FRESNO, Calif. — When Jose Ramirez was put into a mandatory position to fight for one of the junior welterweight world titles vacated by undisputed champion Terence Crawford in September, he already had a fight with Mike Reed scheduled.
Ramirez, with a huge following in Central California and a date locked in as the headliner on a Top Rank ESPN card, had no intention of pulling out. It was never even a thought.
So he went into the fight risking his position against Reed and put on a spectacular performance.
Ramirez pounded Reed, dropping him once before ruthlessly stopping him in the second round before a frenzied crowd of 13,838 on Saturday night at the Save Mart Center on the campus of Fresno State.
“When I fight better fighters, it brings the best out,” Ramirez said. “Most people underestimate my speed and defense, but they don’t understand it until they’re in front of me. I showed tonight what I mean by that.
“I was just so focused on Mike Reed. I was more than ready for him. I feel so excited. Now I can think about the title fight but first I’m going to spend time with my family and my little boy. I’m going to enjoy the holidays and then I’ll get back in the gym.”
Ramirez, a 2012 U.S. Olympian from nearby Avenal, California, had already won the hearts of those in the region for his tireless work on behalf of many farmers and their field workers. He has lent his name and time to fighting environmentalists for regional water rights. They have repaid Ramirez by turning out in force for his fights even though he has not yet faced a top opponent or boxed for a major title.
But he drew yet another raucous crowd and cemented his position as a mandatory world title challenger against the Don King-promoted Amir Imam (21-1, 18 KOs), 27, of Albany, New York, who stopped former Ramirez victim Johnny Garcia in the fourth round on the undercard to also preserve his status in the world title fight. Top Rank promoter Bob Arum said the title fight would take place in the first quarter of 2018 — target date Feb. 16 — either at the Save Mart Center or in Reno, Nevada.
“I think it will be a very good fight. Imam is a very good fighter,” said Arum, who has a deal in place for the title fight with King that still needs to be signed. “But it will take a tremendous performance to beat this kid (Ramirez).”
Ramirez pressured Reed, a southpaw, from the opening bell. He worked the body and fired his powerful left hook time and again. Reed, more of a boxer than brawler, was a willing partner, however, and engaged him, probably figuring it would be hard to get a decision in front of Ramirez’s crowd.
“We saw that Reed was bigger tonight and outweighed us, so I told Jose to go to the body,” Freddie Roach, Ramirez’s Hall of Fame trainer, said. “Imam is a step up from tonight’s fight but we’re ready to take Imam on and go for the title.”
In the second round, Ramirez continued to relentlessly attack Reed and badly hurt him with a right hand. Reed went into the ropes and Ramirez continued to unload punches, eventually driving him to the mat for a knockdown.
Reed was hurt but he beat the count, and Ramirez (21-0, 16 KOs), 25, did not relent. Reed, who had called out Ramirez and wanted to fight him in his hometown, went down again under heavy pressure, but referee Jack Reiss ruled it was caused by a slip.
“He hurt me with a body shot. It was a real big punch, but the fight never should have been stopped,” Reed said. “The fight should have continued.”
Had Reed won, he was not guaranteed the world title fight against Imam but probably would have gotten it. But Ramirez ended that dream and said he did not allow the thoughts of the title fight to get into his head as he prepared for the fight.
“My job was to come into the ring and do my business,” Ramirez said. “My power was much better than his. He was feeling my punches. I never considered this fight a risk. It was a confidence booster to me. Now I can focus on Imam. I hope Imam got the message tonight.”