Gilberto Ramirez was supposed to solidify his place as a title contender on truTV’s boxing card Friday night, but he may have created more questions than he answered.
In the main event of the MetroPCS Friday Night Knockout show, Ramirez stayed on course for a WBO super middleweight title fight next spring, with an easy unanimous decision over lightly regarded Gevorg Khatchikian.
But Ramirez wasn’t the overpowering puncher that Top Rank CEO Bob Arum last week touted as boxing’s next great Hispanic star.
Ramirez was the dogged aggressor throughout, outpunching Khatchikian in all 10 rounds, but he left himself open often and should be grateful that he wasn’t matched with a world-class opponent. Khatchikian is 22-2, but his only top-tier opponent before this was Britain’s James DeGale, who had TKO’d Khatchikian in 2014.
Khatchikian landed clean shots, particularly in the late rounds when he was going for the fight-saving knockout. But he lacked the power and the aim to make those punches resonate.
Come March or April, Ramirez will fight the winner of Saturday night’s WBO super middleweight bout between Arthur Abraham and Martin Murray, and at this stage it’s doubtful he could withstand their best shots.
WBO welterweight champion Timothy Bradley Jr. said as much while stepping in to do commentary for truTV.
Bradley agreed that Ramirez, now 33-0, is deserving of his upcoming title opportunity but added: “I’d say go back to the gym and tighten up that defense a little bit, because when Ramirez steps up in class and fights for the championship if he gets hit with some of the shots he got hit with tonight it could be a short night for him.”
Still, there’s a lot to like about Ramirez, starting with his nickname, “Zurdo.” That’s the Spanish equivalent of “Lefty,” and the combination of Ramirez’s southpaw style and his 6’2” height in the 168-pound division is a potential nightmare for many opponents.
Ramirez has registered an impressive 24 knockouts as a pro and has a devastating left hook, but that potency seemingly wears off as his fights wear on. The 24-year-old Mexican from Mazatlan has had late-round TKOs, but he’s never scored a clean knockout beyond the third round.
Ramirez didn’t launch any signature punches and never knocked down Khatchikian or even bloodied him. But Ramirez never quit coming at his opponent, even in the 10th round, when he could have backed off and played it safe.
With the victory, he remains the mandatory WBO challenger for the winner of the Abraham-Murray fight. He could have stayed idle until the spring and still had the title bout, but he chose to take Friday night’s bout and avoid letting any ring rust build up.
Before the fight, Ramirez said that he had no second thoughts about risking his title chance: "I took this fight against Khatchikian because I think it is important to fight the best, get the experience, get prepared for a world title fight. I am not just trying to be better, but working in the ring to be the best."
After the fight, he said through an interpreter, “We came to win, to get the victory, and that’s what we did."
There was no question about the outcome. Two judges awarded all 10 rounds to Ramirez, and the third gave just one round to Khatchikian, an Armenian who was fighting in the U.S. for the first time.
Saul “Kid Dynamite” Rodriguez shows he is indeed explosive
Rodriguez gave ample proof that he possesses one-punch knockout power when he put Najera on the mat twice in the opening round of a fight that was stopped after just 2:06.
The first knockdown came after a vicious left hook that left a bloody mouse glowing under Najera’s left eye. After an eight-count, Najera immediately went down again when Rodriguez unleashed a barrage of four unanswered punches, living up to his “Kid Dynamite” nickname. Here's a look at that punching power from his fight against Juan Ramon Solis last year:
Rodriguez improved to 19-0-1 with his 14th KO, but some doubters may want to focus on the fact Najera failed to make the 132-pound weight. He was two pounds over, drawing a fine, and his failed attempt to make weight seemingly could have left him weak for the fight.
Maybe. But Rodriguez’s win couldn’t have been any more convincing. What makes it doubly impressive is that Najera was coming off a great effort against Felix Verdejo, who's 18-0. Najera lost a unanimous decision to the formidable Puerto Rican in June, but the fact he took that brawl the distance earned him plenty of respect in the boxing world.
The expectation Friday was that the highly durable Najera would test Rodriguez at length, but instead Najera couldn’t even last a round.
Najera, in a post-fight interview on truTV, refused to latch onto the weight issue as an alibi, saying, “I don’t think it was much of a factor.”
He also admitted that the shot that left him with a swollen eye pretty much dictated the outcome.
“I couldn’t see from my left eye,” said Najera, who drops to 16-2. “I don’t think I could have gone much more.”
Tom Weir covered numerous championship fights as a columnist for USA Today.