Jose Ramirez has turned into the star promoter Bob Arum never expected to have

Combat columnist
Yahoo Sports
WBC super lightweight champion <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/players/9507/" data-ylk="slk:Jose Ramirez">Jose Ramirez</a> works out for fans before his title defense Friday in Fresno, California, on ESPN against Antonio Orozco. (Mikey Williams/Top Rank)
WBC super lightweight champion Jose Ramirez works out for fans before his title defense Friday in Fresno, California, on ESPN against Antonio Orozco. (Mikey Williams/Top Rank)

Top Rank signed a slew of Olympians from the Class of 2012, but the three it had focused on signing were Puerto Rico’s Felix Verdejo, Mexico’s Oscar Valdez and Jose Ramirez of the U.S. The company later signed many others, including dual gold medalist Vasiliy Lomachenko, but Top Rank president Bob Arum said Verdejo, Valdez and Ramirez were the three the company wanted.

Verdejo was the one Top Rank believed would become a superstar.

“You just never know how kids are going to develop when they get into the pros,” Top Rank chairman Bob Arum said. “Nobody is a can’t-miss, but Verdejo was a guy who we thought had everything to be a star.”

Injuries and poor performance, though, have made Verdejo just another guy in the Top Rank stable.

Arum admitted he didn’t really have all that much faith in Ramirez’s ability coming out of the 2012 London Games. But tonight, Arum will be ringside at the sold-out Save Mart Center in Fresno, California, where more than 14,000 people will give their lungs a workout by rooting for Ramirez, the hometown hero.

Ramirez will make the first defense of his WBC super lightweight championship against Antonio Orozco in the main event of an ESPN show. And suddenly, Ramirez doesn’t look like a what-the-heck signing.

He’s one of the biggest draws in boxing, and routinely sells 14,000 tickets in Fresno. That’s thanks to the great hustle by his manager, Rick Mirigian; a compelling back story; a fierce fighting style and a devotion to the people of California’s Central Valley that has never wavered.

Mirigian, who is one of the great unknown promoters in boxing, pulled off seemingly the impossible for the Ramirez-Orozco bout. It is being held the night before a major HBO Pay-Per-View bout between Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez that is in Las Vegas and consuming nearly all of the boxing media coverage.

But the house will be full of devoted Ramirez fans in Fresno. Ramirez didn’t fight the last time out, in July, when Danny O’Connor needed to be hospitalized during his weight cut, but that didn’t dim the enthusiasm for tonight’s card.

WBC super lightweight champion Jose Ramirez (L) stares down Antonio Orozco on Thursday after their weigh-in for Friday night’s bout. (Mikey Williams/Top Rank)
WBC super lightweight champion Jose Ramirez (L) stares down Antonio Orozco on Thursday after their weigh-in for Friday night’s bout. (Mikey Williams/Top Rank)

“This was the toughest challenge in the past five years for me,” Mirigian said. “I had to make a deal with Arum and Top Rank to get it back to Fresno, deal with issues from the last one when Ramirez didn’t fight by taking care of fans with free tickets, sponsors and the city, as well as having to promote it all over again in 32 days. We literally had a week to make this deal and situate everything, but we are grateful to Top Rank for giving us the chance. We produce and always have, and I’m expecting a full arena and Ramirez with his hands up and the next chapter to begin.”

Ramirez is looking ahead at a future rife with big fights. But he had to keep an eye on the past. Because of O’Connor’s late cancellation, the card went on, but Ramirez didn’t fight. It was hugely disappointing to the people who have backed his career since the amateur days.

He showed up at the arena that night and spent his time playing the host, thanking fans for their support and generally demonstrating why he’s one of the sport’s classiest people.

“I felt terrible when that happened, because there was nothing we could do,” Ramirez said. “It’s one of those things that is out of our hands, but you still feel kind of responsible in a way. It’s a big deal for a lot of those people to get tickets and come out and for me not to fight, I understand what it did. It was frustrating, for sure, so I want to put on a good show to thank them for their loyalty and to pay them back for what they missed.”

It figures to be a highly entertaining fight, as both are aggressive with high-punch outputs, and Arum, never afraid of hyperbole, insisted this could be the best fight of the weekend.

That’s saying a lot considering the expectations for Alvarez-Golovkin II, but it’s not as outlandish a statement as it may sound on the surface. Orozco is promoted by Golden Boy and Golden Boy president Eric Gomez, who is promoting the Alvarez-Golovkin rematch, called Ramirez-Orozco “a terrific, really competitive, really fun fight.”

Arum, of course, agreed.

“It’s going to be a sensational fight, and anyone who has seen either of these guys fight would tell you that,” Arum said. “It’s going to be as exciting, if not more, than Canelo-Triple-G. I’m not saying it’s the same kind of marquee event, because they’ve paid their dues and what not, but just for excitement and action, if I could only watch one fight this weekend, it would be Ramirez and Orozco.”

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