By Michael Rosenthal
Jose Ramirez: Ramirez exemplifies the power of sheer will.
He has neither special technique nor unusual punching power but no one demands more from himself than the former U.S. Olympian, a trait that could take him a long way in his chosen sport.
Ramirez (22-0, 16 knockouts) is no better than Amir Imam (21-2, 18 KOs) in most ways but overwhelmed him nonetheless because he didn’t give Imam a chance to breathe, pushing leather into his face and body from the opening bell to win a unanimous decision and the vacant WBC 140-pound title.
Don King, Imam’s promoter, said afterward that Imam didn’t throw enough punches. True. The problem was he couldn’t cope with Ramirez’s relentless pressure. Only a better, more-experienced foe could.
I was struck by three things.
One, Ramirez’s conditioning. A fighter must have unusual stamina to push the action for 12 solid rounds, as he did. That’s part of “sheer will.” He’s willing to work tirelessly in the gym to win.
Two, Ramirez’s confidence. No doubts, no hesitation. He has the unwavering confidence of a young, undefeated fighter.
And, three, Ramirez will always be fun to watch because of his fiery style and work rate. Can you remember a significant lull in the action on Saturday? That was an entertaining one-sided fight.
All in all, Ramirez had an excellent night. But it was only a first step.
I like Imam, who I believe remains a legitimate contender in spite of his setback, but a victory over him is no great accomplishment as he has beaten no one of note in six-plus years as a professional.
Indeed, much tougher challenges are around the corner for Ramirez. That could include Regis Prograis, Ramirez’s first mandatory challenger. Bob Arum, Ramirez’s promoter, has suggested they fight separate opponents on the same card as a prelude to an interesting showdown.
Ramirez will lose at some point to that better, more-experienced opponent – maybe Prograis – because of his limitations. We’ll see. For now, one thing seems certain: Even if he loses, Ramirez is the kind of fighter who will make his opponents work for everything they get.
Felix Verdejo: Verdejo was supposed to be the next Miguel Cotto. Turns out he’s not even the next Juan Manuel Lopez.
Verdejo (23-1, 15 KOs) was stopped by relative unknown Antonio Lozada Jr. (39-2, 33 KOs) with only 23 seconds remaining in the 10th and final round on the Ramirez-Imam card, the first loss in the disappointing career of the former Olympian from Puerto Rico.
The fight took place off television, which would’ve been unthinkable for a once-rising star less than two years ago.
Injuries have hindered his career, including those suffered in a motorcycle accident in 2016 that scuttled an imminent title shot and another that pushed back his fight with Lozada. He had been out of the ring for 13 months before Saturday.
Maybe that played a role in the fact he wilted late in the fight.
“Felix’s body was not responding well, I think since the third round, something for which we have no explanation yet, but let’s see what happened,” said Ricky Marquez, Verdejo’s trainer. “It seems that he could not recover after weighing in. He rehydrated, but the body did not respond.”
Arum, Verdejo’s promoter, has an explanation: “A lack of discipline.”
If Arum is right, that would be shame given the fighter’s apparent, but unproven ability. Vasyl Lomachenko fought Oscar Valdez, Ramirez and Verdejo in the amateurs and said Verdejo was clearly the best of the three. Nothing is worse than wasted talent.
The good news for Verdejo is that he’s only 24. And he’s angry, both because he lost for the first time and the way he lost. He still can’t believe that the fight was stopped in the final seconds.
Maybe that’s what it’ll take to light a fire under him.
Lozada’s victory was a breakthrough for him. The Mexican had never faced a fighter of Verdejo’s reputed caliber and had never fought outside his country. It will be interesting to see whether his victory was the result of Verdejo’s troubles or the fact he has the potential to be an elite fighter. … I thought Oleksandr Gvozdyk (15-0, 12 KOs) looked so-so in his unanimous-decision victory over Mehdi Amar (34-6-2, 16 KOs) that gave him the interim WBC light heavyweight title on the Ramirez-Imam card. Maybe the Ukrainian fought down to Amar’s ability for lack of inspiration. Maybe the Frenchman is better than expected. Maybe Gvozdyk is simply a victim of his own reputation; we’ve already come to expect great things from him. Maybe it was all of the above. Bottom line: Gvozdyk won fairly easily. And he’s now the mandatory challenger for the winner of the May 19 fight between Adonis Stevenson and Badou Jack. I have a feeling Gvozdyk will be up for that fight. … Featherweight prospect Michael Conlan (6-0, 5 KOs) did exactly what he’s supposed to at this stage of his career on the Ramirez-Imam card: annihilate an overmatched opponent. Conlan took the fight out of David Berna (15-3, 14 KOs) with a single body shot late in the opening round. Berna, wincing with pain, survived the round but lasted only a minute into the second. And the victory couldn’t have come on a better day for the 2016 Olympian from Northern Ireland: It was Saint Patrick’s Day. Of course, the luck of the Irish played no role in this fight. … I was pleased to see Isaac Chilemba (25-5-2, 10 KOs) get into the win column. The South African had lost to elite 175-pounders Eleider Alvarez, Sergey Kovalev and Gvozdyk in his previous three fights but, as those who have followed him know, he’s a good fighter. Chilemba went to Australia to beat Aussie Blake Caparello by a unanimous decision Saturday, perhaps earning one more big fight.