Mando Ramos sat in the front row with a number of other former boxing champions as one of the first inductees at the brand new WBC Legends of Boxing Museum in San Bernardino.
As I strolled through the large crowd of about 500 people in the extremely hot and humid auditorium of the new boxing home, there was Ramos sitting with famed radio boxing columnist Johnny Ortiz, the former owner of the historic Main Street Gym.
“I’m not used to this heat,” said Ramos, who sat with his wife Sylvia just in front of the table where Mexico’s Marco Antonio Barrera was placed. “It’s good to be here or anywhere.”
Ramos was one of the inductees at the new museum at American Sports University in San Bernardino. He was in good spirits and laughing heartily among his boxing friends, of which there were many.
That was nearly two weeks ago, on June 27.
On Sunday July 6, the two-time former lightweight world champion died from an apparent heart attack.
As a kid growing up in East Los Angeles it was a big thing to watch Ramos fight on television. A number of us at Griffith Jr. High would talk about his most recent win at the Olympic Auditorium where he was a box office smash. We’d pretend to be the San Pedro boxer and dance around each other firing punches. Boxing was big in our town and Ramos was the biggest of all.
Though merely a teen whenever he fought in the 1960s and 70s, boxing fans from all over the large Los Angeles basin would arrive early to stand in the ticket line at the Olympic Auditorium. If you got there after 5 p.m. you were probably out of luck in getting in.
“He was some kind of attraction,” said Don “War-a-Week” Chargin, the former matchmaker for the Olympic Auditorium. “He had the looks like (Oscar) De La Hoya and he was really a thrill provider.”
Ramos had that mischievous look about him and a boxing style that gave fans pure excitement with his pugnacious boxer-puncher style.
Chargin, who still promotes boxing events, said he discovered Ramos when he was looking for the older brother Junior Ramos at his San Pedro home. While searching inside the house he ran into a then 16-year-old Mando Ramos who told him “You guys got the wrong brother, I’m the fighter in this family.”
Never a truer word was spoken.
A few years later he fought his pro debut at the Olympic and quickly became a star attraction.
“Mando Ramos was Aileen Eaton’s favorite boy,” said television and radio boxing commentator Johnny Ortiz of the famous female promoter Eaton. “That’s why she put his picture up on the wall at the Olympic.”
Ramos was a tall lanky kid at 5-9 who weighed 135 pounds, with dark hair, blazing dark eyes and long arms that he put to use inside the ring. He quickly became a fan favorite among the Mexican fans, American fans and celebrities.
“Bill Cosby used to come down to see him,” said Ortiz, who also acted in several motion pictures. “Everybody wanted to see Mando fight.”
Most boxing fans remember that he could out-box most fighters without getting touched, but preferred to duke it out “Mexican-style” which brought fans in droves to see the kid with the punch go-for-broke.
Art “Handsome Slim” Carrillo, a former pro fighter now living in Corona, recalls watching a sparring match between the 135-pound Ramos and a 147-pound Mexican welterweight champion at the old Main Street Gym in Los Angeles.
“The guy couldn’t touch Mando Ramos,” said Carrillo who attended most of his fights at the Olympic. “He had tremendous footwork.”
Early in his career while still fighting four-round fights, Ramos excited crowds with his willingness to exchange punches, though he could easily dance around without getting hit if he chose that route. The San Pedro boxer would get hit once and off came the dancing shoes and on came the rockets. He could never pass up a brawl and he loved the crowd’s attention.
“I always liked to please the crowd,” said Ramos last year, when I wrote a piece on his fight against Korea’s Kang Il Suh at the Olympic that happened in 1967. It was the 40th anniversary of that fight and the Korea boxer now lives in Los Angeles. Ramos liked that Suh gave him his props. “He said that? What a great guy. I’d sure like to meet him.”
Because of other obligations Suh was unable to meet Ramos last October during the annual World Boxing Hall of Fame banquet.
That was one of many sold out crowds that Ramos enjoyed in his too brief career.
The Big Break
Chargin said that Ramos’s break came when a main event scheduled to take place was canceled within three days of the date and left him without a main attraction. The manager of Ramos, the great Jackie McCoy, offered up his fighter who was still fighting four to six rounds, not 10 rounds. The deal was made.
On Sept. 7, 1966 Ramos fought Joey Aguilar in a 10-round main event and scored an eighth round technical knockout. That fight drew 8,000 people and his career was launched.
For the next three years Ramos name became synonymous with the instant sell out as fans quickly scooped up tickets to see the new sensation. Those who could not buy tickets in time watched the weekly boxing shows at home on television on Thursdays.
For three years he also remained undefeated until he met Korea’s Suh in 1967. That fight was lost when Ramos began to tire around the seventh round.
“I never trained much for fights by then,” said Ramos who did not like to run. “I thought I won the fight but he was a good fighter.”
Three months later he would lose to Irish Frankie Crawford. But in the rematch, he would beat Crawford after 10 rounds.
Seventh months after Crawford, on Sept. 27, 1968, he met world champion Carlos Teo Cruz for the lightweight title at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Ramos was too big a draw to stage the world title fight at the Olympic so he met the Dominican great in the massive sporting arena. He lost in a close fight.
