By Francisco Salazar
You can leave the agricultural fields of the Central Valley, but the agricultural fields of the Central Valley never leaves you.
That best sums up unbeaten junior welterweight contender Jose Ramirez.
The 2012 U.S. Olympian has fought all over the world, including London in his attempt to win a medal at the Olympic Games. After turning pro, Ramirez has fought in Las Vegas, Reno, the Los Angeles area, and Texas.
It is the Central Valley where he feels at home, particularly Avenal, the small farming community where he calls home. It seems like the entire town of Avenal, along with Fresno, in large numbers attend his fights regularly.
It will be the same thing as a crowd of over 15,000 will pack the Save Mart Center in Fresno when Ramirez will square off against fellow unbeaten Mike Reed in a 10 round bout. The fight, along with the light heavyweight bout between Artur Beterbiev and Enrico Koelling, will air live on ESPN (10:30 p.m. ET/ 7:30 p.m. PT).
Ramirez (20-0, 15 knockouts) epitomizes the Central Valley for many reasons. The 25-year-old is Mexican-American who is bilingual and a pillar of the community.
Ramirez's parents have worked in the agricultural fields for many years. The temperatures during the summer in the Central Valley at times are over 100 degrees and there is no shade except for picking grapes and lemons.
Having seen this firsthand, Ramirez has been ad advocate and a spokesman for the California Latino Water Coalition, which has dedicated to find solutions for California's water crisis.
"No water means no way growers can irrigate crops," Ramirez told Boxingscene.com in a previous interview. "No crops means campesinos (which means field workers in Spanish) can't work and support their families."
Ramirez, who has taken classes at California State University, Fresno, has gone to Sacramento to speak to lawmakers regarding opening up water reserves to ensure growers have water to irrigate crops, thus keeping farmworkers employed.
Ramirez, who is trained by Freddie Roach, is managed by Rick Mirigian. The outspoken Mirigian has done an excellent job marketing Ramirez throughout the Central Valley. Businesses and companies reach out to Mirigian to have Ramirez pitch their products, whether it a wireless store or taquerias.
There is an added incentive on tonight's card. The winner of the Ramirez-Reed fight will face Amir Imam, who is scheduled to face and defeat Johnny Garcia tonight on the undercard in Fresno.
The mandatory spot of the WBC junior welterweight division, which Imam holds, will be at stake.
With that much more incentive on the line, Ramirez will have a lot to prove that he belongs with the upper echelon of the junior welterweight division. Ramirez will face a difficult fighter in Reed, who is unbeaten, highly-motivated, and a southpaw, which could be kryptonite for Ramirez.
Through the struggles of himself working in the agricultural fields with his father to training and sparring with the best in boxing, Ramirez wants to win for himself and the area that has supported him since when he first laced up the gloves as a kid.
Ramirez has everything to lose, but more to gain with a victory. The same could be said for Reed. That is what makes tonight's fight compelling.
Note: The author's father (Francisco Salazar, Sr.) worked throughout the Central (San Joaquin) Valley of California, from Tracy, Manteca, and Lodi south through Fresno to Delano and Tulare during the 1960s and early 1970s, picking grapes, tomatoes, and lettuce.
Francisco A. Salazar has written for Boxingscene.com since September of 2012 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco also covers boxing for the Ventura County (Calif.) Star newspaper, RingTV.com, and FightNights.com. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing