Regardless of who triumphs in the pending WBSS final between George Groves and Callum Smith later this year, there is a sizeable school of thought that Mexican totem Gilberto ‘Zurdo’ Ramirez is presently the premier 12st prizefighter on this planet.
The 37-0 southpaw from Sinaloa will certainly be looking to add converts to that claim when he makes a fourth defence of his WBO crown against unbeaten Colombian clubber Roamer Alexis Angulo, live on BoxNation this weekend.
Glynn Evans analyses the attributes that have elevated the uncharacteristically slick Latino to prominence.
1. Hungry Like a Wolf
Stylistically, the calm and organised Ramirez might not fit the stereotype of a Mexican gunslinger but, like most compatriots who acquired glory in the ring, he certainly had to brawl his way out of the barrios. One of three children, he was born and raised in Mazatlan, a coastal tourist town in the state of Sinaloa. ‘I fought practically every day on the streets and I loved it,’ he says. ‘At 14, I expected to be a gangster….a hitman!’
2. A Plus for Perseverance
His father, a humble truck driver, had aspirations for his athletic son to find fame and fortune on the baseball diamond and initially resisted Gilberto’s pleas to attend the boxing gym. When he finally relented, young Ramirez made an inauspicious beginning to his fighting life, losing his initial seven amateur starts, primarily because he couldn’t afford the bus fare needed to travel to training. To address the issue, Gilberto began to ‘moonlight’ as a cement-mixer on construction sites, aged just 12, and was rewarded with three National Olimpicos Titles. However, he lacked the funds to pursue his dream of competing in the 2012 London Olympics and in August 2009, began punching for pay, hired as sparring fodder for ‘Canelo’ Alvarez.
3. Pedigree Pup
In the land of the bleeding, brawling bomber, ‘Zurdo’ stands as something of a novelty act. For a start, his size distinguishes him. 6ft 2 ½ in tall and blessed with a 75in wingspan, his April 2016 shut out of Armenia’s Arthur Abraham to lift the WBO Title established Ramirez as Mexico’s first and only World Champion in the 168lb division’s 34-year history. Of his compatriots, only Lght-Heavyweight Julio Gonzalez has grabbed a global gong at a heavier weight.
Whilst 25 stoppage wins suggest ‘Zurdo’s’ shots carry plenty of pop – he brings a particularly vicious body attack – his modus operandi is more scientific than savage. It’s his searing speed, sizzling combos and balletic feet that court most praise.
Whilst the quality of the competition encountered during Ramirez’s 26 months on the WBO throne remains a matter for conjecture, opponents have been repelled with minimal exertion. Conquered champion Abraham – triumphant in 19 of 22 prior gigs at world level – and maiden challenger Max Bursak of the Ukraine (once king of Europe) lost all 24 rounds combined as ‘Zurdo’ boxed them dizzy. Ditto Ghana’s 22-0 Habib ‘Wild Hurricane’ Ahmed, blown out in six.
Only mandatory test Jesse Hart offered any semblance of retaliation. Dropped in round two, the Phillie firebrand – also unbeaten in 22, with 18 executed early – provided a chin-check before conceding a close but unanimous decision.
The Mazetleco certainly has the support system in place to advance to the super fights he now crazes. Father-son tandem Hector and Jesus Zapari have offered stability as trainer and manager respectively since the birth of his pro career and, though initially linked with Saul Alvarez’s Canelo Promotions, Octogenarian Hall of Famer Bob Arum, the hugely influential CEO at Top Rank, has been pulling the promotional strings since 2013. ESPN routinely screen ‘Zurdo’s’ fights in the US whilst BoxNation provides invaluable European exposure in his quest for global recognition.
6. 'Marketing Dream’
Blessed with the swarthy looks of a Mexican matinee idol, media men of his acquaintance list the reformed street thug – now a dotting father to five year old Braulio – as humble, engaging and affable. His discipline and desire are beyond reproach.
He now resides on California’s Hermosa Beach and has toiled tirelessly to master English to heighten his marketability. Eleven of his last 12 gigs have taken place on the US mainland, whilst a July 2014 outing in Macao, China, introduced him to the Asian audience. Latterly, he has been heavily touted to Mexican communities in the south-western quarter of the USA. Saturday’s showdown with 23-0 Angulo takes place at the 16,757 capacity Chesapeake Energy Center, home of the Oklahoma Thunder NBA franchise.
7. Class Competition
Thoroughbred rivals abound who could elevate ‘Zurdo’ from star to superstar. Though the recent WBSS tourney proved a resounding success, it was clearly diluted by the WBO czar’s absence and, regardless of who prevails in the decider, neither ‘St George’ nor ‘Mundo’ can claim 168lb hegemony until a score with Senor Ramirez is settled. Short term, a unifier with recently restored IBF boss James DeGale could satisfy Gilberto’s combative urges before he inevitably vaults to Light-Heavy.
Arum, however, eyes an alternative option: ‘Trust me, Zurdo knocks out ‘Triple G’ Golovkin inside five or six rounds!’