It only seems like a hundred years ago since Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez gloved up and did battle in a ring, for real. In actuality, Zurdo (“Lefty”) last fought 19 months ago, when he met Tommy Karpency, underneath a Vasiliy Lomachenko-Anthony Crolla main event in Los Angeles.
It was the final outing for Ramirez (40-0, 26 KO) under the Top Rank umbrella, and frankly, it was much more fizzle than sizzle.
It started out with a high ceiling for promise. In 2013-2014, Top Rank bossman Bob Arum would lump Zurdo in with Top Rank up-and-comers Oscar Valdez and Jose Ramirez. Zurdo did climb those ranks and snagged some decent wins, including one over Arthur Abraham in 2016 on the Pacquiao-Bradley III card. With that victory came the WBO super middleweight strap and higher expectations.
The lanky Ramirez defended, but not against the names he pictured in his head. Victories were notched over Max Bursak, Jesse Hart, Habib Ahmed, Roamer Alexis Angulo, Hart again, and then in a move up in weight, Karpency.
He won and defended the 168 title, but some zest, some zing, some fire wasn’t present. Too many decisions, too many rounds that looked just like the one before. And so the fighter-promoter relationship cooled down. Not as often would Arum mention Zurdo in the same breath as Valdez and Ramirez, and it turned out, professional divorce beckoned. Top Rank and Zurdo split up.
I talked to Ramirez, about where he was then, and what he’s up to today, and he informed me that some of his spirit is restored. He is fighting Dec. 18, in Galveston, Texas, against Alfonso Lopez — and if you didn’t know, he is also promoting that event.
“Did it feel like I last fought about a hundred years ago? In the beginning it was like that, I said, ‘I wanna fight!’ Now it’s like everything is ready, two weeks from now, it’s on,” he said. “I feel so excited.”
We talked a bit of current events, too. He was pretty impressed with how Mike Tyson looked in his exhibition session against Roy Jones Jr on Nov. 28.
“He’s still in shape,” Zurdo said, “I think he can beat some guys, guys in the top 30.”
Ramirez determined he wanted to steer his own ship at a certain point. The remainder of his contract with Top Rank got scrapped, with both parties settling on terms to end the union.
“They did a great job with me, but I want to move forward with myself, and have fights for fans and myself,” the fighter told me. “Because a career, it’s not gonna be for life for boxing.”
He continued, “They couldn’t get me the fights I wanted, but I am grateful what they did for my career. But I had to do this for myself.”
He wanted to have freedom to go where he wanted and build up his entity, he said, like Oscar De La Hoya has.
No, he’s not just assuming he beats Lopez, but yes, c’mon now, he has installed himself as the A-side against the 38-year-old veteran. Ramirez is confident, but betrays no cockiness, that he will win in his debut as fighter-promoter.
“I want the champs at 175, Dmitry Bivol, Artur Beterbiev, and the WBO vacant title — all those guys. Next year, I will look for tough shots.”
And he will do it, he feels, by maneuvering for opportunities himself as promoter. ”I think it’s gonna be big, and long term. I want to do it the right way and help fighters. I want to teach them the business, and I want to be a role model for them.”
The fighter was born in Mexico, and he lived a prototype hard life on the come up. By age 12, he was working a construction job in Mazatlan. In the States, he’d been living in Sherman Oaks, the San Fernando Valley in California, but has been residing in Las Vegas for the last six months. Julian Chua and Joe Flores are training him for this bout.
I do wonder, at 29, could he trot out some new wrinkles since the Karpency bout? The lefty is lanky, and it’s not that he’s not busy. He usually is, but his power isn’t A-grade. That removes an element of drama from his fights, it feels like, because you don’t get that buzz watching him all the time, that maybe the next punch thrown is going to be the one to fell the foe. Dmitry Bivol suffers from the same fate, it could be argued. So I wonder if maybe “the new Zurdo” will have more of an edge to him now that he’s under his own umbrella. What sort of attraction do you want fighting for you? All the elements, right? Strength, speed, volume, and power.
It would have been helpful, I think, for Zurdo to get matched with a Sergey Kovalev or a Joe Smith Jr, because it would have brought him out of his comfort zone and into a danger zone. I’d read that he got offered a bout against Eleider Alvarez, but turned down the match; maybe he’d already decided he wanted to wear more hats.
But Ramirez needed to be in a fight where the other guy was favored to win, so he could be pushed. Win or lose, some drama would probably have been summoned. If and when he walked over some hot coals like that, then it would become more likely that he could snag the big rumble he’s craved, against Canelo Alvarez.
And at “just” 29, he does on paper have some years left to secure some big faceoffs.
“Eventually, those fights will happen,” Ramirez said. “I have to move myself forward. Now I’m learning a lot, it’s a challenge, the boxing business is fun for me. All my life and professional life, I’ve prepared for being a businessman. It’s challenging, but not tough. I want to do this the right way, make money, do it the fair way, be good for fighters. I learned in the street; that’s where you learn best, from the mistakes you make. That’s the best school you can get!”
As for the Dec. 18 fight, which will screen on FITE TV, he tells me it should be a good battle.
“Alfonso, I think he’s a good fighter, and he will prepare for this a lot. I have my mindset ready, I’ve been preparing all during this coronavirus time. This is the longest prep I ever had.
“I want to thank everyone reading this, and for the support and love they give me. I’m going for 41-0!”
I bet he gets there, but it might be just a small notch harder than he expects. Zurdo wears hats well — wearing a cowboy hat to and in the ring is a trademark — but wearing a fighter and a promoter hat can weigh heavy on head and shoulders.