Photo: Ed Mulholland
By Nat Gottlieb
After being moved up the ladder carefully by promoter Top Rank, rising young Mexican super middleweight, Gilberto Ramirez, will enter the ring against an aging lion in champion Arthur Abraham, who still has all of his teeth and presents a dangerous challenge.
This is an intriguing fight with many questions that can be posed about both boxers. In the case of the 24-year-old Ramirez, who’s on a historic quest to become the first Mexican super middleweight champion, some wonder if he’s developed enough to take on Abraham, with his vast experience at boxing's elite level.
On the other hand, it is fair to wonder if Abraham, based on his recent fights, is starting to show signs of slippage and therefore ripe for the picking by a young and hungry boxer who enjoys a major height advantage.
Despite his gaudy record (33-0, 24 KOs), Ramirez has yet to be tested, with none of his opponents so far having been upper tier boxers. Inevitably, this invites another question: is the Mexican more hype than substance?
Back in 2007 the same doubts were voiced about another Top Rank prospect, Kelly Pavlik, who, like Ramirez, had yet to face a high-quality opponent. Pavlik was 30-0 when he finally stepped into the ring with a middleweight who was among the most dangerous punchers in the division, Edison Miranda. Pavlik knocked out Miranda, then KO‘d unbeaten champion, Jermaine Taylor, in his next fight.
Can Ramirez duplicate Pavlik’s feat? The answer is not a simple one.
Abraham is a far more accomplished boxer than Miranda was. Even at 36, the Armenian, who fights out of Germany, represents a major obstacle. In experience alone, Abraham (44-4, 29 KOs) makes Ramirez look like a novice. He has been in 24 titles fights and won 23. The 258 championship rounds Abraham has fought dwarfs Ramirez’s entire ring experience of 157. He's also battle-tested and has fought through adversity, including suffering a broken jaw in round 4 and still going the distance to retain his title in a brutal fight with Miranda.
Ramirez, however, has yet to taste adversity and has not been in a bout remotely resembling a war. Still, his tantalizing 6'3" size and high-skill set make it easy to see why so many in the boxing world see star potential in him. But he also has his share of detractors.
The Ramirez doubters point to his most recent fights, where he has gradually stepped up in class and has not looked nearly as physically dominant as he was in the beginning stages of his career. Although the Mexican has 24 career knockouts, in his last 13 bouts he has stopped only six of his opponents, and has been taken the distance in his last three fights. In those three bouts, all lopsided victories against good but not great opposition, Ramirez’s defense was porous and he was hit repeatedly by boxers who, fortunately for him, didn’t have a lot of power.
Abraham is not someone you want to show a lax defense to. Always considered a power puncher, Abraham is a typical standup European boxer with a defensive shell that is very difficult to penetrate. The Armenian has won eight straight fights and 12 of his last 13. But like Ramirez, he comes into this bout with his share of question marks.
Chief among them is the power that was Abraham’s trademark in the middleweight division has not translated well to super middleweight. In his eight-fight winning streak, for example, he has knocked out only one opponent. There’s also no denying that the quality of his opponents at super middleweight has been far better than at 160 pounds.
Another problem facing Abraham is that his history suggests Ramirez’s height is going to give the 5'9" fighter problems. Abraham has struggled the most against tall fighters who can box. Three of his four career losses in fact were inflicted by Andre Dirrell (6'1"), Carl Froch (6'1"), and Andre Ward (6'0"). Ramirez is tall and can box, too.
“I have to be smart in this fight,” Ramirez acknowledges. “We are working on keeping the pressure on Abraham by throwing a high volume of punches and staying on top of him. I’m going to be a second skin on him.”
The young Mexican is also pumped up by the possibility of making history. “I feel a great sense of history in fighting to become Mexico’s first super middleweight champion.” Only one Mexican fighter has won a world title in a division north of middleweight, that being Julio Gonzalez, who was a light heavyweight champion for three months between 2003 and 2004.
If Ramirez’s game plan is to throw a high volume of punches, it could work to his advantage. Abraham is a notoriously slow starter, and the Mexican could easily pile up early rounds based on his work rate. That being said, Ramirez doesn’t have the greatest of defenses. If he gets sloppy throwing those punches, the wily veteran could catch him on his untested chin. If Abraham does, then the boxing world will learn if the highly-touted young contender has the right stuff to be a champion and a star.
The undercard also includes what should be a real barnburner, featuring Oscar Valdez, an unbeaten, power-punching featherweight taking on the always game and entertaining “Russian-Mexican,” Evgeny Gradovich.
A two-time Olympian, the 25-year-old Valdez is a Mexican with a ton of fire power who knows how and when to use it. The 5'5½" Valdez (18-0, 16 KOs) is managed by Frank Espinoza, who is among the best at handling small Mexican boxers. The list of champions he’s managed include, Martin Castillo, Israel Vazquez, and Abner Mares.
The 29-year-old Gradovich (21-1, 9 KOs), a former world champion, is a talented boxer, but has little pop in punches. As such, he has his work cut out for him. If he can get Valdez to fight his fight, which is boxing, he has a chance. If he tries to make it a war, it could be a short night for him.
“My vast amateur background has prepared me to adapt to many different boxing styles,” Valdez says. “Gradovich is a breakthrough opportunity for me. A victory over him is a big step that will lead me to a world title shot.”
Also on the card is another former Olympian, unbeaten junior welterweight Jose Ramirez (16-0, 12 KOs), who’ll be taking on Manuel Perez (25-11-1), a lightweight stepping up a division. At 5'10" with a 72 ½ inch reach, Ramirez has a significant size advantage over Perez, who’s 5'7" with just a 67 inch reach. But having fought 272 rounds, guys like Perez, who’ve been around the block a few times, always present a challenge.