By Thomas Gerbasi
Ask Rico Ramos how many Puerto Ricans are in his native Pico Rivera, California, and he thinks about it for a second. Then he laughs.
“Not that many,” he said. “Really, none at all. They’re all in New York and Florida.”
There will certainly be plenty in New York City this weekend, with the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade taking place, but from a boxing point of view, there will be no Miguel Cotto, Juan Manuel Lopez, or Ivan Calderon fights at Madison Square Garden, like there usually is. But rising star Ramos promises that one day, he will be there to celebrate with his fellow Boricuas.
“I will get there,” said Ramos. “All I gotta do is keep training and keep winning and I’ll get there to the top. I just want it so bad and I want to get to that MGM Grand and Madison Square Garden. I want to get everywhere.”
He’s on his way. On July 9th in Atlantic City, Ramos will challenge for his first pro title when he takes on WBA super bantamweight champion Akifumi Shimoda, and it’s not only an opportunity to gain a valuable trinket for his trophy case, but it’s an HBO-televised showcase that can bring his fast fists and hands into the nation’s living rooms.
In other words, to the world, it’s the first step in the star-making process. But the process really began when Ramos walked into the Broadway Boxing Gym in Los Angeles at the age of eight. It’s the part of the boxing story few refer back to, assuming that fighters fall out of the sky and into the amateur or pro ranks. That’s not the case, and what happens in those formative years can dictate where a boxer eventually winds up, because “real” life usually interferes.
“To tell you the truth, I really wasn’t a boxing fan,” he admits. “I just liked to box. I couldn’t tell you who the champions were, and I wasn’t into boxing at a young age.”
He was good at it though, and on his way to a 99-17 amateur record, he won the Golden Gloves, Silver Gloves, and a National PAL title, among other accolades. At the same time, life went on outside the ring, and as his friends were being teenagers, he was in the gym. So there was dissension in the ranks at times.
“When I was young, there was some point when I wanted to quit and give up boxing,” he said, and when asked at what age he had these feelings, he laughs. “When I was 10…15…19.”
At that rate, the 23-year old should be due around age 24 or 25, right?
“Not no more,” he smiles, before adding that it was always the pursuit of something better that kept him plugging away in the hardest game.
“You’re sitting in the house, you see other people outside doing nothing with their life, and it made me want to get back in the gym and constantly keep pushing myself,” he said. “I just stayed in the gym, got some fights, and I like fighting, so I stayed in there. And right now, most people my age are out there partying and doing other things, but this is my career, so I do what I have to do.”
It’s paid off, and as a pro, Ramos has sailed to a 19-0 record with 10 knockouts. There’s no one on his record that jumps out as a top, knock ‘em dead contender, but there are plenty of scrappy and experienced veterans like Heriberto Ruiz, Cuauhtemoc Vargas, Kermin Guardia, and Reynaldo Lopez that have prepared him for the next level.
“Shimoda is the best southpaw and the best guy that I’m gonna fight, but it gives me a lot of confidence that I’ve fought a couple southpaws already,” said Ramos, who has moved the training camp for the biggest fight of his career from LA to Las Vegas.
“The air is different here in Las Vegas from Los Angeles, and we’re working much harder for this fight,” he said. “I just wanted to try a different environment and training camp and see what happens, but it’s going real good. They’re pushing me very, very hard and everything is coming out great.”
As for Tokyo’s Shimoda (23-2-1, 10 KOs), Ramos says, “I don’t know that much about him. I just know that he comes to fight, his left hand is real strong, he comes forward, and he comes to fight for those 12 rounds. I’ll be ready.”
He’ll need to be, as Shimoda’s countryman Nobuhiro Ishida proved in his April knockout of highly touted James Kirkland that just because a fighter isn’t known in the United States, that doesn’t mean he isn’t good. But with the confidence that comes with being 23 and having 15 years’ experience in the game, Ramos’ mindset is, he may be good, but I’m better.
“I’m ready for anything,” he said. “Whoever they bring me at 122, I’m ready. This is my life, this is my career, and this is what I was born to do.”