Mando Ramos seemingly had the proverbial tiger by the tail at age 20 when he became boxing’s youngest lightweight champion.
Ramos reached the summit when he scored a technical knockout victory over Carlos “Teo” Cruz in the 11th round on Feb. 18, 1969, earning the World Boxing Association and World Boxing Council belts. Only five months earlier, Ramos lost to Cruz via a 15-round unanimous decision with the same titles on the line.
Ramos was blessed with matinee idol looks and unquestioned athletic ability that included a rapier-like jab and knockout power in both hands.
Like Oscar De La Hoya two decades later, it was Ramos’ gifts and chiseled face that helped draw both men and women to his corner. Whenever Ramos fought, celebrities like John Wayne, Ryan O’Neal and Bill Cosby could be found in attendance.
Sadly, those once-in-a-lifetime gifts didn’t last long and at age 26 his career came crashing to a halt. With fame and hand-over-fist money, Ramos, who passed away 10 years ago this July 6 at 59, paid a steep price.
Ramos wasn’t the first to squander his talent and won’t be the last to fall victim to drugs and alcohol. Think of pitcher Dwight Gooden and outfielder Darryl Strawberry when they exploded onto the baseball scene in the Big Apple with the New York Mets in the early 1980s. Self-inflicted issues with booze and drugs short-circuited their likely Hall of Fame careers. There are countless others too numerous to mention.
“Who knows how good I could have been?” Ramos told the late Earl Gustkey, boxing writer for the Los Angeles Times in February 2000. “I never really trained, not for a single fight. Oh, I went to the gym every day. But I drank every night. Fighters never beat me. But drugs and alcohol did.”
Born in Long Beach, California, Mando Ramos began his professional career on November 18, 1965, three days after his 17th birthday, and sold out the legendary Olympic Auditorium in his ninth bout. Trained by Hall of Famer Jackie McCoy, he began his ring career with 17 straight victories, including 11 concluding by knockout or TKO.
Ramos made the Olympic his home away from home, fighting there 27 times in a career that ended in October 1975 with a 37-11-1 record and 23 knockouts.
Longtime Olympic Auditorium matchmaker Don Chargin, nicknamed “War-A- Week” for the spectacular fights he gave Southern California fight fans, said the greatest fight he saw at that site was a 10-round, non-title battle in August 1970 between Ramos and “Sugar” Ramos, a Cuban who lived in Mexico.
“That was easily the best fight I ever saw there,” said Chargin. “The Olympic held 10,400, but that night there were 14,000 people. Both fighters were a mess. Both were cut above and below their eyes.”
Ramos, the young Mexican-American, won a split decision.
It wasn’t until July 1967 that Ramos suffered his initial defeat at the hands of Korean Kang Il Suh at the Olympic via a 10-round unanimous decision.
Two straight wins then followed, but a tough and determined Irishman, Frankie Crawford, earned a majority decision win over Ramos in October 1967. Ramos came back four months later when he turned the tables on Crawford with a unanimous decision victory.
The rematch between Ramos and the champion Cruz was held at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena before 14,183 rabid fight fans. They saw history made when Ramos became the sport’s youngest-ever lightweight king.
Four fights later, when Ramos faced Ismael Laguna in March 1970, he didn’t have enough in the gas tank and was stopped in the ninth round of a scheduled 15-round bout and lost both titles.
Five months later Ramos defeated “Sugar” Ramos in a non-title clash at the Olympic and then reeled off wins over Raul Rojas in December 1970 via a sixth-round TKO and then scored a unanimous decision victory over Ruben Navarro in September 1971.
A trilogy then followed against Pedro Carrasco. In the first meeting in Madrid, Ramos knocked Carrasco to the canvas four times but was robbed of the vacant WBC lightweight title when he was disqualified in the 12th round. Carrasco, a Spaniard, was 102-1-2 going in.
Ramos won the WBC belt with a 15-round split decision over Carrasco in February 1972 and then beat him again in their rubber match in June 1972 with another 15-round split decision triumph.
