Fans at The Chelsea at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas rose to their feet at the end of ten exciting rounds of boxing delivered by Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez (45-1, 30 KOs) and Joe “Common Man” Smith Jr. (28-5, 22 KOs).
Ramirez won in his first contest at cruiserweight, handling his business against Smith Jr. in a tougher fight at times than expected. The scorecards all read 99-91. They didn’t wholly reflect the effort and damage inflicted by a game Smith Jr. Ramirez wins a WBA title eliminator, setting himself up for a possible title fight in his new division.
“I think it was a great performance for myself,” said Ramirez. “Thank you, Joe Smith Jr., he’s a great fighter and a tough opponent. We have to take care of business in the ring, but out of the ring, we can be friends.”
Apparently, fans saw Ramirez for the first time in years without being weight-drained before the fight. After struggling to make the light heavyweight limit and delivering a lackluster effort against Dmitrii Bivol last November, Ramirez looked rejuvenated as a bigger man in the ring. His footwork and hand speed were vastly improved with snap and energy. In retrospect, the damage done to Zurdo by the weight drain was real.
Blending Boxing and Banging
Ramirez landed 169 of 415 punches thrown (41%) against 119 of 419 punches thrown for Smith Jr. (28.5%). More than a third of Ramirez' landed punches were body shots. But he also landed 31% of his jabs for a nicely balanced offense. Ramirez outlanded Smith Jr. in every round except the seventh round. It was the only round the judges scored for Smith Jr.
Adjusting his approach working with trainer Malik Scott, Ramirez added solid boxing skills to his repertoire without abandoning his power punching to the body when it was called for.
Ramirez credited his team for putting in the work for the win. “Hard work, hard work and my team, Julian (Chua), Malik (Scott), Josue, everyone. We put in great training all the time.”
Ramirez says he needs to stay sharp and keep it up between fights. He would do well to continue working on his stamina. He showed hints of losing steam in the final few rounds of the fight. When he has to go 12 rounds, he must have enough gas in the tank.
Ramirez: ‘I Never take Any Chances’
Ramirez said felt he was in control of the fight but knew he couldn’t let his guard down against hard-hitting Smith Jr. “All the time, I felt I was ahead on the scorecards, but I never take any chances because he has heavy hands.”
Smith Jr. didn’t seem surprised at the outcome on the cards. “I knew it was going to be a margin. I gave it my best. He boxed great tonight. I felt I was a little heavy on my feet.
Smith Jr. came straight at Ramirez from the opening bell, and while he hit the Mexican hard several times, his handspeed and footwork couldn’t quite match up, and he didn’t give himself a chance with enough volume.
“I wish I was a little more busy,” added Smith Jr. “I hurt him a couple times, it would have been nice to get him out of there. Congratulations to him for boxing great.” Smith Jr. said ring rust could have been to blame for not letting his hands go, combined with Ramirez fighting well at distance.
Ramirez looked every bit a cruiserweight in the ring, bordering on heavyweight. The move up in weight suited him. “It was 20 pounds difference. I feel great. I feel a healthy, a blessing,” said Ramirez. “I’m back, Zurdo is back.”
Cruiserweight Renaissance Ahead?
Ramirez has his sights firmly set on fighting for a cruiserweight title. With his performance against Bivol virtually forgotten after his best performance in years on Saturday, there are multiple opportunities in play. Ramirez is now in line to be a mandatory challenger for little-known WBA Super Cruiserweight champion Arsen Goulamirian of France.
The other title holders are Chris Billam-Smith of Great Britain (WBO), Jai Opetaia of Australia, (IBF, Ring Magazine, and lineal champion), and Badou Jack (WBC), who is a champion in recess as he pursues a bridgerweight title. Former champion Marius Briedis is another option.
Who knew we’d be discussing the cruiserweight division with genuine interest?
As for Smith Jr.’s future, he said he’d take time to think about his future. But he made it clear it would not return to the light heavyweight division. What a wild, welcome renaissance for the no man’s land between light heavyweight and heavyweight.
Bek The Bully Is Back, Beating Alantez Fox By Knockout
Super middleweight Bektimir Melikuziev of Indio via Uzbekistan (13-1, 10 KOs) took control from the first round, blitzing a tough but outgunned Alantez Fox of Washington DC (28-5-1, 13 KOs). The fight ended with a referee stoppage at 2:44 of the fourth round for a TKO victory.
“That’s (a) very good opportunity for me to fight here. I was a little bit overexcited about coming back. Everyone was missing the old Bully. The Bully is here,” said Melikuziev of his performance.
Throughout the bout, Melikuziev landed hard shots that would have dropped many other fighters, starting with a left hook to the temple over Fox’s high guard in round one.
In the fourth round, the accumulated damage from body shots, followed by the hard hooks, caught up with Fox. A body shot dropped Fox to his knees. He beat the referee’s count but was on the run covering up as Melikuziev chased him to the corner. Credit to Fox for hanging tough, but referee Alan Hudgens stepped in to protect him from the assault by Melikuziev.
Fox gave a good account of himself and was willing to stand and trade with Melikuziev, timing uppercuts on the shorter Melikuziev. Fox opened cuts in the third round, but as the man coming up one division, his shots didn’t have the same sizzle to match Melikuziev. It made for a fun fight for fans to watch, nevertheless.
Melikuziev said he learned his lesson from the knockout loss to Gabe Rosado. “We’re working on different styles. This was the most awkward style at 168, but we got the job done.” In English, Bek said of his next fight, “Make simple. Fight everyone, 168. Everyone fight, good. Everyone no fight, get the fuck out of here,” which drew laughs from everyone, including trainer Joel Diaz.
Upsets Dominate Undercard Fights
Light heavyweight Darius Fulghum of Houston (8-0, 8 KOs) drilled Alan Campa of Sonora, Mexico (18-8, 12 KOs) with a short left hook to the body set up by a lead right to the body for the knockout victory at 2:58 of round one. Fulghum refers to himself as “DFG” – Destined For Greatness. Golden Boy partner and former world champion Bernard Hopkins is high on Fulghum and it’s easy to see why.
Say it with us…D F G!!!
— Golden Boy (@GoldenBoyBoxing) October 8, 2023
Super welterweight Jose Luis Sanchez of Albuquerque (14-3-1, 4 KOs) drilled prospect Eric Tudor of Fort Lauderdale (9-1, 6 KOs) over eight hard rounds, busting up Tudor’s left eye on the way to a well-deserved upset decision win. Scores were 78-74 and 77-75 X 2. Sanchez was rewarded for his aggression. Tudor was hampered by the eye but didn’t show the urgency of his opponent.
Two early upsets on the off-broadcast undercard. Erick Garcia Benitez of Guadalajara (5-5, 1 KO) defeated lightweight prospect Daniel Luna of Victorville, California (3-1, 3 KOs) by unanimous decision. It wasn’t close. Scores were 40-36 twice and 39-37.
In the opener, Victor Toney of Ohio (8-2-1, 6 KOs) scored a majority decision upset in a close fight over Jahyae Brown of Schenectady, New York (13-2, 9 KOs). Scores were 75-75 twice for Toney and a 76-76 draw on the third card. Toney is the nephew of four-division world champion and two-time Ring Magazine Fighter of the Year (1991 and 2003) James Toney.
It was Brown’s first fight at super welterweight after losing his previous fight to Guido Schramm on a ShoBox card in April.
Cruiserweight Tristan Kalkrueth (12-1, 9 KOs) scored a TKO win over Aaron Casper of Augusta, Georgia (7-5-2, 4 KOs).