OK, let’s figure this out.

Gilberto Ramirez is 29 years old. He’s unbeaten in 40 fights.

He’s certainly talented and it wouldn’t be a stretch to label him charismatic.

So why isn’t he a mainstream star in today’s boxing galaxy?

Good question.

Then just shy of 25, the lanky Mexican southpaw exited the MGM Grand on April 9, 2016, with the WBO’s super middleweight strap across his shoulder, thanks to an impressive 12-round shutout over veteran two-division champ Arthur Abraham.

It was Abraham’s 23rd title fight. It was Ramirez’s first.

And because it came on the undercard of a Manny Pacquaio fight – in which the Filipino completed his trilogy with Tim Bradley – it seemed high time for an ascension at 168 pounds.

Didn’t happen.

“It was a really happy moment for me. A great moment in my life,” he said. “I was thinking the same thing. After that fight I was thinking, ‘Now I’m champion. I want to be the best.’

“Five years later, I still want to be the best. I want to be the face of boxing and be a pound-for-pound fighter. I’m on the right path to reach my goals and what I want.”

Though he successfully defended five times in the subsequent 32 months after Abraham, Ramirez never elevated to household name status and was on the outside looking in when it came to landing big fights while consistently struggling to make weight.

He abandoned his title to move to 175 for a four-round blowout of three-time title challenger Tommy Karpency in April 2019, but found himself in a personal/promotional/pandemic quagmire soon after.

Fast-forward to December 2020 and he’s still not fought, but the landscape has changed.

A mutual agreement led to a release from his contract with Top Rank, making him a free agent on the business side as he aims to get his own enterprise – Zurdo Promotions – off the ground.

Optimism, it seems, is on the agenda as he heads into a hiatus-busting match with Texas-based veteran Alfonso Lopez on Dec. 18. It’s being billed as the “Battle of Rio Grande,” will have Lopez’s continental title belt on the line and is available on pay-per-view for a mere $24.99.

A win could put him back on the path to a breakthrough, thanks to lofty rankings – No. 1 WBC, No. 4 WBA, No. 7 IBF, No. 8 WBO and No. 12 IBO – from the major sanctioning bodies.

“I’m on the right path to reach my goals and what I want,” Ramirez said.

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Boxing Scene sat down with the fighter/promoter to discuss his layoff, his comeback and his ultimate desire to share a ring with another Mexican you may have heard of – one Canelo Alvarez.

BoxingScene.com: Walking out of the MGM Grand that night and thinking about the future, and thinking about where you are now. Does it make you surprised, disappointed?

Gilberto Ramirez: My goal was just be a champion. Eventually, I put up more goals. I tried to reach more goals. In that fight I felt like I was so happy, so grateful. I became a champion. Five years after that fight, I’m still at the top level. I’m the best. I have to do everything that’s in my hands to prove to myself and prove to everyone that I’m the best.

BoxingScene.com: How difficult is it to lay off for 18 months at your age, in your prime years?

Ramirez: It was a really, really, really hard time for me. I used to fight like three or four times a year. Then everything stopped and it was really stressful for me to not fight and not be in action. Everything happened for a reason. I feel grateful because it was a good time, the right time to wait. It was the right time for me because of the coronavirus and the war to stop it. Nobody was thinking that it was going to happen in 2020. Now I think it’s different and it’s my chance to prove to myself and prove to everyone that I want to be champion and I want to be a pound-for-pound fighter.

BoxingScene.com: Are you a guy who’s in the gym a lot, or only when you have a fight?

Ramirez: All the time. It’s a lifestyle. I have to be in the gym all the time, 24/7, every day. I like to be in the gym to do exercise even if I don’t have a fight. I still like working on it. I do everything. I do goals. I do meditation. Yoga. Swimming. I do everything that I can.

BoxingScene.com: So when they told you there was a fight, getting in shape was not a problem?

