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Ramirez vs Imam: Fight preview and matchup

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Jose Ramirez and Amir Imam meet for the WBC’s 140-pound title on St. Patrick’s Day in New York.

Jose Ramirez

Boxing: Ramirez vs Perez Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Record: 21-0 (16 KO) ... Streak: W21 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5’10” / 72½” ... Age: 25

Thoughts: A 2012 U.S. Olympian, one of the many who failed to win a single medal on the men’s squad that year, but has turned out to be at worst a solid professional fighter. Jose Ramirez signed with Top Rank and has been paced nicely in his career, and now at age 25, is ready for his first world title fight.

So far, Ramirez has been pretty much a wrecking ball, blitzing through his opposition and carving them up with relative ease. He did get dropped back in 2015 by Johnny Garcia, but he came back to win that fight. And he did go a full 10 with Manuel Perez, who was double tough and took a vicious beating, back in 2016.

Since beating Perez, Ramirez has stopped everyone he’s faced. He put away Tomas Mendez in four, Issouf Kinda in six, Jake Giuriceo in two, and most impressively, fellow unbeaten Top Rank prospect Mike Reed last November. He knocked Reed out in two rounds, which got him this slot against Amir Imam.

Ramirez has the tools, no question. But we’ve yet to really see how he responds to adversity. Maybe he’s so good that we still won’t know after Saturday night, but Imam has the ability to test Ramirez, and it would be a huge mistake for Ramirez to get cocky and start thinking he’s going to knock everyone out in short order.

Amir Imam

Amir Imam v Fidel Maldonado Jr. Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images

Record: 21-1 (18 KO) ... Streak: W3 ... Last 5: 4-1 ... Last 10: 9-1 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5’10½” / 74” ... Age: 27

Thoughts: Amir Imam was once Don King’s Last Stand, more or less, a legitimate prospect who wound up with King’s dwindling stable of fighters, most of whom he couldn’t get a fight anymore, when he had the talent to have signed with a true power promoter like Top Rank or Golden Boy. That had become an increasingly rare thing. It’s now a thing that basically doesn’t exist.

On paper, Imam had the goods — speed, skill, power, a pretty big frame for 140, and a personality. He beat Jared Robinson in a matchup of unbeatens back in 2014, then followed that up with victories over Yordenis Ugas (who has been on a tear ever since), Santos Benavides, Fidel Maldonado Jr, Walter Castillo, and Fernando Angulo. Basically, Imam was doing what he was supposed to be doing. He was fighting prospect checkers, passing the tests, and emerging as a young contender.

Then he met Adrian Granados in November 2015, and the wheels came off. Granados, unlike others Imam had fought, wouldn’t go away, and seemingly nothing Imam threw at Granados could convince the rough Chicago battler to back down. That night in Quebec City, live on Showtime, Amir Imam’s drive through the ranks hit a roadblock. Adrian Granados stopped him in the eighth round, having thoroughly taken over the fight.

I remember worrying at the time that Imam, just past his 25th birthday, would all but disappear. He didn’t have the right promoter to make a quick bounce-back a guarantee. If King lost interest or got in the way, Amir Imam’s career could have been on milk cartons.

Luckily, Imam got back into the ring about seven months later, and has won three straight since the defeat, most recently going to Fresno to fight on Ramirez’s undercard, beating Johnny Garcia via stoppage after the fourth round.

This is a huge fight for Amir Imam. Once seen as a top prospect, he’s now a loss in this fight away from being all but written off by the majority, whether that’s fair or not (it wouldn’t be, really — Granados can fight, and Ramirez can definitely fight). He knows this is must-win if he wants to become the star once thought possible.

Matchup Grade: B. There’s really nothing about this I dislike. Ramirez and Imam both have skills and power, and there is some potential for fireworks here, and also the potential for a short night of work. We have, really, a high-level meeting of prospects on paper. Imam never quite graduated to full on contender, and this is his chance to do that, even after a setback. Ramirez is looking to keep things rolling and take that belt back home, still unbeaten. It’s the biggest fight of each man’s career to date.

Undercard

  • Oleksandr Gvozdyk vs Mehdi Amar: Does anyone really blame Eleider Alvarez for not yet again fighting an “eliminator” or “interim” title fight against Gvozdyk, considering Adonis Stevenson has gotten by so long without fighting a mandatory that being his mandatory means nothing? I mean, if you basically are going to fight Stevenson whenever Stevenson chooses to do it, why risk a tougher fight? Honor? What is this, the movies? Anyway, I really like Gvozdyk (14-0, 12 KO) as a fighter and I expect him to beat former European champion Amar (34-5-2, 16 KO) handily. The winner gets the interim WBC belt, despite there being no actual need for an interim title other than the WBC has failed to make Stevenson fight a mandatory in 75 years. Matchup Grade: C-
  • Felix Verdejo vs Antonio Lozada Jr: Remember Felix Verdejo, the can’t-miss Puerto Rican prospect? Well, he’s back! (Again!) Verdejo (23-0, 15 KO) got early showcase slots on HBO cards, as he was thought at one point to be the Puerto Rican fighter waiting to take over as the top draw from the island, with Miguel Cotto then on his last legs and now retired. But things just haven’t worked out for Verdejo, really. Various injuries and whatnot left him with one fight last year, and this will be his first in 13 and a half months. Credit to him taking someone like Lozada (38-2, 32 KO), who isn’t a great fighter or even as good as his record, but he can punch and could be dangerous early, at the least.
  • Christopher Diaz vs Braulio Rodriguez: Diaz (22-0, 14 KO) is a 23-year-old Puerto Rican starting to make a few waves, many thanks to his December win on ESPN over Bryant Cruz on the Lomachenko-Rigondeaux card. Rodriguez (19-2, 17 KO) is coming off of a loss to Alberto Mercado, and this is probably a sideways step for Diaz more than anything. If Lozada’s record is soft, then Rodriguez’s is pillow soft.
  • Michael Conlan vs David Berna: Berna (15-2, 14 KO) is being imported from Hungary for this fight, because apparently you just can’t find this sort of talent Stateside for Conlan to beat. If Lozada’s record is soft, and Rodriguez’s is pillow soft, Berna’s is so soft I can’t even think of a way to put it. He’s fought two decent opponents, and they both knocked him out within five minutes in 2017. Conlan (5-0, 4 KO) continues to be pushed by Top Rank as a real star of the future, and it’s easy to figure out why. He’s Irish, he’s very charismatic, and he’s got a fun style, with skills to boot.