Make no mistake: Featherweight Robeisy Ramirez’s loss in his professional debut was an abject disaster. There is no sugarcoating this train wreck.
Ramirez, 25, was one of the most heralded fighters to turn pro in years. His fight Saturday in Philadelphia was designed to be a showcase, an absolutely nonthreatening fight. So it came as an utter shock that the hand-picked Adan Gonzales (5-2-2, 2 KOs), 22, of Denver, dropped him with a clean left hand in the opening seconds of the bout and went on to smack him around for most of the four rounds en route to a split decision that should have been unanimous (40-35 and 39-36 for Gonzales and an unconscionable 38-37 for Ramirez).
The southpaw Ramirez was a massively decorated amateur who won back-to-back Olympic gold medals for Cuba in 2012 and 2016 before defecting and signing with Top Rank with fanfare earlier this year. As an amateur, he scored Olympic wins over Shakur Stevenson (in the 2016 gold medal match) and Tugstsogt Nyambayar (in the 2012 gold medal match). They are both now unbeaten pros and mandatory world title challengers with huge futures. Ramirez also notched Olympic wins over two other unbeaten pros on the fast track: Michael Conlan and Murodjon Akhmadaliev, who is going to challenge Daniel Roman for his unified junior featherweight world title on Sept. 13.
The level of upset Gonzales pulled off cannot be overstated.
Former two-division world champion Timothy Bradley Jr., working as an analyst for the ESPN+ broadcast, was rightly hard on Ramirez and trainer Rob Mendez.
“He’s going to have to get himself a new training team. He was not ready for this debut,” Bradley opined. “He looked terrible in there. He looked tired from the second round and he got beat down. It’s not over for him. The kid got some talent. He does. I see some talent but he needs to be taught the right way. He needs to get with a good team, a good trainer, someone that knows the sport well.”
The questions about Ramirez’s preparedness for the fight are reasonable because he rarely used his jab, seemed to have no particular game plan and — despite the knockdown — showed zero urgency, which is tough to overcome in a four-round bout. It remains to be seen if Ramirez will blame Mendez and find a new trainer. It will also be interesting to see if he can rebound mentally from such a mind-blowing and crushing defeat.
However, there have been some notable fighters who have also lost their pro debuts and ultimately found boxing success — even greatness. Those fighters may not have had the expectations hung on Ramirez because they were not elite amateurs, but the list of those fighters might bring comfort to Team Ramirez. It will remind them that one loss, no matter how horrendous, does not mean the dream is over.
The most significant of those fighters is Henry Armstrong, who not only lost his pro debut by third-round knockout but lost four of his first five fights. Armstrong ultimately held the featherweight, lightweight and welterweight world titles in the late 1930s, when there was only one world title in each division and there were only eight weight classes in boxing. He is ranked by many as No. 2 on the all-time pound-for-pound list behind Sugar Ray Robinson.
Here are a few others:
Bernard Hopkins lost a majority four-round decision in his pro debut and went on to set the record for most consecutive middleweight title defenses (20). He also won the light heavyweight world title during a legendary career.
Juan Manuel Marquez suffered a first-round disqualification loss in his pro debut and went on to become one of Mexico’s all-time best, winning world titles in four divisions (featherweight, junior lightweight, lightweight and junior welterweight) and engaging in a historic four-fight series with Manny Pacquiao.
Wilfredo Vazquez lost a four-round decision in his pro debut and went on to win world titles at bantamweight, junior featherweight and featherweight as one of Puerto Rico’s best boxers.
England’s Johnny Nelson lost his first three fights — two by six-round decision, one by four-round decision — but went on to eventually win a cruiserweight world title and make a division-record 13 defenses.
Mexico’s Orlando Salido lost his debut by fourth-round knockout but went on to win titles at featherweight and junior lightweight.
Mexico’s Pipino Cuevas got stopped in the second round of his debut but later won a welterweight world title, which he held for four years. He was enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2002
Of today’s active fighters, two stand out:
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, who suffered third-round knockout losses in his first two pro fights but became a national hero in Thailand and a two-time junior bantamweight titlist who twice conquered Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez.
Tevin Farmer suffered a fourth-round stoppage in his pro debut but is now a dominant junior lightweight titleholder.
If Ramirez can bounce back and reach the potential so many have seen in him, he will be in good company.
At the end of 2018, I ranked Vergil Ortiz, then a junior welterweight, No. 4 on the top prospect list. It would not at all have been a stretch to make him No. 1.
Since then, Ortiz has notched three impressive knockouts — including two against his most formidable opponents in veteran former title challengers Mauricio Herrera and Antonio Orozco, neither of whom had ever been stopped. He’s established himself not only as a legit contender, but also as a probable force to reckoned with for a long time.
At 21, Ortiz (14-0, 14 KOs) may be the best and most exciting young fighter in boxing. It’s a label he embellished on Saturday night when he broke down Orozco (28-2, 17 KOs), 31, of San Diego, whose only previous defeat came in a hard-fought decision loss to Jose Ramirez 11 months ago.
Orozco gave Ortiz a good action fight and made him work hard for the win, but the younger, fresher, faster and more powerful Ortiz was just too much. He used a power jab and an assortment of hooks and right hands to make Orozco pay. Although Orozco pushed Ortiz beyond the fifth round for the first time, Ortiz’s stamina did not seem to be any issue. The end came quickly when he scored three knockdowns in the sixth round: a left uppercut dropping him to a knee, an accumulation of shots to send him to a knee again and finally a cracking left hook that sent him to his rear and caused referee Mark Calo-oy to wave it off at 2 minutes, 16 seconds.
While Canelo Alvarez is the biggest star in the Golden Boy Promotions stable, the Robert Garcia-trained Ortiz is very clearly the most important up-and-coming fighter in the company.
What’s refreshing about Ortiz is his humility. He scored an impressive knockout win over a very good opponent and was not satisfied.
“I’m going to be honest. I don’t like the way I did in the fight,” he said. “I don’t even know how many rounds we went, that’s how into the fight I was, but the first three, four rounds, I could have done way better. I definitely have a long way as a boxer to reach that world champion status. But we’re going to keep making those improvements and we’re going to learn from this fight.”
The truth is that he does not have that long of a way to go.
The next step: Golden Boy president Eric Gomez said the plan is to bring Ortiz back in November or December, possibly on Alvarez’s next undercard. “We will keep moving him up the rankings,” Gomez said. My view is that the way Ortiz can fight, that process should not take too long.
Fights you might have missed
Saturday at San Juan de los Lagos, Mexico
Light heavyweight Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (51-3-1, 33 KOs) KO1 Evert Bravo (25-11-1, 19 KOs)
Former middleweight world titlist Chavez, 33, of Mexico, had not been in the ring since his disappointing non-effort in a shutout decision loss to Canelo Alvarez in their super middleweight fight in May 2017. Many thought at the time Chavez should retire given that he did not appear remotely interested in actually fighting. Nonetheless, after the long layoff, Chavez returned to face soft-touch Bravo, 34, of Colombia, and blew him away with ease. With his legendary father, Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., watching at ringside, Chavez took out Bravo with his best punch, a left hook to the liver. Bravo sank to his knees and took the full count from referee Guadalupe Garcia at 1:22.
Bravo suffered his 10th knockout loss in his 11 defeats and lost for the fourth time in his last five fights — all by knockout inside two rounds. Chavez potentially could parlay his successful return into a much bigger fight this fall with former middleweight titlist Daniel Jacobs, who plans to move up in weight following his far more competitive loss to Alvarez in May.