Robeisy Ramirez was able to finally land a headliner in Florida, where he first sought freedom.
He just couldn’t overcome the tall order that came with the assignment.
Longshot underdog Rafael Espinoza survived a knockdown to score one of his own to win the WBO featherweight title in a massive upset. Guadalajara’s Espinoza won by scores of 115-111 (Steve Weisfeld) and 114-112 (Benoit Roussel) to override Efrain Lebron’s awful 113-113 scorecard and earn the majority decision victory Saturday evening at Charles F. Dodge City Center in Pembroke Pines, Florida.
Ramirez always dreamed of topping a show in the heavily Cuban-populated greater Miami area, where he sought refuge after his 2018 defection. The double Olympic Gold medalist finally gained his wish four years into his pro career and was unconcerned about the massive height and reach disadvantage conceded to the 6’1” Espinoza on the occasion. The 29-year-old southpaw still found a way to make full use of the tiny 16’x16’ ring, though it ultimately worked to his detriment.
A slight adjustment was demanded by trainer Ismael Salas, who called for lateral movement. Ramirez honored that command to a certain extent. However, he was still intent to mix it up versus a fighter who’d stopped his past five opponents and was consistently beating the defending titlist to the punch.
Espinoza remained the busier fighter through three rounds, a remarkable feat considering an early foot injury sustained in his first title bid.
“I think I fractured my foot in the second round,” Espinoza told ESPN’s Bernardo Osuna. “My two-year-old daughter… thinking about her got me through this fight.”
Ramirez was being outworked on the stat sheet but also put in steady body work. Still, his low output was of concern to his corner who believed he was giving away rounds to the first-time challenger.
Both fighters landed during an exchange midway through round four. Ramirez dared Espinoza to come forward as he attempted to make him miss and make him pay.
Espinoza did not take the bait and continued to put together his punches in round five. Chants of ‘CU-BA’ filled the intimate venue in hopes of rallying the house favorite. Ramirez tried to oblige but the insistence to trade left him open for a right uppercut by Espinoza.
Ramirez delivered a massive shift in tide late in the round. A right hook by the defending titlist folded Espinoza as he fell along the bottom rope and to the canvas. The crowd roared in its approval even as Espinoza picked himself up off the deck to beat the count and make it to the bell.
Momentum remained with Ramirez in round six, though he avoided a knockdown call. A trip to the canvas was ruled a push when Ramirez defended against an Espinoza right hand but the force of which put him down. Ramirez quickly rose to his feet and proceeded to land left hands on a suddenly inviting challenger. Espinoza still had his say during exchanges at center ring but his leg tended to give out whenever Ramirez connected upstairs.
Ramirez had Espinoza on wobbly legs once again in round seven. Left hands and right hooks consistently scored for the Cuban export, who continued on the attack in the eighth. Espinoza was pinned against the ropes and absorbed a combination but managed to remain upright and work his way to the center of the ring. Action slowed a touch, as Espinoza pawed with his jab and Ramirez waited for counterpunching opportunities.
Espinoza punched his way back into the fight in the tenth. Ramirez put his infighting skills to avoid the incoming but most of the round was spent with the challenger dictating the pace in what appeared to be a dangerously close fight.
The same template was applied in the eleventh. The instructions from Ramirez’s corner was to turn a fight into a boxing match. Espinoza wasn’t having it and continued to charge forward. He landed a right hand over the top near the end of the round, to which Ramirez was unable to offer a response.
Ramirez came out behind a high and tight guard to begin the final round. Espinoza’s activity was enough to keep Ramirez on the defensive. A right hand by Espinoza momentarily froze Ramirez but the determined challenger was unable to put another shot behind it. He regained his composure and landed a series of power shots inside the final minute—including a combination which sent a spent Ramirez to the canvas.
“I thought I had the fight won, but he caught his second wind,” admitted Ramirez of the late-rounds collapse. “I tried to catch my second wind but I have to give him credit. He came back, he knocked me down. I don’t think it should have been the difference but it was. That’s just how it happened.”
Espinoza continued on the attack all the way until the end to pull off the massive upset victory. He improved—in every sense of the word—to 22-0 (18KOs) and the WBO title in tow in his first title fight.
Ramirez fell to 13-2 (8KOs) with his first defeat since his August 2019 pro debut. A thirteen-fight win streak was snapped, as his WBO title reign closed just eight months after an April 1 win over Isaac Dogboe to claim the crown.
Both fighters openly embraced the possibility of a rematch.
“No doubt,” said Espinoza, who landed 222-of-995 total punches (22.3%), compared to just 119-of-376 (31.6%) for Ramirez. “Just like Robeisy was a true champion and gave me an opportunity, I’m willing to give him that same opportunity to regain his title.”
The sound of that was embraced by Ramirez, who was humble in defeat.
“I would love to have a rematch against him,” insisted the fallen champ. “I have a lot of respect for him. He is a true Mexican warrior. I have a lot of respect for him and will fight Espinoza again or any of the other Mexican featherweight champions (IBF’s Luis Alberto Lopez and WBC’s Rey Vargas).”
Espinoza threw 329 punches in the final three rounds to seal the victory. He swept the tenth and twelfth rounds but strangely lost the eleventh round on the 113-113 card turned in by Lebron, who only came up with a draw after scoring 10-8 Espinoza in the twelfth and final round.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. X (formerly Twitter): @JakeNDaBox