Opening Bell: Ramirez comes of age
After Jose Ramirez's 2012 U.S. Olympic appearance, he came into the pros as a heralded 21-year-old prospect with a great left hook who was still in need of a lot of development. I saw most of Ramirez's early fights and always had questions about whether he would become a top professional, and I wasn't the only one. But here we are now and Ramirez, 26, of Avenal, California, has become not only a top junior welterweight -- perhaps the best in the division -- but one of the biggest attractions of any American fighter, in large part because of how he has endeared himself to his hometown fans with his relentless community service.
The son of Mexican immigrants who once picked fruit in the Central California fields, Ramirez showed how good he has become and how popular he is with a spirited and close majority decision over Jose Zepeda -- a legitimate challenger -- in the main event of the Top Rank Boxing on ESPN card Sunday night at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, California.
Ramirez has fought there many times and always drawn big crowds, but none have been bigger than the 14,034 he drew Sunday for a card that he used to help raise money for his "KO Cancer" effort.
That faithful crowd saw Ramirez (24-0, 16 KOs) on a night that was clearly not his best, but he was still able to bite down and edge Zepeda (30-2, 25 KOs), 29, a southpaw from Long Beach, California, whose only previous loss was due to a dislocated shoulder against then-lightweight titlist Terry Flanagan in 2015.
Ramirez, making his second defense and in his second fight with trainer Robert Garcia, won 116-112 and 115-113, with one judge scoring it 114-114, to outduel a fighter trained by Freddie Roach, who had led Ramirez to the title before being replaced. Ramirez got off to a very slow start but came back strong and asserted himself in the late rounds to pull out a well-deserved win for which Zepeda gave him credit.
It was the kind of hard-fought victory that Ramirez truly earned, showing just how far he has come since turning pro with vast potential but many question marks.
Next for Davis?
Junior lightweight world titlist Gervonta Davis (21-0, 20 KOs) has enormous talent and, at 24, should have a long career ahead of him if he can stay focused and out of trouble, which has been a problem in the past. But he's saying all the right things now and looked great Saturday in Carson, California, where he smoked late-replacement opponent and former junior featherweight titlist Hugo Ruiz (39-5, 33 KOs), 32, of Mexico, in the first round after injured Abner Mares had withdrawn a week earlier.
Promoter Floyd Mayweather said Davis' next defense will be in May and there are also plans for a summer Baltimore homecoming fight. But with the way Mayweather spoke, don't expect to see Davis against an elite foe, unfortunately.
Mayweather made it clear before the fight that though Davis isn't turning down top names, Mayweather and Mayweather Promotions CEO Leonard Ellerbe are picking Davis' opponents.
"He don't pick and choose. So, if y'all wanna criticize anybody, criticize me, criticize Leonard Ellerbe or criticize whoever, but don't criticize the fighters," Mayweather said. "The fighter's job is to go out there and fight and be the best that they could possibly be."
After the fight, Mayweather was at it again, belittling the prospect (unlikely as it is) of a fight between Davis and unified lightweight champion and pound-for-pound king Vasiliy Lomachenko, which would be a huge fight.
"We're not going to call any particular fighter out, and it's not like we're ducking and dodging anyone," he said. "Lomachenko has to fight as many fights as possible, extremely quick, because he's very, very old . 'Tank' is like 10 or 11 years younger than Lomachenko [six, actually]. Lomachenko will be 40 before you know it. There is no rush. 'Tank' just has to keep doing what he's doing. He's making the same money that Lomachenko is making and doing it easier. Lomachenko is a hell of a fighter and I like Lomachenko, but after 'Tank' went and beat the champion up [Jose Pedraza for his first belt in 2017], Lomachenko went and beat Tank's leftovers and he went the distance [with Pedraza in a December lightweight unification]."
Upset of the weekend: Cancio-Machado
This is why they fight the fights, as Andrew Cancio pulled off what may stand up as the upset of the year on Saturday in the main event of Golden Boy's DAZN card in Indio, California. Alberto Machado, making his third junior lightweight title defense, was a huge favorite to beat Cancio, who retired after a knockout loss to Joseph Diaz in September 2016. But Cancio (20-4-2, 15 KOs), 30, of Blythe, California, returned 19 months later and won a pair of lesser fights before being fed to Machado (21-1, 17 KOs), 28, a southpaw from Puerto Rico, for what was supposed to be an easy defense.