Ramos’ next fight would come on September 15, 1972 versus Mexico’s Chango Carmona at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. This would be the beginning of the end for the once-and-mighty lightweight king.
In the run-up to the bout, Carmona said that he was determined to win the title. “There are two marvelous things in my life,” he told longtime Southern California boxing scribe Robert Morales. “The first one was when my boy was born and the second one was when I got my title on September 15. It was a happy party in Acapulco when I won.”
Carmona added: “Mando was a good-looking guy and very gentle. He was handsome. Mando was a huge fighter. I had a lot of admiration for him.”
According to Carmona, the scheduled 15-round WBC title fight should have been stopped by Rudy Jordan, the referee, in the fifth or sixth round.
“He was in bad shape,” he said. “When I dropped him the first time, he didn’t look too good. I didn’t hit too hard, but I threw so many punches in bunches. I was always in great condition. I didn’t drink. I didn’t smoke. Nothing. Mando, unfortunately he did drugs. It was his mistake.”
Don Fraser, a promoter, matchmaker and publicist and an International Boxing Hall of Fame member since 2005, was there that evening. “There were more Mexican nationals rooting for Carmona and Mando was not in shape,” he said. “I think he took the fight lightly and he took a beating. A bad beating.”
The lopsided bout mercifully ended at 1:48 of the eighth round when Jordan stopped it.
Ramos was taken by ambulance to a local hospital where he remained for several days.
Like so many in Southern California, I was a sports fan and a fight fan, so it was natural to be hooked into what became known as “Mandomania.”
The first major fight I recall watching was Sonny Liston’s one-round destruction of Floyd Patterson in September 1962 at Chicago’s Comiskey Park on closed circuit television.
I continued watching the sweet science on television, especially Thursday with Jim Healy, Tom Kelly and Dick Enberg calling the action and ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Sr. presiding over the festivities.
My father, Nicholas, was also a sports and boxing fan, and we would sit there and take in the card. The next day he would buy the Times and the Herald Examiner, which would be filled with stories by Bud Furillo, Melvin Durslag and Allan Malamud.
One day my father told me that a business associate from Cleveland, Frankie Milano, had an extra ticket to the Ramos-Carmona fight, and wanted to know if I would like to go. Of course I jumped at the opportunity. That Friday I got ready and was excited to see my first fight card in person.
Milano picked me up several hours before the preliminary bouts and drove to Hollywood where we had dinner at Musso & Frank Grill, a classic “New York style restaurant and bar” that’s been open since 1919. After finishing our dinners, we headed off to the Coliseum where he parked his car. With tickets in hand, we walked past the ticket-taker.
After striding through the long tunnel, the first thing you could see in that 100,000-seat stadium was the ring. It looked small from that distance, but as we walked closer, I realized our seats were on the floor and that they were ringside. Peter Falk, the actor, was sitting in our row.
Though I was rooting for Ramos, I could also see that he wasn’t sharp with his punches and was getting tagged at an alarming rate.
Ramos came back in August 1973 when he took on Arturo Pineda and was TKOed in the fifth round. He would fight nine more times, winning four and losing four with one draw.
It was over and Ramos knew it. In time, with the assistance of his wife Sylvia Van Hecke, he founded a non-profit youth organization called BAAD (Boxing Against Alcohol And Drugs) where he worked and mentored at-risk young men and helped them learn how to box.
In that 2000 article with Gustkey, Ramos reflected on his career. “I was having fun, it was so easy,” he said. “I drank and used all the drugs I wanted. Life was easy.”
Ramos went on: “I had talent, so I was knocking over those guys and getting 10 grand a fight. I thought it would go on forever. See, when you’re 20, 21, time doesn’t pass by. Later, it’s over in a hurry.”
Gustkey then asked him what he remembered most about his days in the ring. “The sound of those big crowds at the Olympic Auditorium,” he said. “It was really exciting. The roar of the crowd, cheering. I’ll never forget that. I can hear it right now.”
And so can his fans.
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