You can get Jose Ramirez out of the agricultural fields, but you can never take the agricultural fields out of Jose Ramirez.
Whether it was the brutal summer heat in July or the cold days of January, a hard day’s work in the agricultural fields awaited Ramirez as a teenager.
Bell peppers, lettuce, etc. You name the vegetable or fruit and Ramirez would pick it alongside his father outside his hometown of Avenal, California.
Picking crops is humbling and back-breaking work, but the mental fortitude may give Ramirez a slight edge going into his clash tonight against Josh Taylor tonight at the Virgin Hotels Las Vegas in Las Vegas, Nevada. The 12-round bout will headline a three-bout ESPN telecast (8 p.m. ET/ 5 p.m. PT).
At stake is the undisputed junior welterweight championship. Ramirez will put up his WBC and WBO titles, while Taylor will rise his IBF and WBA titles.
Before representing the United States at the 2012 Olympic Games, and turning pro later that year, Ramirez looked destined to carry on what his father had done since migrating Mexico: Being a ‘campesino’ and working the land, picking the crop in season.
There is nothing wrong with being a farmworker. It is an honest work that now pays a fair salary, thanks to the efforts of the United Farm Workers, which was created by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta in the early 1960s. Before the UFW, farmworkers were not guaranteed a minimum wage, did not have portable restrooms, no clean drinking water, or even a paid break as outlined by federal work guidelines.
Ramirez’s father was relieved his son completed high school, attended classes at nearby California State University, Fresno, and even found a job at a Starbucks. As long as Jose was not toiling in the fields, that was a success story in itself.
But Jose Ramirez never let go of his roots. World title belts, success, six and seven-figure purses from recent fights did not change or made him former where he came from or what he did.
Instead, Ramirez developed a work ethic that transferred over to the boxing ring. The days, regardless of the season, of bending over and picking crops, carrying them to be weighed and sorted, and pouring them into boxes or crates gave Ramirez a mental toughness and fortitude that few people on Earth carry.
Whether it is one more round of hard sparring with unbeaten welterweight Vergil Ortiz, Jr., another round of mitt work with trainer Robert Garcia, or one more hill to run up, Ramirez has no problem pushing himself.
His relationship with Garcia, both in the ring or on a personal level, is a lot stronger and a bond has created because of a Garcia’s own background. Garcia’s father, famed trainer Eduardo Garcia, was himself a farmworker on the Oxnard (California) Plains.
Ramirez does not forget where he is from. Whenever he has not been in the gym or spending time with his family, Ramirez has traveled to Sacramento, California’s state capital, to lobby for farmworkers’ rights, including the creation of the Latino Water Coalition. The organization which pushed lawmakers to release more water from reservoirs so farm owners can grow crops during California’s drought a few years ago.
“No water means crops can’t grow and workers can’t work and support their families,” Ramirez told BoxingScene in an interview a few years ago.
Early during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ramirez went traveled to several farms, speaking to farmworkers in Spanish about the importance of masks and social distancing. He also provided farmworkers with care packages, which included hand sanitizer, toilet paper, beans, tortillas, bread, and other essentials.
No one is saying Ramirez will defeat Taylor on the sole basis of being the son of and being himself a farmworker. Ramirez’s life of growing up picking vegetables and fruit created a mental strength that transferred over to the sport of boxing.
Just the fact Ramirez was able to make a life of himself away from working in the fields and becoming a prizefighter is a win itself. Winning two world title belts is also a significant accomplishment, but becoming an undisputed champion would be extraordinary. Same for Taylor.
A win tonight for Ramirez would not be a gratifying moment but also a win for his family, the small town of Avenal, and for farmworkers. Ramirez is not only proud of being a prizefighter, but more so of the life he grew up in that molded him to be the person and fighter he is today.
Ramirez can be far removed from agricultural fields, but those fields will never leave him. Could we expect anything less from him?
* The writer’s father was a farmworker who worked the fields of Michigan, Texas and throughout California before settling in Oxnard/ Camarillo, California after legally migrating from Mexico. He also participated in the Grape Boycott of 1967-68 in California (which was organized by the United Farm Workers), where workers protested low pay and no benefits from the state’s grape growers. The writer picked spinach and string beans at the age of 13, eventually completing his Bachelors degree in History and receiving his teaching credentials from California State University, Northridge.
Francisco A. Salazar has written for BoxingScene 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. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing.