Former unified world champion Jose Ramirez may have placed himself back into world title contention following an occasionally dangerous but ultimately comprehensive decision win over two-weight former titlist Rances Barthelemy in a welterweight main event at Save Mart Arena in Fresno, California, on Saturday night.

Ramirez, who held the WBC and WBO junior welterweight titles before losing them both in a unification with Josh Taylor in 2021, began brightly, pressuring Barthelemy over the opening two rounds and digging hooks to the body that he frequently switched upstairs – and even turned into uppercuts that scored against the taller fighter. But the veteran Barthelemy remained relaxed, happy to let his opponent do all the work as he waited for an opportunity to counter.

That opportunity came in the third, when the fight sprang to life after a Barthelemy left hand appeared to stun Ramirez. A follow-up sequence saw Ramirez (29-1, 18 KOs) stumble to the canvas on his hands and knees, but Barthelemy continued to land punches to his head, prompting referee Jack Reiss to intervene and lecture Barthelemy while ruling that Ramirez had been pushed down. An angry Ramirez came at Barthelemy with vigor, only for the Cuban to catch him with another straight left as the round ticked down to the end.

The same punch hurt Ramirez in the opening minute of the fourth, but Ramirez kept coming, spending the rest of the round digging viciously to Barthelemy’s body as he sought to recover his senses. The fifth saw Ramirez seemingly regain the initiative as he once more mauled and pressured Barthelemy (30-3-1, 15 KOs) along the ropes. But whenever he took a step or two back and Barthelemy had room to punch, the Cuban continued to find success with his straight left, landing three in succession – all of which appeared to stun Ramirez at least a little, in the sixth.

Thereafter, however, Ramirez gained control. He held his right hand a little higher and began jabbing his way in, limiting the opportunities for Barthelemy to land his straight left. Suddenly, Barthelemy looked to be running out of ideas, a counter-punching strategy rendered ineffective by the inability to land his favored counterpunch. By the 11th, Barthelemy was looking weary from the constant Ramirez assault, and when a Ramirez barrage sent his opponent into the ropes at round’s end, referee Jack Reiss warned Barthelemy and his corner that he would stop the fight if the Cuban languished on the ropes again.

Barthelemy showed more life in the 12th round to ensure he went the distance, but by the end the decision was a formality, even if the scores of 119-109 (twice) and 118-110 arguably gave Barthelemy too little credit for his success in the first half of the fight.

“It wasn’t the best performance of my career,” acknowledged Ramirez, who hails from nearby Avenal. “I got too excited. I could hear people call my name, and I saw people I recognized. I got a little too distracted. I got hit with one punch, and he got motivated. If that hadn’t happened, I think I would have broken his spirit. I fought twice in the last three years, so I was a little rusty. But hey, you live, you learn.”