Though very young, Ramos proved he could stay with a world-class fighter like Cruz and was such a box office attraction that a rematch was demanded.
Five months later they met again in the same Coliseum, this time Ramos scored a technical knockout win to take the world title in the 11th round and become the youngest lightweight world champion at 20. Cruz had suffered a bad cut over the eye and the fight was stopped. Sadly, Cruz would only live 11 more months. He died in a plane crash on January 1970 alongside the great baseball player Roberto Clemente during a rescue mission trip to Nicaragua.
Ramos successfully defended the world title once against Japan’s Yoshiaki Numata at the L.A. Sports Arena on Oct. 1969. Then he fought Panama’s Ismael Laguna on March 1970 and was cut over both eyes and his own trainer McCoy stopped the fight.
After a year, the San Pedro boxer flew to Spain to meet Pedro Carrasco for the vacant WBC lightweight title on March 5, 1971. At that fight he would knock down the Spaniard four times but was disqualified.
“Carrasco held on to his legs after a knockdown so Mando tried to push him off. But the referee disqualified him,” said Chargin, who flew to Spain with Ramos for that title fight. “The referee was some young guy from Africa doing his first world title fight. The WBC later ruled Mando was the winner.”
Carrasco then traveled to Los Angeles for the rematch and lost by close split-decision on February 1972. Four months later they returned the title fight to Spain for a third match.
“I was in the corner for that fight,” said Bennie Georgino, who lives in Sun City, California. “Mando beat up that kid real bad. They had to give it (the win) to us.”
Georgino said that he and McCoy had to force the boxing promoters to give them their share of the purse.
“They were putting tens and twenties in a paper sack,” said Georgino of the fight that took place in Madrid. “It was one of those things.”
But the rest of Ramos' life became a tailspin, as alcohol and drugs slowly became a large part of his young life. Many say it had begun earlier but Ramos continued to win fights regardless.
Drugs and alcohol
Ramos had become one of the greatest sports stars in Los Angeles. Only Los Angeles Dodger pitching great Sandy Koufax and base stealing Maury Wills could match his brilliance as a sports icon in a town made for celebrities.
Not even Los Angeles Laker stars Jerry West and Elgin Baylor were as big.
But the backslapping and super star celebrity status began to affect his training habits and athletic discipline.
“He was too young for all that attention,” says Chargin.
Ramos himself admitted he had dreadful training habits.
“He would disappear from camp,” said Georgino, who worked with Ramos trainer McCoy. “Nobody would know where he was for days.”
Ramos told me he and stable mate Raul Rojas were once in a secluded training camp away from home. He persuaded Rojas to slip out of bed and go with him to Tijuana, Mexico where they drank and caroused all night long.
“Poor Jackie (McCoy),” said Ramos of his trainer who tried to rein him in. “He was a good man.”
Others recall Ramos fight against Mexico’s Chango Carmona on Sept. 1972. He lost by TKO in the eighth round though he was a huge favorite.
“I didn’t train. I spent most of my time on booze and drugs,” Ramos told this writer on several occasions. “I was a crazy kid.”
A fight in Las Vegas didn’t stop Ramos from engaging in drugs, though he was scheduled to fight.
“I don’t even remember the fight,” said Ramos. “Imagine if I had really trained during that time.”
Fights against Roberto Duran and Ken Buchanan were discussed but never made due to his bad habits.
By 1975 the boxing life was over for Ramos (37-11-1, 23 KOs). He returned to his home and became a longshoreman and eventually through the help of his wife Sylvia Ramos, quit drugs and alcohol. He was only 26 when he last put on the gloves.
Ramos established B.A.A.D., the Boxers Against Alcohol and Drugs program in his native city.
“He was really proud of that,” said Ortiz, who would serve on the World Boxing Hall of Fame board of directors with Ramos.
Ramos appeared at the newly built WBC Boxing Hall of Fame Museum in San Bernardino where his boxing robe was placed in the museum. He was one of the few inductees.
“This is great,” said Ramos while sitting in the front of the massive auditorium among more than 500 hundred people in 90-degree temperatures. “It’s a little hot for me but it’s great.”
News of his death spread throughout the nation. Boxing fans and experts realized another boxing icon has disappeared. Just four months ago the boxing world lost Art “The Golden Boy” Aragon, the boxing idol of the 1940s and 1950s. Now Ramos of the 1960s and 70s was gone too.
“Mando was a tough, tough fighter,” said Ortiz. “He was a sweet, sweet guy too and a good friend.”
Ramos was active in several boxing hall of fame organizations in California and also with amateur boxing programs near his residence in San Pedro. While a longshoreman he was forced to retire after suffering a workplace accident. His back was in pain and he suffered other ailments. But he was always ready to attend a boxing match.
His rough gravel voice was distinctive as was his easy laugh.
Those who worked with Ramos and saw him rise from a skinny two-fisted kid to one of the most exciting fighters in California history don’t hesitate to claim his ability was real.
“He was a natural born fighter,” Georgino said. “One of the greats.”