AVENAL -- The Olympic boxer walked up the sidewalk to the main building of Avenal High School. Youngsters attending a summer camp spied him and pointed.
"There's Jose!" shouted Valeria Caro, 11. "Isn't he going to London?"
"Jose's had more pictures taken recently than movie stars," said Avenal High School counselor Shirley Hodges.
That was late last month. Today, after enduring perhaps the most rigorous qualifying road ever set for an American boxer, lightweight Jose Ramirez is in Bolton, England, awaiting his chance to win Olympic gold.
The eyes of Avenal and, indeed, of the boxing world, will be on the 19-year-old who has won 11 national tournaments, including last year's U.S. Olympic Trials, in weight classes from 90 to 132 pounds.
(Get your Olympic news and schedules at fresnobee.com/olympics)
Once Ramirez was a raw kid with potential and a passion for excellence inside and outside the 24-foot-by-24-foot ring at the Kings Boxing Club gym.
Thanks to his 144 victories, fluency in English and Spanish, good looks, relentless promotion and the explosion of social media, Ramirez -- with a gold medal in London -- could become professional boxing's next big thing.
Boxing, which has lost popularity to mixed martial arts, is hungry for a fresh face. With his combination of power and defense, his family's immigrant story and the potential to grow into a welterweight, Ramirez could become what Oscar De La Hoya calls "boxing's next golden boy."
Ramirez already has promotional contracts with McDonald's, Wonderful Pistachios, Nike, AQUAhydrate bottled water, 2XU workout gear, Beats audio gear and Everlast boxing equipment. Rick Mirigian, who became Ramirez's manager two years ago, estimates the boxer's net worth at $1 million.
That wealth could grow exponentially after the Olympics. If he delivers in London, Ramirez will be at the center of a bidding war between the two most powerful promoters in professional boxing, Bob Arum's Top Rank and De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions.
De La Hoya, the 1992 lightweight gold medalist in Barcelona and world champion in six weight classes, tweeted Ramirez last month: "Good luck to my boy @RAMIREZBOXING in London 2012 USA boxing."
Says Ramirez: "It makes me want to compete and continue to succeed because I know they are watching." Like his father, Carlos, who immigrated from Mexico to Avenal, at 16 for a job in agriculture, Jose started working early on grabbing a piece of the American dream.
"What stands out is he always believed in himself," says Bill Vallem, who coached Ramirez in soccer and running from grade school through high school. "He had to win. He didn't always win, but he gave everything he had."
Vallem says that Ramirez could have developed into a good collegiate runner, but decided early on to focus on boxing.
"Obviously he didn't make a mistake," Vallem says.
"I remember the first time I went to one of his bouts," Vallem says. "He got knocked down, got up and pummeled the guy."
Fortunately for Ramirez, a man named Armando Mancinas had come into his life. Boxing at all levels has dreamers and schemers who don't always put the best interests of boxers first. Mancinas, an Army veteran and outstanding amateur boxer in his younger days, is a soft-spoken straight-shooter who doesn't call attention to himself.
The Kings County Sheriff's Office, looking to provide recreation for youngsters in the Avenal area, opened the boxing gym in 1999. When the coach left a short time later, Mancinas volunteered.
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