By Keith Idec
NEW YORK – It wasn’t as spectacular or as quick as his last performance, but Jose Ramirez’s determination earned him a 140-pound world title Saturday night.
The 2012 Olympian remained undefeated and won the vacant WBC super lightweight title by beating up a game Amir Imam in The Theater at Madison Square Garden. Ramirez won what at times was a competitive 12-round fight by unanimous decision.
Judge Max DeLuca had it close, 115-113 for Ramirez (22-0, 16 KOs). The two other judges, John McKaie (117-111) and John Stewart (120-108), scored Ramirez a much wider winner.
Stewart didn’t score a single round for Imam (21-2, 18 KOs), who appeared hurt at least three times during the fight.
“This is a dream come true for me,” Ramirez said. “It is an honor to be a world champion. I’m thankful for the talent God gave me. I dedicate this fight to all the immigrants. I fight for them.”
The 27-year-old Imam, an Albany, New York, native who’s rated No. 1 by the WBC, and the third-ranked Ramirez were ordered to fight for the WBC 140-pound championship Terence Crawford relinquished last year move up seven pounds, to the welterweight division.
“I should have done more to the body,” Imam said. “And I needed to. I just keep thinking about all the things I should have done.”
The 25-year-old Ramirez, of Avenal, California, now is obligated to fight newly crowned WBC interim 140-pound champ Regis Prograis. New Orleans’ Prograis (21-0, 18 KOs) won his title by knocking out former IBF/IBO/WBA champ Julius Indongo (22-2, 11 KOs) in the second round March 9 in Deadwood, South Dakota.
Sensing Imam was about to go, Ramirez attacked him to start the 12th round. Ramirez seemed to hurt Imam with a barrage of rights and lefts, but Imam tied him up, managed to fight back during the second half of the 12th round and made it to the final bell.
Ramirez hammered Imam with power shots that caused significant swelling under Imam’s right eye early in the 11th round. Ramirez dominated that round and snapped back Imam’s head with a straight right hand near a neutral corner, just before the 11th round ended.
Ramirez wobbled Imam with a left hook that made him hold late in the 10th round. Moments earlier, Ramirez hit Imam with a left hook while Imam’s back was against the ropes.
“There was a point in the fight that I said to myself, ‘Jose, what are you doing?,’ ” Ramirez said. “That’s why I caught my second wind and I gave it my all in the championship rounds.”
Ramirez tried to bully Imam into the ropes at the start of the ninth round, but Imam stood his ground and moved the action back to the center of the ring. They fought inside for most of the rest of the round, with Imam and Ramirez each landing his fair share of head and body shots.
Imam seemed to get the better of a fierce exchange early in the eighth round. That slowed down Ramirez, but only temporarily.
Before the eighth round ended, they traded hard body shots.
Imam and Ramirez traded left hooks with just under a minute to go in the seventh round. Neither fighter appeared hurt by that exchange
Ramirez buzzed Imam with an overhand right at about the 1:50 mark of the sixth round. Imam helped temporarily and moved out of Ramirez’s punching range long enough to regain his composure.
Ramirez landed another overhand right later in the sixth, but it didn’t land as flush as the shot that hurt Imam.
Ramirez’s best moment of the fifth round came when he hit Imam with a left hook to the body and followed with a left hook to the head. Imam slowed down Ramirez with a right uppercut later in the fifth.
In the first half of the fourth round, Ramirez began landing his overhand right regularly. Imam connected with a right uppercut that snapped back Ramirez’s head with about 50 seconds to go in the fourth.
Ramirez hit Imam with a three-punch combination as Imam backed against the ropes with about a minute to go in the third round. Ramirez tripped over Imam’s leg and fell to the canvas early in the third round.
Ramirez trapped Imam in his own corner at the very beginning of the second round and landed a hard left to the body. Imam attempted to work off his jab later in the second, but Ramirez connected with an overhand right as Imam moved toward the ropes.
Ramirez was aggressive in the first round, but Imam mostly was elusive in what amounted to a competitive three minutes.
Less than an hour later, Ramirez left the ring a world champion. Impressed with his opponent, Ramirez made sure to credit Imam for the toughness and courage he displayed during their fight.
“Amir is a great fighter and he came well prepared,” Ramirez said. “That’s why we gave the fans a great fight.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.