LAS VEGAS — Jose Ramirez is already the undisputed champion to thousands of migrant farm workers in California’s Central Valley near where he grew up. Regardless of the outcome of his bout on Saturday at the new Virgin Hotel against Josh Taylor for the undisputed super lightweight championship, Ramirez will always be beloved by this group of people.
They toil for long hours in the broiling hot sun, doing backbreaking work for very little money. They have few advocates and even less advantages in life.
Ramirez is one of them, a field worker who knows what it’s like to be on hands and knees picking peppers under a scorching 100-degree sun. He did that one summer as a teenager and knew that wasn’t what he wanted for his life.
But as he’s gone on to professional success that includes fame and riches, the people he once worked side-by-side with in the fields have become his source of inspiration and the cause of his life. He’s a modern-day Cesar Chavez of sorts, advocating for the workers for everything from water rights to COVID-19 vaccinations.
It’s why, win or lose, Ramirez will remain their hero, their motivation, their inspiration.
His bout on Saturday with Taylor is an example to all of his peers. The two best men in the division got to the top by earning it and they are willing to risk everything they’ve gained by facing their greatest challenge.
“It’s the only way a lot of the questions could be answered, a lot of the doubts and a lot of the people’s opinions could be validated, by people facing each other,” Ramirez said.
The bout is one of the best that could be made in the sport. It pits the 28-year-old Ramirez, a 2012 U.S. Olympian who is 26-0 with 17 KOs and holds the WBC-WBO super lightweight titles, against Taylor, a 30-year-old who was a 2012 U.K. Olympian who is 17-0 with 13 KOs and holds the IBF-WBA belts. Ramirez is a -185 underdog at BetMGM, with Taylor the -275 favorite.
These are the fights that will invigorate the sport and bring attention and respect to it. It’s the kind of fight that Ramirez has routinely sought.
“When I won my first world title, I thought it would change my life, but I learned I had a lot to learn and a lot still to prove,” he said. “When I won my second title, I was finally getting closer to where my style would show that, more than anybody, I was the best in the division.”
He’ll get that chance to prove it on Saturday. But you can’t properly look at Ramirez’s career and judge it solely on the basis of his wins and losses. He’s been as big of a champion for the people in the Central Valley of California, where he grew up, as he has been in the ring.
He’s marched on the state capitol in Sacramento to demand water rights for his drought-stricken neighbors. He’s worked to reform immigration laws, spoken out against profiling and championed efforts to protect the essential workers during the harshest days of the pandemic.
And Ramirez isn’t just a figurehead who shows up when the goodies are given out. He’s out there raising funds and doing work firsthand.
“To be sincere, of all the things I’ve been doing, doing God’s work has been the most important to me,” he said. “Helping the poor. Helping the less fortunate. Being a good role model. Being a good father. Being a good neighbor to my neighbors. Be respectable and always carry myself with respect and dignity. Those things are the most important things for me.
“I’ve been very blessed by this sport and I’m grateful to the sport. It’s allowed me to do so many things. Without the financial support I’ve gotten from winning my boxing matches, I wouldn’t be able to give as much as I do. Me being a good man overall is what matters the most to me. The way my fiancée looks at me, the way my dad, my father looks at me, the way my brothers look at me, that’s the most important thing.”
Jose Ramirez is a great boxer. But he’s also great outside the ring, and it’s why, whether he wins a runaway decision on Saturday or is stopped early, he’ll be the champion to thousands of poor and hard-working people in California’s Central Valley.
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