By Keith Idec
NEW YORK – Stacey McKinley was stunned when he learned Jose Ramirez had signed a contract to fight Amir Imam.
The WBC had ordered a bout between the top-rated Imam and the third-ranked Ramirez for its vacant 140-pound title. McKinley, who trains Imam, had just assumed Bob Arum, Ramirez’s promoter, would guide his undefeated fighter in a different direction.
Ramirez is a huge ticket-seller in the Fresno, California, area, a rare American boxer capable of headlining cards that can attract 13,000 fans or more on a regular basis.
“The thing I had in my mind was here’s a guy that draws 14,000, 15,000 people,” McKinley told BoxingScene.com during an open workout Wednesday in Manhattan. “Why would you let him fight Amir Imam, when you don’t have to? That’s what shocked the hell out of me.”
Imam (21-1, 18 KOs), of Albany, New York, and Ramirez (21-0, 16 KOs), of Avenal, California, are set to fight Saturday night in the main event of an eight-bout card in The Theater at Madison Square Garden. Their scheduled 12-rounder will headline an ESPN tripleheader (8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT).
“Ramirez’s problem is he’s busy, but he doesn’t have the power,” said McKinley, who also has trained Mike Tyson. “And he hasn’t fought anybody. And he let Johnny Garcia knocked him down. Come on, man. We played with [Garcia]. We played with the guys that he fought. If you look at his opposition, he’s fighting guys 5-feet-4, 5-feet-6, 5-feet-7, 132 pounds, 135 pounds, moving up.
“I know the game. I know the business. He ain’t fought no legitimate 140-pounders. Now it’s a different ballgame. Now you let Johnny Garcia put you down, Amir Imam can hit you with either hand and you’re gone. And if he comes out there and jumps on us, it’s gonna be an early fight.”
An aggressive Ramirez jumped on Mike Reed early in his last fight. That approach paid dividends, as Ramirez knocked out the previously undefeated Reed (23-2, 12 KOs) in the second round November 11 in Fresno.
Garcia knocked down Ramirez in the second round of their December 2015 fight in Fresno. The 2012 Olympian came back to beat Garcia by unanimous decision in their eight-rounder.
Imam stopped Garcia (19-6-1, 11 KOs) after four one-sided rounds on the Ramirez-Reed undercard four months ago.
While Ramirez remains undefeated, Imam still is repairing his reputation after an eight-round technical knockout defeat to Adrian Granados in November 2015. According to McKinley, beating Ramirez will prove the 27-year-old Imam is all the way back from his lone loss.
“I think he’s gonna do real good against Ramirez,” McKinley said. “I know Ramirez real well. I know the opposition he has fought. I know Amir is a step up probably two levels for him. I also know he’s undefeated, which gives him a little advantage, a psychological advantage in certain ways because he’s never been beat before. But if you look at who he has fought, he hasn’t fought anyone near as tough as Amir.
“It’s going to be a very exciting fight. You’ve got two different styles. Ramirez is very aggressive. Amir can box, but he also can fight and he can slug. He’s an all-around fighter, so I’m very excited about this fight.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.