Cancio, who works a day job for a gas company, survived a first-round knockdown from a left uppercut and began to hurt Machado in the second round. He took over in the second half of the fourth round, flooring Machado three times. The first time was with a right hand to the stomach from which Machado never recovered. Machado went down twice more from body shots before referee Raul Caiz Jr. waved it off at 2 minutes, 16 seconds.
The next step: Machado said he'd like a rematch, and he has a contractual option for one, but he also said he felt weak and might go up to lightweight. Cancio, meanwhile, celebrated a massive win but will be back at work at his other job this week and will have a litany of 130-pounders calling him out.
Fight of the weekend: Beltran-Okada
Ray Beltran is rarely in a bad fight and he had another dramatic barnburner with Hiroki Okada, which Beltran won by ninth-round knockout in the Ramirez-Zepeda co-feature.
In his fourth opportunity, Beltran (36-8-1, 22 KOs), 37, of Phoenix, finally claimed a lightweight world title last February, but he lost it by decision to Jose Pedraza in August. Beltran made his return at junior welterweight for a tough fight with Japan's Okada (19-1, 13 KOs), 29.
It was an absolute slugfest from the start, with the second round an early candidate for round of the year. Beltran dropped Okada with a left hook and survived an assault late in the round as Okada rocked him with a right hand. Beltran eventually floored Okada twice with rights in the ninth round, and referee Jack Reiss stopped it at 2:09 when Okada's corner threw in the towel. Beltran led 78-74 on one card but the other two had it 76-76 at the time of the stoppage. Just a terrific fight.
The next step: Beltran would like another world title fight. Whomever he fights, one thing is for sure: Fans are in for entertainment. "We are ready for whoever Top Rank wants to bring to the table," Beltran said. "I'm the type of fighter that doesn't back down from any challenges. I'm open to any opportunity at 135 or 140 pounds."
Fights you might have missed
Saturday at Indio, California
Junior featherweight Rey Vargas (33-0, 22 KOs) W12 Franklin Manzanilla (18-5, 17 KOs), scores: 117-108 (three times).
Vargas, 28, of Mexico, retained his title for the fourth time with a no-frills performance against Venezuela native Manzanilla, 30, in the Machado-Cancio co-feature. Vargas survived a second-round knockdown from a left hand but regained control and outboxed Manzanilla, who had referee Raul Caiz Sr. dock him two points for hitting behind the head in the seventh round and hitting on the break in the eighth. Vargas outlanded Manzanilla in 11 of the 12 rounds and finished with a 207-93 edge in punches landed, according to CompuBox.
Saturday at Fresno, California
Junior featherweight Carlos Castro (22-0, 9 KOs) W10 Genesis Servania (32-2, 15 KOs), scores: 100-90, 99-91, 98-92.
Castro, 24, of Phoenix, gave Servania a boxing lesson in a surprisingly one-sided rout on the ESPN+ portion of the Ramirez-Zepeda undercard. Castro's skills and speed left Servania unable to mount any kind of serious attack as Castro scored by far his biggest win. Servania gave featherweight world titleholder Oscar Valdez all he could handle in a title challenge in September 2017, but lost a decision. Servania won his next three fights, then dropped down to junior featherweight to face Castro.
Junior lightweight Andy Vences (22-0-1, 12 KOs) W8 Dardan Zenunaj (14-6, 11 KOs), scores: 80-72 (three times).
Vences, 27, of San Jose, California, is not far from a shot at a world title and stayed busy with a shutout of Zenunaj, 31, a Los Angeles-based Kosovo native. Vences won his second fight in a row since a draw with fellow unbeaten Erick De Leon in 11 months ago.
Heavyweight Guido Vianello (2-0, 2 KOs) KO1 Andrew Satterfield (4-2, 2 KOs).
Vianello, 24, was a 2016 Italian Olympian and turned pro in December. He's very raw and a project, but he has charisma and power and there's no rush. He took out Satterfield easily, dropping him with a combination early in the opening round and finishing him with a follow-up assault of many unanswered shots that forced referee Rudy Barragan to halt the action at 1:54.
Junior welterweight Cristian Coria (29-7-2, 13 KOs) KO3 Joel Diaz Jr. (24-2, 20 KOs).
Coria, 36, of Argentina, scored an upset against once-heralded prospect Diaz, 26, of Palmdale, California. Top Rank put Diaz on the card to look at him with the possibility of signing him, but that's not happening after Coria dropped him hard in the third round and then for a second time with a brutal left hook. As Diaz stumbled to his feet, referee Rey Danseco waved it off at 1:50. Diaz was considered a top prospect before Regis Prograis drilled him in the second round two fights ago in June 2017.