Rafael Espinoza entered the ring largely unknown and a massive underdog to Robeisy Ramirez, but exits as the WBO champion after a heroic performance in a late contender for 2023’s Fight of the Year.
Espinoza fought like a lion, getting up from a brutal fifthth round knockdown and delivering a knockdown of his own with just seconds to go in the fight to seal the victory.
Espinoza (22-0, 18 KO) had a massive height advantage, but didn’t win this one with just reach and range. For the first four-and-a-half rounds of the fight, he showcased excellent footwork, fast hands, sharp counters, power shots in tight, whipping hooks and chopping uppercuts.
Everything worked beautifully for the underdog, standing mid-ring and getting the better of the slugging exchanges, of which there were plenty.
Ramirez (13-2, 8 KO) looked like he was about to lose the fifth round on the scorecards, until he landed a brutal right hand that would have ended the fight if it had come even 15 seconds sooner. Espinoza was rocked, got up very wobbly, staggering and nearly falling face-first on top of the ropes as the bell rang to end the round.
Espinoza was never quite the same, with his right leg looking compromised and his movement limited for the last half. But, even staggering around the middle rounds like a peg-leg pirate while Ramirez pummeled him wasn’t enough to make Espinoza give in. He recovered quickly, and Ramirez even went down in the 6th on what was ruled a slip. It may or may not have been a good call, but the conspicuous absence of replays neither confirmed or refuted the live decision.
Ramirez piled up the middle rounds and briefly took a lead on both ESPN’s and our unofficial scorecards. But Espinoza rallied dramatically, picking up the late rounds and wearing Ramirez down to the point that Ramirez was desperately trying to tie up and hold late in the 12th round. He couldn’t quite do it, and Espinoza got the equalizing knockdown with just seconds remaining in the fight. That knockdown was what it took to lock in the majority decision on official scores of 113-113, 114-112, and 115-111.
Ramirez was gracious in defeat, and applauded Espinoza after the decision was announced. But, the emotion came out in the locker room, where Ramirez cried tears of disappointment. It’s a devastating 2nd professional loss that cost him his WBO belt, but he fought like a champion even in defeat.
It’s a well-earned victory for Espinoza, who looked like a featherweight Sebastian Fundora, showed craft, heart, and toughness, and rockets to the top of the division in his first high-profile fight. He looked like a champion against a great fighter in Ramirez, and both men said they’d run it back in their post-fight interviews. It’s a rematch that can’t come soon enough, and a fight that demands rewatch attention if you missed it live.
Into the Championship rounds we go pic.twitter.com/OqC4n8i4cu— Top Rank Boxing (@trboxing) December 10, 2023
ESPINOZA KNOCKS RAMIREZ DOWN IN THE FINAL SECONDS pic.twitter.com/Mf1k7EcPXw— Top Rank Boxing (@trboxing) December 10, 2023
Xander Zayas KO-5 Jorge Fortea
Dominant work from Xander Zayas in the chief support against a game but overmatched Jorge Fortea. Everything was working for Zayas (18-0, 12 KO), who had the faster hands and harder punches, and really put them to work downstairs. Fortea (24-4-1, 9 KO) went down at the end of the 1st on a body shot, and another in the 5th was the finishing blow.
Afterwards, an ebullient Zayas shouted out a February showdown with former WBO champ Patrick Teixeira. It’s been a rocky path for Teixeira over the past few years, but he’s still a formidable step up for the young Zayas.