By Ryan Maquiñana
The U.S. Olympic Team is growing in numbers every day, and Wednesday night saw the addition of lightweight Jose Ramirez, who defeated Canada’s Alejandro Rynn in the quarterfinals of the Americas Qualifier in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
A body shot from Ramirez late in the second round caused one of three standing-eight counts and was emblematic of the Fresno State University sophomore’s dominant performance at the Maracazinho venue.
“He fought how I thought, with a tight defense. Then he kept coming forward trying to power punch and smother my punches,” Ramirez told BoxingScene.com after the fight. “I outboxed him and broke his defense with combinations and angles.”
Ramirez, a 19-year-old fighting out of the King’s Gym in Avenal, Calif., secured his trip to London by making the semifinals in the weeklong tournament. Now the 132-pounder can finally call himself an Olympian, a feeling that brings as much pride as it does relief.
“My family, loved ones, and determination to make my dream come through got me here,” he said. “I feel amazing. I can’t describe it. I’m still in shock and I feel like I can win it all out here.”
“It’s been a long hard road, especially the past year,” said longtime trainer Armando Mancinas, who was tracking the scores online back at home. “I’m so proud. It hasn’t come easy. He was working out three times a day for Brazil, so he came in at top shape. Jose is deeply religious and prays constantly, and it was just matter of if the Lord wanted him to win.”
After winning the Olympic Trials last year, Ramirez was ousted early in the World Championships by top-ranked Vasyl Lomachenko in a controversial decision, causing the California Central Valley-based fighter to have to win an impossibly stacked lightweight tournament at the 2012 U.S. National Championships to make it to Brazil.
“Jose really felt he won, and you could sense he was really down at first,” Mancinas said. “Shelly Finkel helps advise Jose and took him aside. He told him there are things you can’t control, and you have to learn to live with them. Jose had to regroup and get his confidence back.”
Not to mention the hype train that has followed Ramirez on his journey to the Olympics. Nike, Aqua Hydrate, and a host of companies have already signed the precocious teenager, and to see him come short would have evoked memories of decathlete Dan O’Brien’s failed attempt to qualify for the Barcelona Games in 1992.
But as Ramirez has shown countless times during the chase of his Olympic dream, he would not be denied, as he pressed forward to win Nationals and finished the job in Rio de Janeiro.
“It’s a day I will never forget,” said Rick Mirigian, Ramirez’ business advisor, who was on hand for the victory. “Every mile I traveled, every night of sleep I lost, all the work, and to see everything come together is a feeling I will never forget. His sponsors, media, and branding all believed in Jose, so it’s a great day for them as well.”
Ramirez will be the first Olympian from USA Boxing’s Region 11 of Northern and Central California since light heavyweight gold medalist Andre Ward in 2004. Not bad for someone who had a propensity for jumping off the roof as a child and found boxing as an outlet to curb his seemingly endless energy.
“The roof at my house wasn’t that high,” Ramirez said when recounting the story. “But yeah, I’ve come a long way.”
“I first got him when he was nine, but it wasn’t until he turned 12 and started winning the big tournaments did I think he could really do it,” Mancinas added. “He asked me if he could make the Olympics. I said if he put his mind to it and learns how to handle the pressure and people’s expectations of him, then yes. And he did just that.”
Middleweight Terrell Gausha of Cleveland, Ohio, fights Puerto Rico’s Enrique Collazo in a 165-pound quarterfinal later today with an Olympic spot on the line as well.
Ryan Maquiñana writes a weekly boxing column for CSNBayArea.com. He is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and on the Ratings Advisory Panel for Ring Magazine. E-mail him at [email protected], check out his blog at Norcalboxing.net, or follow him on Twitter: @RMaq28.