Jose Ramirez: Rising From the Belly of California’s Dust Bowl

Jose Ramirez, one of the top young prospects in the Top Rank stable, headlines a seven-bout card this Saturday, July 9, at the 255-room Tachi Palace Hotel and Casino in Lemoore, California. For the uninitiated, Lemoore sits roughly halfway between the city of Fresno and the town of Avenal, the latter an isolated farming community that is home to about 9,500 people, excluding the inmates at the state prison, one of three in the sparsely populated county.

Avenal happens to be Jose Ramirez’s hometown. He was born and raised there. And therein lies an interesting story.

An athlete can enhance his profile by hitching his wagon to a hot-button issue. Jose Ramirez has such an issue and while it’s not an issue that resonates across a wide swath of the country, it’s a burning issue in California, particularly Central California, home to America’s richest and most diversified agricultural belt. In a nutshell, the state is running out of water.

The historic California drought, now in its fourth year, has forced the state to tighten water conservation ordinances. A new state law regulating the extraction of groundwater has imperiled farms of all sizes. And whenever some commodity is rationed, it seems like some people always get the short end of the stick. In agriculture-dependent Avenal, which is roughly three-quarters Hispanic, the locals, by and large, feel that they are being asked to shoulder more than their fair share. The unemployment rate in Avenal was 15.5 percent in January and while much of that could be attributed to the off-season, growers nowadays don’t need as many farm workers, cramping the local economy.

This issue hits home to Jose Ramirez, the son of farm workers. He works to ameliorate the problem by vocally supporting the California Latino Water Coalition which advocates for creative solutions to California’s water crisis and a more equitable distribution of the state’s dwindling water resources. Actor/comedian Paul Rodriguez is the chairman of the grassroots organization, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Ramirez has become the poster boy.

Ramirez put the little town of Avenal on the map when he made the 2012 U.S. Olympic boxing team. Competing in the 132-pound class, he was eliminated in the second round by a boxer from Uzbekistan, but that didn’t diminish his stature in the eyes of his townsfolk. And if his career continues trending upward, his rags-to-riches story will get a lot more ink. In terms of crossing over into the mainstream, he may not be the next Oscar De La Hoya, but the potential is there to crack the ceiling.

Encouraged by his maternal grandfather, Ramirez started boxing at age eight. His gym was a barn outfitted with rudimentary boxing equipment. And while he would go on to win a slew of national amateur titles, it was still a longshot that a 19-year-old kid from “out in the sticks” would go on to make the Olympic team. At the Olympic trials, he faced a formidable adversary in 2008 Olympian Raynell Williams. It was Avenal vs. Cleveland and Avenal came out on top.

As a pro, Ramirez is 17-0 (12 KOs). With such a common name (another Jose Ramirez, who fights out of Oxnard, has competed against some of the top fighters in the featherweight division), a nickname would seem to be in order, but Ramirez says “I like to keep it simple.”

Prior to his last fight, a 10-round decision over Manuel Perez, Ramirez sparred with Manny Pacquiao at Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, California. He and the Hall of Fame trainer were well-acquainted. Roach was a consultant to the 2012 U.S. Olympic boxing team. Ramirez, Roach told reporters, had the strongest work ethic on the squad. Roach will continue to work with Ramirez into the foreseeable future.

Ramirez vs. Perez was on the TV portion of Pacquiao-Bradley III. Ramirez earned this carrot when he drew a near-capacity crowd of 13,200 to the Save Mart Center on the campus of Fresno State University on Dec. 5 of last year for an 8-round contest with unheralded Johnny Garcia. There were six other bouts on the card, but none of any large significance. It was Ramirez and Ramirez alone that made the turnstiles hum.

Ramirez’s opponent on Saturday is Tomas Mendez (21-7, 14 KOs) of the Dominican Republic. A pro since 2007, Mendez has previously fought in Canada but will be making his U.S. debut. The bout, scheduled for 10 rounds in the 140-pound division, and an 8-round super featherweight contest between Andy Vences and Moises Delgadillo, will air on UniMas at 11 pm ET and PT.

Observers say that Ramirez’s best punch is his left hook. Many mediocre boxers have carved out good careers on the strength of a powerful left hook. Ramirez isn’t mediocre. He should go far.

For more on Saturday’s show in Lemoore, check out The Boxing Channel’ s most recent report featuring Kid Hersh.

Jose Ramirez