By Jake Donovan
A chance encounter has Victor Ramirez and Ovill McKenzie vying for the cruiserweight crown Friday evening in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Ramirez was due to face World cruiserweight king Yoan Pablo Hernandez, but received an upgrade from interim to full titlist without so much as having to throw a single punch. The oft-injured Hernandez pulled out of their previously scheduled bout, abruptly announcing his retirement although his promoter Sauerland Event has since dismissed that claim.
Whatever the case, Hernandez is no longer in the picture as Ramirez (22-2, 17KOs) is officially recognized as a two-time cruiserweight titlist. The 31-year old saw his previous reign cut short by Marco Huck in Aug. '09, after which he chose to hang up the gloves.
As very few boxers in history have ever truly made a clean break from the sport - especially at a young age - Ramirez announced his ring return late in 2013.
Seven wins have followed, with his first six coming in a span of just 10 months. It led to his return to the title picture, scoring a 12-round decision over Ola Afolabi this past April in Buenos Aires.
The win earned Ramirez the right to face Hernandez whenever the Germany-based Cuban was ready to return from injury. He now instead moves to his first defense as a full titlist, though coming against a noted spoiler.
It says a lot of McKenzie (25-12, 13KOs) that he was not only available on short notice, but already in supreme condition. The Jamaican cruiserweight - who lives and trains out of England - has prided his journeyman career on upsetting the apple cart.
His reputation as a divisional spoiler reached new heights upon his 2nd round knockout of former cruiserweight champ Enzo Maccarinelli in Nov. '12. McKenzie would lose the rematch, succumbing in the 11th round of their Aug. '13 bout, which was his last loss to date.
Four straight wins have followed for McKenzie, including another stunning 2nd round stoppage on his ledger, this coming versus Jon-Lewis Dickinson last June.
The chiseled cruiserweight - who turns 36 in October - enters Friday's title fight on the heels of a two-round stoppage over Janne Forsman (19-1 at the time) in July.
Friday's title bout airs live on TyC Sports in Argentina and the United States (9:00 p.m. ET), as well as on BoxNation TV in the United Kingdom (2:00 a.m. local time).
BOXINGSCENE.COM STAFF PREDICTIONS: VICTOR RAMIREZ vs. OVILL McKENZIE
Ryan Burton (Ramirez Unan. Dec.): McKenzie has been on a roll of late but not against top level competition. I think Ramirez wins a 9-3 type fight.
Jake Donovan (Ramirez Dec.): I'm a sucker for a great underdog story, and believe that McKenzie will give Ramirez all that he can handle. I'm just not sure he can win a decision on the road, especially in Argentina.
Michael Gibbons (McKenzie Split Dec.): Look for the spoiler to do it once again, this time on the road and on his biggest stage.
Takahiro Onaga (Ramirez TKO5): McKenzie manages to tag Ramirez early, but that only proves to anger the bull who beats him into submission in the first half of fight.
Cliff Rold (Ramirez Dec.): Ramirez is having a hell of a rebound and will follow up the exciting Afolabi win with a confirmation as IBF top dog.
Alexey Sukachev (Ramirez TKO6): With all my respect to a career gatekeeper, who caught up with a chance of lifetime, but he has to be twice as lucky to defeat Ramirez, specifically on his home turf. I believe McKenzie will make Ramirez run for his money but Argentinean's power will be too much for the Brit.
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com.