Jose Ramirez doesn’t just belong to Avenal, or Fresno, anymore.
The central San Joaquin Valley’s favorite pugilist might just be on his way to becoming America’s favorite.
Saturday night was Ramirez’s coming out party on the national stage, and he rocked it. The junior welterweight battered previously unbeaten James Reed in a second-round TKO in front of 13,838 raucous boxing fans at Save Mart Center and, more significantly, ESPN’s cameras that brought the fight into millions of living rooms.
“A star is born!” beamed Rick Mirigian, Ramirez’ longtime manager and confidant. “There’s no other way to describe it. A star is born!”
In a sport that desperately needs box office stars, especially someone whose career is ascendant, Ramirez is already the rare fighter who can pack an arena in his home region. If the 25-year-old shows he can draw television viewers as well, get ready for the rocket launch.
Which is why Top Rank owner Bob Arum sounded certain Ramirez (21-0, 16 KOs) will fight for his first world title, the vacant WBC 140-pound belt, in early 2018 against Amir Imam (21-1, 18 KOs), who scored a fourth-round knockout as part of the undercard.
The championship bout could also be in Fresno, where Ramirez has drawn SMC crowds in excess of 13,000 for three straight years.
“It’s a big blessing for me,” Ramirez said in the locker room after the fight while holding his 2-year-old son, Matteo. “Not too many fighters in their lives are in this position that I’m in right now, and I feel very grateful that my career has taken off the way it has.”
Ramirez first popped up into our consciousness at the 2012 Olympics. As a pro his vast popularity is due not just to in-ring success but by his advocacy in the fight for regional water rights. The son of farm laborers has become a genuine spokesman in a cause he deeply believes in.
Until now, though, it’s been very much a Central California story. As pointed out by ESPN boxing scribe Dan Rafael, Fresno fans pack arenas for Ramirez “even though he has not yet faced a top opponent or boxed for a major title.”
This was the fight that pushed our local hero into the national conversation. Besides ESPN highlighting Ramirez, both as a boxer and water-rights advocate, he has been featured in articles by Sports Illustrated and the Los Angeles Times.
“Doing what he did tonight, with ESPN going to a 100 million homes, that’s a pretty good way to become a national story,” said Teddy Atlas, the commentator and trainer who was part of ESPN’s three-man broadcasting crew.
Ramirez wasn’t originally supposed to fight Reed. Still, the Albany, N.Y., native was considered a step up in class from previous opposition. It sure didn’t look that way when Ramirez backed Reed against the ropes in the second round and started delivering body shots.
Two knockdowns later, referee Jack Reiss stopped the fight. Ramirez celebrated by climbing onto the turnbuckle, holding his arms aloft while the crowd roared its approval. The cameras belonging to America’s largest sports network captured every moment.
“It was a good time for that performance: national TV and in front of his biggest hometown crowd yet. When he’s in position to fight for a world title, the timing couldn’t be better,” Atlas said.
“He not only showed himself as worthy opponent for the throne, beating a guy that’s a step up in class, but he also showed himself to be a TV friendly guy, to be a promoter’s dream, a guy who can make money and not just get wins. He can bring out a crowd like that and he can get a crowd to react like that with that type of performance. Because he fights with a certain energy, a style that is TV friendly.”
He showed himself to be a TV friendly guy, to be a promoter’s dream, a guy who can make money and not just get wins.
ESPN boxing analyst Teddy Atlas, on Jose Ramirez
Ramirez, in his typically humble manner, seemed to grasp the magnitude of the evening and how it portends for his future prospects.
“I’m thankful to be able to showcase my talent and my story to ESPN and that audience,” he said. “People from the East Coast, a lot of them are seeing me fight for the first time, and I’m glad I was able to give this type of performance to new followers who decided to watch me fight after reading articles about me.
“This could not have gone any better, to be honest.”
It couldn’t have. Our local boxing hero has safely landed on the national stage without a blemish on his record and a title shot in the offing.
Now it gets real. Ramirez collected a $50,000 purse for Saturday’s fight, according to filings with the California State Athletic Commission, but will likely pocket “well into six figures” thanks to sponsorships, say those in the know.
“I think we’re going to have a lot of fun these next couple years,” Mirigian said. “We’re entering into a special time period. Jose cashed every check I wrote, and I’m not done writing them.”