In the moments after Jose Ramirez’s knee touched the canvas, his head drifted from the ring.
Rather than the actual punches being thrown by opponent Johnny Garcia, Ramirez’s thoughts fixated on potential verbal jabs from the boxing public.
“It played on my mind a lot,” Ramirez said pensively Tuesday, both hands clutching a cup of espresso. “I was thinking about the criticism before the fight was finished.”
Nearly three days had passed since Ramirez got up from the first official knockdown of his boxing career to record his 16th professional victory and remain unbeaten with an eight-round unanimous decision at Save Mart Center.
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It’s a wake-up call, honestly. There’s a lot of people who are hungry in this sport and just as motivated as me.
Jose Ramirez, on Saturday’s eight-round unanimous decision over Johnny Garcia
Aside from a small red dot below his left eye, the 23-year-old sitting across the table at a northeast Fresno Starbucks doesn’t give the appearance of someone who just went eight tough rounds.
But when Ramirez starts talking about Saturday night’s experience, one shared by a capacity crowd of 13,120 and viewers of the Spanish TV network UniMas, you get the feeling the only lasting scar won’t be visible.
“There was times when my mind kind of left the fight for second,” he said. “Instead of focusing on my opponent, I was able to hear the shouting. During the time between rounds, I was able to hear people giving me advice.
“I started thinking, ‘Am I doing good, or are they going to be disappointed?’ For the first time I felt a little bit of pressure in that way.”
Ramirez played the role of crowd-pleaser from the opening bell. Instead of using his superior skills, movement and reach, he stood toe to toe with the journeyman Garcia.
Instead of using his superior skills, movement and reach, Ramirez stood toe to toe with the journeyman Garcia.
The strategy proved costly midway through Round 2 when Garcia caught Ramirez with a short right and dropped him to a knee.
“That’s never happened in my career,” Ramirez said. “It was a flash knockdown. It happened so quick. I wasn’t hurt. I wasn’t hurt. He just got me in the chin coming in.”
Ramirez got up off the canvas and over the next several rounds “beat the guy to a pulp,” in the words of manager Rick Mirigian.
That might be true, but Garcia absorbed every one of Ramirez’s blows and at one point exhorted the crowd as it chanted, “Jose! Jose! Jose!”
“His confidence went up throughout the fight because he was taking my punches and was able to land his, too,” Ramirez said. “It was a big eye-opener for me. …
“People tell me, ‘Jose, you’re a great fighter.’ I don’t want to hear that no more. I’ve seen great fighters and know I have a long ways to work.”
People tell me, ‘Jose, you’re a great fighter.’ I don’t want to hear that no more.
Under the tutelage of Freddie Roach, Ramirez already gets the best training and sparring. However, not all of boxing’s lessons can be learned in the gym. They must take place in the center of the ring and under the brightest of lights.
For Ramirez, the lights will only get brighter. Prior to Saturday’s bout, Top Rank CEO Bob Arum laid out a three-step plan that would culminate with the Avenal native fighting for a world super-lightweight title belt in September.
Arum envisioned the fight taking place at SMC with Ramirez and World Boxing Organization featherweight champion Vasyl Lomachenko, the two-time Olympic gold medalist, serving as co-headliners.
13,120 Announced attendance for Saturday night’s Fight for Water V at Save Mart Center
It’s been three years (Dec. 8, 2012) since Ramirez made his professional debut. Since then he’s compiled a 16-0 record (12 KOs) and gained enough marque value to fill the region’s largest arena.
What he hasn’t done – yet – is face anyone who remotely qualifies as a contender in one of boxing’s most competitive divisions. Each of the four major belts at 140 pounds (World Boxing Association, World Boxing Council, International Boxing Federation, WBO) are held by undefeated champions.
“I don’t want to get Jose a title shot so he can get beat,” Arum said. “That would be stupid.”
There was never a danger of Ramirez losing Saturday night. But the next time he steps into the ring, possibly in February or March, it’ll be against someone whose punches can do more than stun.
The next time Ramirez steps into the ring, it’ll be against someone whose punches can do more than stun.
The challenge is about to get significantly steeper.
“That’s why I was more disappointed than happy, why I’m being so tough on myself now,” said Ramirez, still gripping the red cup.
“It’s a wake-up call, honestly. There’s a lot of people who are hungry in this sport and just as motivated as me. It just shows me how much work I have to put in.”
As Ramirez finishes the thought, a young man carrying a black briefcase approaches the table and asks the 2012 Olympian to pose for a picture. He graciously accepts and smiles broadly when Shayan Zoghi tells him he’s a huge fan and was in attendance Saturday night.
The moment Zoghi leaves, Ramirez’s somber, introspective mood returns.
“I’m taking this like it’s a wake-up call,” he said. “I need to refocus and get back in the gym.”
In boxing, as in life, flattery and adulation can only get you so far.