Gilberto "Zurdo" Ramirez may well be the most anonymous 44-0 former world champion in boxing history. He has 30 knockouts, a world championship at super middleweight and five successful title defenses, yet most boxing fans couldn’t pick him from a lineup if he were standing with three Hooters girls.
He hasn’t had anything approaching a truly significant fight against a quality, in-his-prime opponent.
He gets a chance, though, to make his name known worldwide and, more importantly, position himself for significant fights on Saturday in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, when he meets unbeaten Dmitry Bivol for the WBA light heavyweight title.
Bivol is coming off a hard-fought and well-deserved victory in May over Canelo Alvarez, a win that raised his profile considerably. He’s one of the pound-for-pound elite in the sport, exactly the type of guy Ramirez hasn’t fought during a 13-year professional career that began when he was still a teenager.
The Bivol bout will be one that will define him, because no one questions Bivol. It’s Ramirez, despite the glittering record, all of the championship fight victories and the slew of knockouts who has much to prove.
He’s not, though, overwhelmed or in love with the idea of becoming a star.
“Right now I just see it as becoming a two-time world champion,” Ramirez said. “I don’t see it like me becoming a boxing star. My goal is to become a two-time world champion, continue to build my legacy and eventually to become a legend. That’s my goal. I want to do that for all of my fans out there.”
You don’t become a legend by beating second-tier fighters. You do it by beating the best, often in hostile environments like the one he’ll face on Saturday at Etihad Arena, which figures to be heavily pro-Bivol.
His promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, was the kind of fighter who fought anyone anywhere at any time. De La Hoya won an Olympic gold medal in 1992 and then went out as a pro and capitalized on his notoriety by facing, and defeating, the best of his era over six weight classes.
He’s been talking big about the importance of the best fighting the best, and went on a crazy rant on social media on that topic Wednesday.
So it’s time for Ramirez to do the same, and De La Hoya believes Bivol will be shocked if he expects Ramirez to be a step down from Alvarez.
“I love Bivol; his style is bar none one of the best in the business,” De La Hoya said. “I believe that Bivol, coming off a tremendous win against Canelo, another Mexican superstar, in his last fight was a tremendous showing. He did a great job. But I do have to say that Zurdo Ramirez is no Canelo. Zurdo Ramirez is a fighter who punches in bunches, a fighter who is big and strong and heavy and southpaw. He is going to be very active.
"This is the opportunity of a lifetime for Zurdo Ramirez. This is the opportunity of a lifetime for boxing to be on the big stage and show the world what Abu Dhabi is, show the world what big-time boxing is, and to show the world that, yes, promoters can come together and stage the big fights.”
It’s not going to be easy for Ramirez, though, as Bivol has repeatedly proven himself to be a far tougher out than most are willing to give him credit for being. He was largely ignored and overlooked before the Alvarez fight, but when that final bell rang, no one needed to hear the scores read aloud. It was clear who won that fight.
If Bivol wins, he has his eyes on Artur Beterbiev, the unified champion who holds the IBF-WBC-WBO belts. But he’s smart enough to know that the path to undisputed must run through Ramirez.
He insists he is not going to rest on his laurels after the Alvarez win and doesn’t expect to cruise to victory over Ramirez.
“When people tell me that I have achieved everything, it’s like they pour [fuel] on my fire,” Bivol said. “I try to only think about my dream, to realize my full potential. I try to be hungry and angry every time and be focused on training and my opponents. I try to think about how this Saturday night will be the hardest fight of my career. It makes me more focused on the night.”