By Michael Rosenthal
Gilberto Ramirez: I can’t get a good handle on Ramirez.
On one hand, the lanky Mexican is a good, durable boxer who has never lost. On the other hand, he isn’t particularly quick or athletic and doesn’t take advantage of his height and length when he fights, which are liabilities.
All that was on display against Roamer Alexis Angulo on Saturday night in Oklahoma City. Ramirez won a near-shutout decision – 120-108, 119-109 and 119-109 – to retain his WBO super middleweight title but left something to be desired against an obviously limited opponent.
Ramirez (38-0, 25 knockouts) outworked Angulo; hence the wide scores. He also had trouble hitting the awkward Colombian cleanly for much of the fight and took some hellacious shots himself, although he should be applauded for surviving them.
No one was dazzled by Ramirez’s performance, including Ramirez, who said, “No, I am not happy. I tried to do better.”
What if Ramirez turned in such a performance against the best 168-pounders? Might not end well.
The Mexican has had his way against second-tier challengers, fighters like the relatively unknown Angulo (23-1, 20 KOs). His best opponent was then-unbeaten Jesse Hart and Ramirez barely escaped with a close, unanimous decision in the second defense of the title he won by beating a declining Arthur Abraham in 2016.
Ramirez’s fellow titleholders – James DeGale, George Groves and David Benavidez – aren’t on anyone’s pound-for-pound list but each is championship caliber and probably would pose a bigger challenge than anyone Ramirez has faced to date.
Based on what I saw on Saturday, I don’t know whether Ramirez is ready. I really don’t know.
I’ll give him this, though: My gut tells me that he’s is the type of fighter who will generally rise to the challenge put before him, meaning he could compete with anyone based on a good skill set and sheer determination. We’ll find out whether I’m right only when he faces a next-level opponent.
I don’t know whether the Alex Saucedo-Lenny Zappavigna war on the Ramirez-Angulo card will be the fight of the year – it was too one-sided, in my opinion – but it definitely was fun to watch. I thought Saucedo (28-0, 18 KOs), the mandatory challenger to WBO 140-pound titleholder Maurice Hooker’s belt, was going to take out Zappavigna (37-4, 27 KOs) when the Aussie went down in the third round. Instead, Zappavigna, in full warrior mode, pummeled Saucedo in the fourth and never stopped winging punches until his corner stopped the fight in the seventh round with Saucedo up on the cards and Zappavigna’s sliced-up face a crimson mess. Saucedo, his own face cut and battered, said afterward that he hopes to fight Hooker by the end of the year. His all-around ability and the determination he demonstrated on Saturday might not bode well for the champ. Zappavigna, a veteran of so many wild fights, announced his retirement after the fight. What a way to go out. … Light heavyweight contender Joe Smith Jr. (24-2, 20 KOs) got back to discombobulating brains on Saturday in Uncasville, Connecticut, stopping journeyman Melvin Russell (11-5-2, 7 KOs) in only 1 minute, 45 seconds almost a year after Sullivan Barrera handing him his only loss. It was a nice comeback performance but it proved nothing. Smith mentioned the possibility of challenging WBO titleholder Sergey Kovalev afterward. A victory over Krusher would prove a lot. … I’ve tried to tune out the back and forth between heavyweight titleholders Anthony Joshua, Deontay Wilder and their camps, which already is getting old. Like the Gennady Golovkin-Canelo Alvarez fight, big money has a way of getting people together. The heavyweights need each other to maximize their earnings, although Joshua could also make a fortune against Tyson Fury. I think Joshua vs. Wilder happens in the spring in the U.K., where it belongs.
Fight of the Week: Jose Ramirez (22-0, 16 KOs) vs. Danny O’Connor (30-3, 11 KOs) Saturday (ESPN): This is a mismatch, which is OK given what lies ahead for the WBC junior welterweight titleholder. O’Connor was a good amateur and has won consistently in New England, his last loss coming by first-round KO against Gabriel Bracero in 2015. Ramirez represents a bigger challenge than Bracero. I expect him to have to work a little but ultimately win going away before his hometown fans in Fresno. That would set the stage for a showdown with Regis Prograis, Ramriez’s mandatory challenger, if Prograis beats Juan Valasco on July 14. Ramirez-Prograis is a battle of two complete, young fighters who are hungry for stardom. Who wins? I’d lean toward Prograis (21-0, 18 KOs) but it’s essentially 50-50.
Michael Rosenthal is the most-recent winner of the Boxing Writers Association of America’s Nat Fleischer Award for excellence in boxing journalism. He has covered boxing for almost three decades.