Rafael Espinoza never lost sight of why he made the trip to South Florida.
A late-round rally saw the first-time title challenger overcome a knockdown to score one of his own to dethrone WBO featherweight titlist Robeisy Ramirez. Espinoza trailed on all three scorecards through nine rounds but won the final three rounds and floored the Cuban southpaw to claim a majority decision in their Fight of the Year candidate.
“I didn’t think about anything. I just thought about winning,” Espinoza said of his desire to win his first major title. “I even asked what round we were in.
“And I knew that I had to drop and get him out of there to win.”
Guadalajara’s Espinoza (24-0, 20KOs, according to BoxRec’s update from past missing fights) survived his first scare well before the fight, when it was initially believed his travel visa paperwork wouldn’t be processed in time. He finally received proper documentation on Monday, five days ahead of the fight that would change his life.
Ramirez was the clear house favorite for their ESPN-aired main event this past Saturday from the Cuban-friendly confines of the Charles F. Dodge City Center in Pembroke Pines, Florida. Espinoza jumped out to a strong start but was decked late in round five. Ramirez (13-2, 8KOs) rode that momentum to a lead midway through and into the latter stages of the fight but was unable to turn away the late surge by his 6’1” title challenger.
Espinoza let his hands go to the tune of 309 punches thrown in the final nine minutes. A dramatic knockdown inside the final minute sealed the improbable win over the double Olympic Gold medalist and reigning titlist who was being groomed for unification bouts and a Naoya Inoue showdown in the year ahead.
“I just put my heart into it,” noted Espinoza. “I always do that. And thank God, it happened.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. X (formerly Twitter): @JakeNDaBox