Avenal boxer Jose Ramirez wins Olympic debut

Bee staff and news servicesJuly 29, 2012 

The final score will indicate that Avenal boxer Jose Ramirez barely escaped with a victory during his first Olympic bout Sunday.

Ramirez, who is trying to become the first American boxer to win gold in the lightweight division in 20 years, defeated France's Rachid Azzedine 21-20 in the first round at the ExCel Centre in London.

But in Ramirez's mind, he never was in danger of an upset.

"I had no doubt I won the fight," Ramirez claimed immediately afterward on national TV.

The 19-year-old wasn't alone in such thinking.

"I didn't think it was that close," NBC boxing analyst Teddy Atlas said, "but a win is a win."

Ramirez exchanged punches with Azzedine for much of the three rounds but always seemed to have the advantage while backing up the 29-year-old Frenchman toward the ropes and in the corners.

Ramirez worked to get close and land body shots, particularly with his left hand, and avoided giving Azzedine a chance to wind up for his trademark looping right-handed hook.

At times, though, free-for-all type punching seemed to trump conventional boxing strategy with Ramirez and Azzedine appearing caught up in a street brawl.

Perhaps that is what allowed Azzedine to make somewhat of a rally.

Ramirez, who boxed in blue while wearing neon green shoes, led 13-11 through two rounds after winning the first round 6-5 and the second round 7-6.

But as soon as the bell rang to start the third round, Azzedine came out attacking. Ramirez, for the most part, attacked right back.

But it turned out Azzedine was awarded the third round at 9-8.

The exchange of blows made for an exciting bout and got the crowd in a frenzy.

When the ring announcer declared the fight "By a score of 21-20," the crowd ooed in apparent amazement by such a close score before the winner was named.

Then the ring announcer completed his sentence with "in the blue corner," and the crowd wildly cheered as Ramirez was proclaimed the victor.

Many took to Twitter after the fight, including ESPN boxing analyst Dan Rafael: "Tremendous fight ... Ramirez won way wider in my view."

Throughout the match, Atlas repeatedly stated how Ramirez needed to get within closer range of Azzedine and not fight from a distance.

"That's where Ramirez has to be, where there is no room for the French fighter to use his best weapon," Atlas said when Ramirez stood less than a foot away from Azzedine. "He should stay close."

Despite his apparent control of the match, Ramirez started the bout sluggish until the final 10 seconds of the first round when he trapped Azzedine near the ropes and unloaded a flurry of combos.

Ramirez backed up Azzedine against the ropes near the end of the second round, too, and that allowed him to connect a few more combos.

Even in the third round and with Azzedine rapidly swinging, the 5-foot-10, 132-pound Ramirez worked the 5-foot-8, 132-pound Frenchman back into a corner that allowed the U.S. boxer to land a few more combinations of punches.

Ramirez wasn't sure how the fight was scored so closely but attributed nervousness for some of his slow start.

"I didn't feel a strong hit from him," Ramirez said. "I know he landed a couple punches, and I know I gave away some points that I shouldn't have. I am still very blessed and thankful that I got the decision."

Ramirez spoke briefly with his family before the match through Skype to calm his nerves.

"I was very blessed that there's WiFi," he said. "I was just trying to think the fight out in my head and stay relaxed and confident. The nerves did come in but I wasn't really thinking about my opponent too much."

Ramirez is trying to become the first U.S. boxer to capture gold in the lightweight division since Oscar De La Hoya won in 1992 in Barcelona.

The U.S. boxing team moved to 4-0 in the first round with welterweight Errol Spence of DeSota, Texas winning 16-10 over Brazil's Myke Carvalho de Ribeiro. On Saturday, bantamweight boxer Joseph Diaz Jr. of South El Monte and middleweight fighter Terrell Gausha of Cleveland, Ohio, both were victorious.

Ramirez now advances to Thursday's second round and will face Fazliddin Gaibnazarov, a 21-year-old from Uzbekistan.

The pride of Avenal is hoping Sunday's jitters will be out of his system by then and the score won't be nearly as close.

"There were some nerves coming in, being my first Olympics and being my first bout of the tournament," Ramirez said. "Now, I feel like I shook those nerves out. Hopefully, I can just be me in the next bout and let my punches flow better, be smoother inside, and stay smart."

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly identified Ramirez as a Fresno State student. He is a former Fresno State student.

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