His mind clear, ex-champion Jose Ramirez eager to put on a show for his loyal fans
Jose Ramirez has long been one of boxing's good guys, and true enough, on Wednesday, just three days before he ends a one-year absence to return to the ring to face Richard Commey on Saturday on ESPN at the Save Mart Center, he made a public appearance at a local Boys & Girls Club in Fresno, California, along with WBA minimumweight champion Seniesa Estrada.
He was, as he so often has, giving back to the poor community where he was born and raised and where he became a local hero as much for his kindness and caring spirit as for his estimable boxing skills.
At his peak, the 2012 U.S. Olympian was a unified super lightweight champion, who made the short trip to Las Vegas on May 22, 2021, to fight Josh Taylor for the undisputed championship. All three judges had it six to six in rounds, but because Taylor scored two knockdowns, he won a unanimous decision by scores of 114-112 on all cards.
And that's when Ramirez learned a bitter lesson about the vagaries of boxing fans' loyalty. He fully expected to win that bout and it was hard to accept as he returned home, suffering the first defeat since the 2012 Olympics in London.
But losing to Taylor came as a shock: Many fans, though not many of his closest ones from California's Central Valley, abandoned him.
"Trying to come back from that loss to Josh Taylor, it was different," Ramirez said. "The mental challenges athletes face a lot of times and have to find a way to deal with got me. It was amazing the change. People loved me after the (Maurice) Hooker fight [when I became a unified champion]. But after the Taylor fight, I found that everything changes. You have to do some digging, and some soul-searching, and find out who you are and remember what got me this far in the first place.
"It hurts to lose, of course, especially when you put so much of yourself into it. But when the people who were there for you and cheering you on after one fight abandon you after another, it messes with you."
Ramirez has also had to deal with the backlash of a decision not to take 35 percent of the total to fight Regis Prograis for the WBC 140-pound title. That was a convoluted story: Taylor was ordered to defend his title against Jose Zepeda, but was getting married and pulled out. Ramirez was offered the fight, but he was getting married and couldn't take it.
So Prograis wound up fighting Zepeda and won the WBC belt. After that, the offer was again extended to Ramirez to fight Prograis, with 65 percent of the proceeds going to Prograis' side and 35 percent to Ramirez.
While it would be a sensational fight, Ramirez is a bigger draw than Prograis and he had no idea what the 35 percent would amount to in terms of his purse.
"Probellum [which promotes Prograis] was just sitting there expecting offers, but they never once sent me an offer," Ramirez said. "The WBC said there would be a 65/35 split, but 35 percent could be $35,000. It could be $70,000. It could be $150,000. I have no way of knowing. I'm signing for 35 percent of what, really?
"There's a minimum I have in my contract with Top Rank that in order for me to make what I get on my minimum with Top Rank, an offer would have to come in a $3 million-plus for that 35 percent to meet my minimum."
Thus, Ramirez moved on to face Commey, a former world champion who has gone 1-2-1 in his last four bouts.
Ramirez said if he gets past Commey, he'd like to face Prograis in a pay-per-view bout, which would allow the purse to be larger.
But the key for Ramirez was getting his head on straight. He'd been worn down mentally, not only by a portion of his fan base abandoning him but also by the rigors of the fight game. He fought more than 200 times as an amateur and was highly active as a professional.
It's been a little more than a year and he's renewed and eager to show off for his most loyal fans. Many of those weren't even boxing fans when they began supporting Ramirez because of his efforts to improve the lives of those in his poor farm community.
"I don't like to talk and when I do [fight Prograis], I'll do my talking with my fists, as I always have," Ramirez said. "But coming back here at home, I can't wait to show off for my fans here, who have been with me and loyal to me since Day 1. I have put in so much work and I want them to know how hard I've worked for them. They really haven't seen me in local businesses or restaurants or anything. It's going to be a big night and I want to make it special for them."