Julian Ramirez sets sights on Golden future

Twenty years ago, the city of Las Vegas played host to a young boxer from East L.A. who would go on to become one of the greatest pound-for-pound champions in boxing history. Oscar De La Hoya collected the fifth win of his professional career by defeating Jeff Mayweather at the Hilton in March 1993, an early step in his Hall of Fame career.

And this weekend, three decades on, one of East L.A.'s latest Mexican-American fighting sensations, Julian Ramirez, hopes to follow in the footsteps of his promoter and inspiration.

One of boxing's hottest young prospects, Ramirez, 19, will enter the ring at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino aiming to take the next step in his blossoming career. On Saturday, he can complete an almost punch-perfect first 12 months in the professional ring, adding a seventh win to his unblemished record -- form that's not too surprising when you consider the family history.

As the great nephew of Genaro Hernandez, the Mexican-American former unified junior lightweight champion who dominated the division throughout the '90s, Ramirez knows all about pressure. Signing with Golden Boy after just two fights only amplified the expectations.

"My family would never compare me to Genaro, but they do play a role in motivating me," Ramirez told ESPN.com. "They always say there is somebody better than me out there, and that I've just not faced him yet. And that drives me to work hard. I try not to think of what's happening to me as pressure. Signing with Golden Boy, I never saw none of this coming. I knew I was good to a certain level, but I never expected to get signed by Joel, Oscar's brother. So all this has happened just so fast, and I am just going with it."

Ramirez insists his style is also very different from his uncle's. "It's kind of the opposite to his, so there is nothing to compare. I mean, I can box too, but he was a complete boxer and I'm a little more aggressive."

Ramirez's glittering 73-5 amateur card proves that. However, despite winning gold medals at both the Junior Olympics and Mexican Games in 2011, and not forgetting his four National PAL titles, the stylish featherweight insists the amateur ranks lost their appeal a long time ago.

Despite proud parents who were keen to see their son box under the Olympic rings, Ramirez always had his eyes fixed firmly on the pro ranks. A mixture of politics and a lack of scoring for body punches, he says, turned him off the amateur code. "I actually wanted to go pro at age 16," he said. "I wanted to run away to Mexico and go pro, but my parents reassured me that things would work out at home."

Call it divine intervention, or simply parental experience, but the advice has paid off in spades. With Golden Boy in his corner, and having already traveled to spar with world-class operators such as Miguel Vazquez and Scott Quigg -- who utilized Julian as his main sparring partner in a junior featherweight world title eliminator last year -- the quiet southpaw's future certainly looks bright.

Quigg, who defeated former title challenger Rendall Munroe in November to put himself within striking distance of a title shot, is a big fan: "I've sparred very good fighters from all over the world, and Julian is definitely one of the very best I've been in with," he said. "And he's only had a couple of fights."

Dubbed "Little Canelo" by fight fans across the West Coast -- a nod to current light middleweight titlist Saul Alvarez -- Ramirez certainly doesn't lack ability or the confidence to go with it. He believes the "Canelo" comparisons have more to do with the light shade of his skin than his in-ring style. After all, Ramirez says, he's the more exciting fighter to watch.

"When it comes to fighting style, I wouldn't say I'm better, but I do think I have more of a fan-pleasing style, because 'Canelo' holds back a lot," Ramirez said. "He's a really good fighter, but for me, personally, I didn't like his style because when he'd hurt somebody he wouldn't go in for the kill right away. He would try to play it safe. That's the truth right there. 'Canelo' is really strong, but he would hurt his opponent and then wait a round or two to finish them."

De La Hoya took out Jeff Mayweather in four rounds 20 years ago. Safe money would be on Ramirez doing the same to outgunned club fighter Juan Sandoval this weekend. Ramirez has a world of work ahead of him before he can be talked about in the same breath as great ones such as the Golden Boy, but the early returns should motivate him all the more.