez: ‘When I step in the ring, I’m fighting for more than myself’
Tonight on ESPN (8:00 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT), Jose Ramirez will take on Amir Imam for the vacant WBC junior welterweight title in the first step toward clearing up a division vacated by an undisputed champion. Terence Crawford’s move to welterweight left all the four major titles vacant and, after Sergey Lipinets lost the IBF title to the weight class vacillator Mikey Garcia, tonight’s winner will be atop a division left wide-open for the taking.
At a media workout held at the Legendz Boxing Gym, in Norwalk, California, two weeks ago, Ramirez spoke with UCNLive.com ahead of a fight he’s been eying his entire life.
“For me, the WBC (title) is what I saw myself getting,” Ramirez said. “When MySpace came around, when I was in high school, I posted the WBC belt all over my page. It’s the belt I dreamed of, growing up. It’s a belt that everybody knows about and a lot of great fighters once carried it. I’m happy to be fighting for this belt and, hopefully, one day I’m fighting for the rest.”
Ramirez, 21-0 (16), is the No. 3-ranked contender in the eyes of the WBC but what doesn’t show in the rankings is the following he’s built in the Central Valley of California. Born and raised in Avenal, Ramirez is coming off his ESPN debut, in which, before a lively crowd in Fresno, he blew out Mike Reed within two rounds to cement his position last November.
“The most important thing was to get the win,” Ramirez said. “I’m happy it went the way it did, getting that early stoppage in the second round and taking control of the fight in the first round. It definitely shows where I’m at, in the sport of boxing, and what my potential really is. Most fighters underestimate my speed, my timing or my IQ in the ring but, when they’re in front of me, it’s a whole different game. Early on in the career, you got the butterflies. You’re a little tense; sometimes you fight fighters who don’t have the technique or the skills, so it makes the fight a little difficult because you’re worrying about headbutts or elbows or a lot of lousy punches. But when you fight good fighters, who have a good technique, who make you work, make you think, it becomes a chess game and a very clean fight, in a way. I think that makes me showcase my potential to the fullest and brings the best out of me.”
Along with his ability to put butts in seats, the aggressive Mexican-American fighter seems to be entering his physical prime. Reeling off four straight knockouts heading into tonight, and with a style that can move a crowd, can boost his star potential with a world title around his waist. A U.S. Olympian in 2012, and a student of Freddie Roach’s, since turning professional, Ramirez says he feels himself getting stronger, at the age of 25, but his maturing as a person has really helped his overall growth.
“It’s funny how time flies so fast,” Ramirez pondered. “Now I have a two-year-old looking up to me. It’s helping me be a better father, better friend, better character outside the ring. Sometimes when training gets hard, his little smile appears in my mind and it pushes me like I’ve never been pushed before. The support I have is very lovely and it keeps me very satisfied. It gives me that warm feeling as a fighter, ’cause us fighters go through a lot of pressure, from the fans, from certain things like having a bad day in sparring or training. But ever since I started bringing my family with me for camps the last three fights, I felt like I changed as a fighter. I wouldn’t bring him to camps until he turned one year old and I fought three times since that and they’ve all been (won) by KO. So I know that, when I step in the ring, I’m fighting for more than myself.”
Ramirez’s son Matteo leaned over the bottom rope to watch dad work the mitts with Roach and, later on, could be seen wearing the same gloves his father used on a heavy bag. “I hope he doesn’t but, as a father, I’ve got to support him,” Ramirez said about the idea of his son fighting. There won’t be any reason for Matteo to fight, unlike his father, who worked the farms in the Central Valley, as a kid, when he wasn’t boxing. Ramirez has never forgotten where he came from and has given back to the community that raised him, by raising awareness of the political water war within the state. Evidently the people have responded to Ramirez’s outreach but it will be at The Theater of Madison Square Garden, in New York City, where he hopes to fulfill a destiny once celebrated on his MySpace page. Not fighting for the title at home may seem like a disadvantage to some but the neutral site doesn’t come with the added distractions of making sure everyone is taken care of back home.
“More than anything, I’m very excited and very focused. I’m not going in there, where I’m thinking too much of the fans,” Ramirez said. “I’m going in there to do my job as a fighter. When you see a good atmosphere, it definitely motivates you as a fighter to go out there hungry. I’m just happy to get the opportunity to get this far. It’s a dream come true. This doesn’t come easy. Fighting 21 fights, going through the Olympics and starting at the age of eight – going through those tournaments that made me fight five times a week against the best in the nation, ’cause, in the amateurs, if you win, you fight the best. Starving yourself at a young age, skipping a lot of family time, skipping school activities or even missing friends, the sacrifices that I went through, since I was eight years old. For me, it’s definitely an honor to get this far. Not many fighters do.”
Nicknamed “Young Master,” Imam, 21-1 (18), who was born and raised in upstate New York, won’t have the same kind of advantages Ramirez would, fighting in his home state, but the WBC’s No. 1-ranked contender has seen plenty of adversity already in his young career. A stoppage loss to Adrian Granados in 2015 hamstrung the tremendous momentum Imam had then but, when asked if experiencing a defeat like that could make him a better fighter, or even be any sort of advantage, Ramirez flat-out disagreed.
“No, I don’t think he has any advantage in that,” Ramirez stated. “I’ve been through some adversity, maybe not in the ring but in life experiences, at a young age, that made me the fighter I am now. It definitely could help him as a fighter, if he uses his experience properly. I wouldn’t compare his experience with mine. Obviously he can become a better fighter. I just hope he brings the best out of himself, so he can give a good fight. It should be a good fight.
“I missed the fight, to be honest, and saw it later, when I heard about it but Amir Imam wasn’t on my radar then,” Ramirez said about his counterpart’s only defeat. “I’m not really focused too much on his history of fights. I’m preparing myself to go out there and perform properly and do my job properly: Go out get the win and become a world champion. I know what he’s capable of in his skills but I’m not worried too much about what he brings to the table. I always go with that mentally that I’m bringing something good and tough to the table. We’ll see how he reacts to the adversity again. That’s what keeps me focused: To know what I bring to the table.”