It’s long been one of boxing’s mysteries, or at least that’s what we’re told. When it comes to the big fights not happening, we are given endless excuses, or as the non-combative combatants might say, reasons. Sometimes, we’re told, it’s just one of those things.
Jose Ramirez is going to take us behind the curtain, though, revealing all when asked if he was surprised how smoothly his May 22 bout against fellow two-belt junior welterweight champion Josh Taylor came together.
“It didn't surprise me one bit and it's an easy answer: it's because we both wanted the fight,” said Ramirez. “We both wanted to become the best in our weight class. Other fighters, they'll say they want the fight, but they're hiding behind different excuses. They get so caught up in the business side sometimes and getting the most money for the least risk. There's nothing wrong with that because boxing is a very difficult sport, so I can't even get mad at that. To each his own. But when two fighters really want to face each other, they'll face each other.”
There you go. When fighters want to fight, they’ll fight. So as we sit and wait to see Tyson Fury fight Anthony Joshua or Terence Crawford fight Errol Spence Jr., we should appreciate two unbeaten champions in their prime squaring off for all the belts at 140 pounds. That’s special, and a testament to who Ramirez and Taylor are.
And at this point, a week and a half before Ramirez steps into the ring at Virgin Hotels in Las Vegas, he’s feeling a lot of things, especially after running a mountain-like hill at 6am on Tuesday, but most of all, he’s feeling rejuvenated and appreciating everything about this time in his career and his life.
“I'm trying to enjoy this journey as much as I can,” he said, “Boxing is a very lonely sport and it can be very cruel. But I'm enjoying the moment and I'm enjoying the grind and I'm loving every second of it.”
Even the hill?
“It makes me feel I'm ready for this fight,” he said of running the hill that is still nameless. “I try not to think about the hill too much until Tuesdays and Thursdays, and I don't care too much about the hill afterwards. (Laughs) When you complete it in a very good way and when you perform really well, you feel good about yourself.”
And hey, at least it’s easier coming down that monster than going up.
“You gotta balance the whole way, making sure you don't roll forward, that's how tired your legs are,” he said. “You're like cattle. They go up the hill and they go down sideways.”
That Ramirez can find levity in such torture shows that he’s enjoying the most important training camp of his career and that it’s also winding down. He ended last week with three 12-round sessions and he’s starting to taper before focusing on his weight cut and the trip to Vegas. And while the media obligations can get a little hectic, especially for such a big fight, he’s not losing his enthusiasm or his focus.
“I feel really good, I'm enjoying the moment,” Ramirez said. “Not too many people can say that they fought in an undisputed world title fight, and the way this one happened was both Josh Taylor and myself earning our place in this fight. I didn't get lucky and beat a guy with two belts; I wasn't an underdog who fought once and got a lucky punch in and now I'm here. I fought 26 great fighters and I beat everyone I had to beat to make it this far. He did the same thing on his part, so I just can't wait. But I'm staying composed, I'm staying relaxed and at the end of the day, it's another day at the office. You can't let the excitement distract you. And every second, I'm trying to be my best. I don't say I hope the day is over. And that's a different feeling that I haven't felt in a long time.”
How long? Long enough that a February 2020 fight with Viktor Postol went through two postponements before finally taking place in August, essentially keeping Ramirez in an extended training camp for much of last year. Throw in a global pandemic and a baby on the way, and it was a tough time for the 2012 U.S. Olympian to stay focused.
“The sport took me away from my priorities,” he said. “For me, I dedicate myself as a father and to my family, and it kept me away from them too long. I've always been a guy who has God first, family second and the sport of boxing third. Last year, boxing took me away from those two priorities. I started feeling lonely, I started feeling doubtful, and I started having feelings that I never felt. And then towards the end, I was going through boxing like a routine, and I've never been that type of fighter who goes to a training camp and just goes through the routine, waiting for the fight to be over. But it got the best of me, and I lost focus.”
On fight night against Postol, it showed. Ramirez won, retaining his WBC and WBO titles via majority decision, but it wasn’t his best performance and he’ll be the first to admit it.
“The fight was very underwhelming, to be quite honest,” he said. “There wasn't too much action going on, but I felt like Postol did throw punches and it was mainly to survive the rounds and survive the fight. Every time I threw my punches, I would back Postol up to the ropes or I would hurt him, which I did a couple times. But it was my lack of activity by not throwing so many punches and letting him breathe too much and letting him survive too much, that I made the fight look a lot closer than what it was.”
As soon as he left Las Vegas to head home to Avenal, California, Ramirez left his team with instructions for the next fight he wanted, and he disappeared.
“I went back home and I just had to reset,” he said. “I got away from the sport of boxing, but behind the scenes I was telling my team what I wanted next. I didn't care if it was April, May or in June, I wanted this fight (with Taylor) to happen next. But I wanted to enjoy my family and not think about it too much and enjoy my blessings. My second baby was born to me this year, my first daughter, so I've got two kids now and I was able to be there with her and see that special moment. By then, the fight was already set, so I was ready to come back and get my training camp started.”
After a five-week pre-camp, it was off to work with Robert Garcia and by the time fight week rolls around, it will be more than two months of prep for the WBA and IBF champion from Scotland, another fighter who has yet to taste defeat in the pro ring. Ramirez has taken a few opponents from the ranks of the unbeaten, most notably Maurice Hooker, Antonio Orozco and Mike Reed, but when asked if an undefeated opponent is harder to break than one who already has marks in his loss column, he says it all depends on the fighter.
“It's hard to say because sometimes you face a guy who has one loss, but they came back a lot stronger from that one loss,” he explains. “Sometimes you face a guy who's undefeated who hasn't faced someone like myself, and you surprise yourself on how fast you broke them down because they've never been there before. Sometimes an undefeated fighter might go in there thinking, ‘I could be in a place where I've never been before, and I could face some adversity I've never faced before.’ Sometimes you face a guy with one loss or two losses that has nothing to lose no more and everything to win, and that could make him a dangerous fighter. Everyone's different and every fight's different. You never know what's going on behind them as a regular person. We're humans, and we could easily be distracted and going through tough times and most people won't even consider it.”
Jose Ramirez isn’t distracted like he was heading into his last fight. He’s just the opposite, intently focused on the dream fight he’s wanted, and the opportunity to make history. That’s a week and a half away, or one more hill to climb on Thursday. After that, it’s just a waiting game until the bell rings and he gets to do what he loves.
“When I'm in that ring, all the glory at that moment, it's for me to enjoy,” the 28-year-old said. “And that's where I feel I value the sport a lot, because that's where I'm able to show my talent and what I know how to do best. That's where I feel like I'm someone worthy, like I was born to do this. I was made for this and that's a feeling that's only for me to enjoy.”
And after…maybe a vacation with the family.
“It will be nice to have my four belts and be somewhere far away and put my phone away,” he laughs. “But when I open my phone five, six days later, to see all the positive articles after this fight, how a kid from Avenal came to become undisputed world champion, it's like the happy ending to a movie.”