By Luis Sandoval
In every sport there is a time when an athlete comes along whose promise is greater than most. A prodigy whose natural skill and ability heavily separate him from everyone else and the expectations are remarkably high.
In boxing, it appears another one of those blue chip athletes is on the horizon and his name is Jose Ramirez. He’s already been dubbed “The Lebron James of boxing” by his team.
Hailing from the small farming town of Avenal, CA, where 6,000 of its 15,000 population is made up of inmates from the local prison, Ramirez has managed to make a name for himself.
He’s an amateur phenomenon whose accomplishments have surpassed those of Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather Jr, Shane Mosley and others. He has won 130 amateur fights, 10 National Championships, and 5 consecutive USA National titles.
Ramirez most recently qualified for the 2012 United States Boxing Olympics Team by defeating former 2008 Olympian Raynell Williams twice in the trial finals.
If that isn’t enough, he has also already secured endorsements with Nike, Everlast, and Wonderful Pistachios. Surprisingly he’s done this all without having fought a single professional fight.
When you talk to Ramirez, you immediately realize that even with all this happening for him, he’s remained humble and grateful to be in the position he’s in. A great deal of expectations has been set for him but he insists the pressure doesn’t get to him.
“I feel really blessed and I feel very grateful for everything. Not too many people get this at this age without going pro, without being in the [Olympic] games and I’ve been given this” says the 19 year old Ramirez.
“This isn’t any pressure, it just motivates me that people believe in me and it means I should continue to believe in myself”.
As a kid, Jose remembers being very energetic and even going as far as going jumping off the roof of his house. That caused his father to enroll him in sports to try to channel his energy in recreational activities. Jose may have been quiet and a bit shy but he was always competitive when it came to sports.
He walked into a boxing gym for the first time when one opened a couple blocks from his home. His now trainer Armando Mancinas opened up the gym with the help of the Sherrif’s department and made sure not to charge the kids for using it. That was vital in making it possible for kids like Jose who came from low income families to be able to workout at the gym.
Ramirez’s first experience in the gym was hitting the timing bag which hit him right back in the face. An embarrassing moment for the young Ramirez but it didn’t deter him from pursuing the sport; it only fueled him.
Ramirez found success right away as he won his first boxing tournament he participated in. Even with just raw talent, Jose was able to find success in the sweet science.
“I didn’t know what I was doing, I just wanted the trophy!” said Ramirez. “I just threw one twos, one twos, one twos and in the third round, I threw a hook. [It] was the only hook of the fight and I landed it. It stumbled the kid and I think that’s what won me the fight”.
From winning local tournaments, Ramirez went on to win State and then National championships. It was then he realized he could very possibly have a future in this sport and began looking at being an Olympian.
The USA has struggled lately to produce much success with its Olympics boxing program and especially with their 2008 Olympic class. Heavyweight Deontay Wilder was the only American to place as he won a Bronze medal. With so much seemingly invested in Ramirez, returning from London with a gold medal almost seems like a must for the amateur star.
Ramirez would love nothing more than to win a gold medal and explains what he looks forward to the most in being an Olympian.
“Seeing that a Hispanic [fighter] representing a country like the USA. Seeing a Hispanic do something and that thanks to him, you’ll see the American flag go up when I win the gold medal” says Ramirez.
Even with Ramirez’s decorated amateur career and undefeated run in the Olympics trials, he is surprisingly still not officially on the team. After winning the Olympic trials, the winners went to Baku, Azerbaijan for the world championships in September. The goal for each fighter was to finish in the top 10 to earn an automatic entry into the Olympics.
Unfortunately for Ramirez, he drew former 2008 Olympic gold medalist Vasyl Lomachenko in the second round of the world championships. While many thought he won his match, the official scores were against Ramirez and was given a loss.
Normally Ramirez would simply prepare for the next Olympic qualifier in Brazil but this year, USA Boxing has made a change to the process. They’ve decided to add an additional “reload” round called the USA Boxing National Championship in order to advance to the final Olympic qualifier. What it means is Jose (and any other Olympic trial winners who did not qualify in Baku) will need to go through yet another “trial”, even after they already won the initial one, in order to have the right to fight in the Brazil Olympic qualifier.
“It makes absolutely no sense” states trainer and manager Armando Mancinas. “From day one they’ve always been saying that with the USA Boxing team, the lack of production is because they don’t have the international experience. So all the kids who won the Olympic trials, all they had to do was focus on getting international experience [which is] the thing they least had or needed most”.
“So instead of focusing on giving them international experience, they decide on this reload tournament which basically puts them at square one again and allows anybody to go and enter this tournament and try to get to Brazil for an Olympic spot”.
That aside, part of what makes Ramirez such an interesting story besides his amateur accomplishments is the fact that he’s been able to receive great exposure and opportunities that most championship professionals haven’t achieved. Credit has to be given to his business advisor and branding/marketing agent Rick Mirigian who’s the driving force behind it all.
“I think the reason I’ve been able to accomplish quite a bit with Jose in a short amount of time is I believe in Jose like Jose believes in himself. One of the biggest things I thought helped is everything Jose did that had nothing to do with boxing” explained Mirigian.
“I think from a human interest standpoint that’s what the draw is in Jose. Growing up in a small town, growing up in a poor lower income family and living in a farming community. People see Jose’s struggles, his determination, his focus and can relate to that”.
If boxing had a draft like most major sports, Ramirez would be the obvious number one pick. Promotional companies would be clamoring to add Ramirez to their stable and in fact, they already are. Ramirez has already had numerous meetings with top promoters Golden Boy Promotions and Top Rank regarding his professional career. After the Olympics, Ramirez will more than likely join one of their stables though no agreements have been made.
Boxing prodigies are nothing new to the sport. In fact, guys like Jose Benavidez Jr and Frankie Gomez are some of the most recent prospects that have high expectations in the sport. One thing both of them lacked was Olympic experience and that is something Ramirez may add to his already impressive amateur background.
Ramirez will need to fight and win in March in the US “reload” Olympic trials in order to then be able to move on to Brazil Final Olympic qualifier. With so much going for him already, Jose could easily turn professional but securing his spot for the 2012 London Olympics is a dream of his.
“I’m very happy with what I’ve done but I’m not finished if I go pro. I really want to make that Olympic team. I want to be at the Olympic games” stated Ramirez.
Jose is barely embarking on his journey and the good thing is we can all follow along, sit back and enjoy the ride with him.