Ramirez: I’m in shape. I’ve been doing like 10 rounds, 12 rounds. I’ve been training all during quarantine time. I feel ready. I didn’t feel like I was having time off from the ring. I feel like I was always ready for a fight. I knew that the opportunity would come and I had to be ready.

BoxingScene.com: Did you know anything about Lopez?

Ramirez: I don’t take it easy for any fight. This fight I don’t take it easy because he came with 10 wins in a row. That’s good for him. I’ve been watching him. I’ve been watching interviews and what he says. He says he’s ready and that people have to watch the fight. I feel like he’s really confident in himself and that’s good because that makes me feel like it’ll be a good fight for both of us and all the fans and all the people who want to see it. It’s a tough fight. A tough fight for me. A tough fight for him. It will be an interesting fight for both of us and I just want to give the fans what they want.

BoxingScene.com: Do you study your opponents intensely, or let them prepare for you?

Ramirez: I know what I’m doing in the ring. He has to be prepared for me. I don’t have to be all the time watching tapes. I watch a tape a couple times and that’s it. Most important is training, doing sparring and being prepared for whatever he brings to the table. The coach has to do the plan.

BoxingScene.com: You had a good run at 168. Is 175 your comfortable weight now?

Ramirez: Now, there’s no more 168 for me. 175 feels comfortable. I feel like my body is done with 168. I didn’t feel strong enough. Now at 175 I feel great. I can eat meat. I can eat tacos. I feel like I have power and that’s good for me. It was tough to not eat tacos. Now I can eat whatever I want and I feel comfortable at 175.

BoxingScene.com: It’s a good division. Do you see lots of good fights and championship fights?

Ramirez: Yes, of course. I see Bivol. I see Benavidez. He will eventually move up. I see Beterbiev. The WBO is vacant. I want to fight those guys. That’s my dream.

BoxingScene.com: Is this a fight where you have to make an impression that people remember?

Ramirez: Of course I do. I have to win. Everybody wants what I have. They see I’m 40-0 and they want to be ranked No. 1. I know that. Winning this fight means I want the next one to be for a title. So I have to win.

BoxingScene.com: Everyone wants a Canelo fight. Why do you want it, and why would he?

Ramirez: I want to get all the belts and I want to be a pound-for-pound champion. The people will ask more for that fight and eventually that fight will happen. Of course. Our paths are going to cross and it has to happen. Two Mexican fighters in the ring, it’s a war guaranteed.

BoxingScene.com: We have this conversation again in a year, what do you want to happen by then?

Ramirez: I want all the belts. Growing my company, Zurdo Promotions, to help fighters. I want to have a lot of champions and see the promotion get bigger.

BoxingScene.com: Why is the promotional thing happening?

Ramirez: I want to help people. I want to help fighters. I want to develop their careers and help all of them get work.

BoxingScene.com: And if you’re a big name, it’ll be a big name?

Ramirez: Yes, of course.

BoxingScene.com: Let’s say Canelo calls your name. How soon could it happen?

Ramirez: It’s up to them. Maybe it could happen in 2021, 2022. We don’t know. But that’s the one we want.

* * * * * * * * * *

This week’s title-fight schedule:


IBF/IBO/WBA/WBO heavyweight titles – London, United Kingdom

Anthony Joshua (champion/No. 2 IWBR) vs. Kubrat Pulev (No. 1 IBF/No. 10 IWBR)

Joshua (23-1, 21 KO): First title defense; Defended IBF title six times in first reign (6-0, 5 KO)

Pulev (28-1, 14 KO): Second title fight (0-1); Lost (KO 5) try for same four titles in 2014

Fitzbitz says: Two things. First, Joshua will be a better fighter because of the loss. Maybe not great, but better. And second, Pulev is 39 and without an impressive win in years. Next please. Joshua in 9 (90/10)

Last week's picks: 1-1 (WIN: Saunders; LOSS: Garcia)

2020 picks record: 34-8 (80.9 percent)

Overall picks record: 1,151-373 (75.5 percent)

NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.

Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at fitzbitz@msn.com or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.