If someone told a young Gilberto Ramirez early in his amateur boxing career that he would eventually be one of the sport’s rising stars, a world champion and an ambassador for his native Mexico, such words would be met with a sneer or a laugh, or both.
As for being 41-0 with 27 knockouts heading into his July 9 meeting with Sullivan Barrera, well, that might have been met with a left hook.
That’s how far-fetched it was for Ramirez to make it to the top of the fight world.
“When I was amateur, I lost my first eight fights, and then I said that will never happen again,” recalls Ramirez, who refused to let that rough start take him off his path.
“It was my pride,” he said. “I want to do this. It's no secret - it's hard work and discipline and belief in yourself; that's what you need.”
Today, those impossible dreams have all come true, and he’s still chasing more. He logged a reign of over two years as the WBO super middleweight champion and after relinquishing his crown and moving up to the light heavyweight division, where he has won back-to-back bouts over Tommy Karpency and Alfonso Lopez, “Zurdo” has designs on another world title and the big fights he’s wanted.
“I feel like this is my weight now and I feel really comfortable and strong,” he said. “I think it's gonna be a good fight here in LA (against Barrera) with a lot of Mexican people, a lot of Latinos, and I want to give a good show to all the people.”
The bout with Barrera will be Ramirez’ first under the Golden Boy Promotions banner since signing with the Oscar De La Hoya-led company in February after a long run with Top Rank and a brief stint fighting under his own promotional outfit, Zurdo Promotions. The way he sees it, the fit is perfect for him at this point of his career.
“First of all, he (De La Hoya) was so flexible with me and what I wanted, and he has good ideas for me,” said Ramirez. “I think it's great for me because I used to watch Oscar De La Hoya many, many times and he's my idol and I want to be there with him too.”
But will he help with sparring for De La Hoya’s September bout with former UFC champion Vitor Belfort?
“No. I wish, but I don't think so.”
Ramirez laughs, and he clearly sounds at ease before one of the most important fights of his career. It’s a good spot to be in - 30 years old, in his prime, and in control; not just in the ring, but outside of it, where one of most visible signs of that control is in his rapidly growing command of the English language.
“I've been reading in English, and I finished two books – Relentless (by Tim Grover), Can't Hurt Me (by David Goggins) - and I'm reading more in English; that's why I'm learning.”
The latest tome on his bookshelf is Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey, and as he explains, not being able to express himself to the English-speaking media and fan base prompted him to learn a new language.
“I did it because I didn't want the translator to say something that I didn't want to say,” Ramirez said. “They always say something I don't want.”
Now, Ramirez can express how he feels and say what he wants to say himself. And no, that’s not a prerequisite for stardom here in the States, but it doesn’t hurt, and as he looks to beat Barrera and grab a belt or two or four at 175 pounds, he also has his eye on a much-discussed bout against countryman Canelo Alvarez.
“That fight will happen eventually in the near future, and it's good because people are asking for that fight and the people want to see it because they expect a war every time two Mexicans step in the ring,” he said.
Of course, there is the issue of Alvarez and De La Hoya not exactly being on each other’s Christmas card list, but money has a wonderful way of soothing over any hard feelings, so if the market is there for an Alvarez-Ramirez showdown, it will likely happen.
And boy, oh boy, wouldn’t it be something to have it in Mexico, maybe in the Estadio Azteca that hosted over 132,000 fans when Julio Cesar Chavez beat Greg Haugen in 1993.
“It has to happen in Mexico, and that would be sick to fight there,” Ramirez said.
Fighting anywhere at home against anyone would be high on the Mazatlan native’s to-do list, especially since has hasn’t competed there since April 2013, when he knocked out Juan De Angel in Mexico City.
“That's what I want,” he said. “I want to fight in Mexico, and it will just take time to fight there and I'm ready for that. I want people to watch me in my town, Mazatlan, and I want to bring a good show to them.”
Ramirez was 25-0 after bearing De Angel, and he was about to invade the United States, where he has fought 15 of his last 16 bouts. It’s brought him a level of notoriety that he is on the verge of lifting to an even higher one, and he plans on using the bout against the tough Cuban veteran as his statement that he’s ready for another world title shot.
“I'm gonna prove that I'm ready for a title fight and it's time for that,” he said. “Everyone will see Zurdo Ramirez kicking some ass, and we want to be great. I know Barrera and I know he's prepared really well for this fight because it's his chance, and it's my chance too, to get a title fight, and I don't want anyone to take nothing from me.”
Ramirez isn’t that kid eating loss after loss anymore. He’s a grown man, a fighter in his prime, and he has to win everything. And he doesn’t apologize for that.
“I'm like that,” he laughs. “I'm really competitive.”