Jose Ramirez eyes title unification as 2012 U.S. Olympic boxing team begins to shine as pros

Kevin IoleCombat columnist
Yahoo Sports
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/ncaaf/players/300168/" data-ylk="slk:Jose Ramirez">Jose Ramirez</a> celebrates after defeating Amir Imam during their WBC junior welterweight fight at The Theatre at Madison Square Garden on March 17, 2018 in New York City. (Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
Jose Ramirez celebrates after defeating Amir Imam during their WBC junior welterweight fight at The Theatre at Madison Square Garden on March 17, 2018 in New York City. (Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

The 2012 U.S. men’s Olympic boxing team had a spectacularly poor showing in London. Five of the nine members were eliminated in their first bouts, and none claimed a medal.

The team finished with a collective 5-9 mark, prompting the outspoken former world champion James Toney to call it “the worst team ever.”

That team, though, is redeeming itself in the professional ranks. Each of the fighters has at the minimum fought for a world title and Jose Ramirez, Rau’shee WarrenJamel HerringErrol Spence Jr., and Marcus Browne have won major world title belts.

Collectively, the team has a 194-9-1 record in the pros with 120 knockouts.

Spence has been the star. He’s 25-0 with 21 knockouts and not only holds the IBF welterweight title, but is ranked No. 2 on the Yahoo Sports pound-for-pound list.

“That team, we had so many things going against us going into the Olympics,” said Herring, who was the team captain and now holds the WBO super featherweight title. “We had the talent. We didn’t have the right guidance at the time within the program. Our backs were against the wall dealing with AIBA, too. As you have seen in the news, AIBA has been a mess, to the point where the Olympic committee is trying to get rid of all the corruption over there.

“But we had the talent. It’s unfortunate we couldn’t shine when it mattered, but at least our women’s team, with Clarresa [Shields] and Marlen Esparza did. But no question, we haven’t gotten our just due on the men’s side.”

WBC junior welterweight champ Ramirez aims to unify belts

Ramirez, though, is bidding to do something none of his peers have done. He’ll fight Maurice Hooker on Saturday in a WBC-WBO unification bout that will be a step toward unifying the super lightweight titles. In the finals of the World Boxing Super Series, WBA champion Regis Prograis will fight IBF champion Josh Taylor, though a date has yet to be set for that match.”

But the winners could meet to make one champion.

For Ramirez, it was an easy fight to take when the Hooker bout was offered, even if it meant leaving home, where he regularly sells out in Fresno, California, as one of the sport’s best ticket sellers, to fight Hooker in Dallas on his home turf.

“Being a world champion, of course that puts your name in the history books,” Ramirez said. “But unifying the belts, that’s another step. For me, it’s part of me trying to build and enhance my legacy in this sport. I’m blessed to have gotten this opportunity, and it’s come at a great time. I feel ready to move to that next level in this sport.

“I’m proud of what I’ve done and I’m proud of my team and what they’ve helped me to do. You unify the belts, it gives you a bigger stage. It adds to the legacy and it has a lot of impact within the sport.”

Herring roomed with Ramirez at a major pre-Olympic tournament, and they got to know each other well and have remained close. They’re now both promoted by Top Rank and so that helps provide opportunities for them to follow each other’s careers.

Herring, though, sparred with Hooker when Hooker was preparing to fight Terry Flanagan last year for the vacant WBO title. He’s not about to choose sides.

“I like this fight because I have a relationship with both guys, but I just love the style matchup of this fight,” Herring said.

Herring breaks down Hooker-Ramirez matchup

Hooker has an incredibly long 80-inch reach. At 5-11, he’s only an inch taller than Ramirez, yet he has a 7½-inch reach advantage.

Ramirez is at his best when he can get past the jab and turn fights into a slugfest. Hooker’s far better when he avoids a slugfest and uses his boxing skills.

“Maurice I think needs to avoid a firefight, like he got into in the [Alex] Saucedo fight,” Herring said. “Saucedo was having his most success when he was taking it to him. Mo likes to get down and dirty, but he’s got to use his range and his reach if he wants to have a chance in this one.

“Jose is a lot more technical on the inside than Saucedo, and he’s more durable in my opinion. I think Mo has to focus on keeping Jose on the outside, but I believe it’s going to come down to which of them brings his smarts and his A game with him.”

Ramirez said he likes his chances. Not fighting at home takes away responsibility from him and allows him to just relax and concentrate on the fight. He’s highly community-minded and is involved in many projects to help the many immigrants who live in and around Fresno.

On the road, the demands on him aren’t as great and he’s trying to use that to his advantage.

“I feel very good mentally as well as physically and I feel very strong and ready to put on a great performance,” he said. “At the end of the day, I think all I have to do is my best, and I’m going to make a lot of people proud. This is going to be a tough fight, but I have the heart that you’ve seen over and over when I perform, and I think that’s going to help me pull through this.

“I feel explosive and ready and I’ll be there to capitalize on his mistakes.”

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