Two former champions will test themselves in a new division on Saturday. Former super middleweight world Champion Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez (44-1, 30 KOs) and former light heavyweight World Champion Joe “Common Man” Smith Jr. (28-4, 22 KOs) jump to the cruiserweight division.
The 12-round non-title fight takes place at The Chelsea at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas and airs worldwide on DAZN at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT.
However it plays out, here’s hoping Zurdo vs. Smith brings much-needed love to the cruiserweight division. It could fuel a renaissance for the no man’s land between light heavyweight and heavyweight.
Weighty Issues for Zurdo Ramirez
Ramirez found himself with nowhere to turn after admitting he could no longer make the light heavyweight limit. Depending on who you believe, Ramirez blew through the 175-pound weight limit by either seven or 12 pounds in March for an ill-considered fight against warrior Gabriel Rosado.
In retrospect, it was for the best from Rosado’s perspective, who’s now pursuing a promising start as a commentator in retirement.
In early 2022, Ramirez said he wanted to challenge then-WBC World Cruiserweight champion Illunga Junior Makabu. Instead, Ramirez got thoroughly schooled by master technician and Mexican slayer WBA World Light Heavyweight champion Dmitrii Bivol. Now, the time has come for Zurdo to make a run at a title.
Smith Jr. Reviving His Career
Smith Jr. also tried and failed to solve the Bivol riddle, losing by even wider scores than Ramirez in 2019. To his credit, Smith Jr. hasn’t shied away from any top names at light heavyweight, scoring upset knockout wins over Andrzej Fonfara, Bernard Hopkins, and Eleider Alvarez. He’s also lost to Sullivan Barrera and is coming off a brutal, surprising loss to Artur Beterbiev.
The best fights are not necessarily matchups featuring the big marquee names (See Alvarez vs. Charlo). They’re ones where skillsets and motivation are evenly matched. Both Ramirez and Smith Jr. need a win to launch themselves into championship contention in a division where American and Mexican talent is MIA.
Ramirez: ‘I am ready to take over’
Ramirez was promoted by promoter Golden Boy on the brink of breaking Floyd Mayweather’s 50-0 record, but he fell short at 44 with a loss to Bivol. Mayweather’s legacy has held too many fighters back from taking on top challenges. Let’s hope it breaks Ramirez out of those shackles.
“I am ready to take over the cruiserweight division and prove to myself that I can add another championship belt to my resume,” said Ramirez. “We are ready to face a hungry opponent in Joe Smith Jr., who is used to being an underdog. I know both of us wanted this fight at light heavyweight a few years back, but I’m glad we can make it now. See you all in Las Vegas!”
Smith Jr.: ‘I was having a rough time’
— Star Boxing (@StarBoxing) September 11, 2023
Smith Jr. says he’s refreshed and ready to return to the ring. “I was having a rough time this year. Then, we tragically lost my brother Alex on top of it all. I miss him and know he will be with me when I step into that ring. He was always proud of me, and he would be happy to see me back. I can’t wait to show the world the Common Man is back and hope my performance can bring some happiness and inspiration back to my family.”
Smith Jr.’s longtime promoter, Joe DeGuardia of Star Boxing, couldn’t be happier for his former world champion. “He and his family have had a rough year, but in quintessential Joe Smith fashion, while there were many fights out there for him, he wanted the biggest and toughest challenge available,” said DeGuardia.
Zurdo vs. Smith: Keys To the Fight
Both Ramirez and Smith Jr. need a win to keep their careers flourishing. However, the cruiserweight division is short of known names, especially in the U.S. and Mexico, so a good performance, even in a loss, wouldn’t be fatal.
Both men are moving up in weight on paper. The fight is at a contracted catchweight of 193 pounds rather than the total 200-pound limit.
Ramirez has been a cruiserweight, forcing himself down to light heavyweight, and it isn’t working for him anymore. Smith Jr. is a lean light heavyweight. He isn’t small, but he stays in shape, partly due to a lifetime of heavy physical labor as a blue-collar worker. The weight initially favors Zurdo.
This will be the first time we’ve seen Zurdo in years without being weight-drained before the fight. It may revive his activity rate, and it would be a welcome development.
Because of his weight issues and contractual disputes stalling his career at his peak, fans forget about the skills Ramirez brings to the table. Naturally tall, athletic, and graceful in his footwork, Ramirez married his talents with the kill-or-be-killed mentality necessary to survive street life in his native Sinaloa, Mexico.
Ramirez is arguably more skilled in nearly every way than Smith Jr. What Smith Jr. always has is a puncher’s chance. It worked for him against Fonfara, and it worked for him against Hopkins. It could work for him again.
But size isn’t everything. If Smith Jr. can take Zurdo into the later rounds, he’s got the stamina to outwork, outplay, and outlast Ramirez. Smith Jr. edges Ramirez in sheer raw strength. Combined with the ability to be aggressive and press the action, Smith Jr. could make an offensive approach work.
Smith Jr. must avoid getting caught with a big punch. It's doubtful Ramirez punches as hard as Beterbiev. Smith Jr. has already been hit with the worst.
Smith Jr. is facing a southpaw with a big right hand in his arsenal. This is in his favor. Lineal and IBF cruiserweight champion Jai Opetaia used his southpaw right hook to nearly end his fight against Jordan Thompson in the first round last weekend. Thompson ran the rest of the fight from that right hook, only to run into a left hook finisher.
Ask which man wants it more, and the nod goes to Smith Jr. He’s always motivated and willing to go out on his shield. If this fight exceeds six rounds, the odds swing in Smith Jr.’s favor.
Smith Jr. considered retiring after his devastating loss to Beterbiev, and no one would have thought the less of him for it. He’s built thriving business interests on Long Island and made the most of his career.
But when his brother Alex was shot and killed in an apparent domestic violence murder in late May in a parking lot, it was a shock that propelled Smith Jr. back toward boxing. He’s motivated to make the most of being alive and making his brother proud. It’s a story worthy of a boxing movie.
If sheer will can bring a victory, Smith Jr. will use it.