Gilberto "Zurdo" Ramirez, one of Mexico's best up-and-coming fighters, made it to the big stage in April when he got a mandatory super middleweight world title shot against division stalwart Arthur Abraham.
Abraham was universally viewed as, by far, the best opponent of Ramirez's career. Ramirez, however, made Abraham look as if he did not even belong in the ring with him.
Fighting on the Manny Pacquiao-Timothy Bradley Jr. III pay-per-view undercard in Las Vegas, Ramirez cruised to a shutout decision to claim a 168-pound world title. Ramirez not only won 120-108 on all three scorecards, but he also didn't lose even a single second of the fight in an utter whitewash.
"I was blown away by that performance," Top Rank promoter Bob Arum said. "I figured Zurdo was on his way to greatness."
But soon after Ramirez was scheduled to make his first defense three months later against Germany's Dominik Britsch on the Terence Crawford-Viktor Postol undercard in July, he tore the tendon around the knuckle of his middle finger on his right hand during a sparring session and had to have surgery. Ramirez withdrew from the fight and has been sidelined for nearly a year.
But now Ramirez (34-0, 24 KOs) is healthy and raring to go for defense No. 1, which will come against Max Bursak (33-4-1, 15 KOs), 32, of Ukraine, in one of the bouts that Top Rank will feature on its April 22 pay-per-view card from the StubHub Center in Carson, California, where Ramirez should have a healthy cheering section from a largely Mexican crowd.
Top Rank announced the card, which will be headlined by featherweight titlist Oscar Valdez (21-0, 19 KOs), of Mexico, making a mandatory defense against Colombia's Miguel Marriaga (25-1, 21 KOs), on Tuesday at a news conference at a hotel in Manhattan Beach, California.
As far as Ramirez is concerned, his return can't come soon enough. The 25-year-old southpaw has been very eager to get back into the ring.
"I was really sad, really mad when I got injured," Ramirez, who has learned to speak English very well, told ESPN in a telephone interview shortly after the news conference. "I really wanted to defend my title and I couldn't. But everything happens for a reason. All this time I thought about my career and how I would come back stronger and more hungry than before."
Arum said that Ramirez lost some momentum because of the injury but chalked it up to the normal course of things that happen to athletes.
"That happens in boxing. Guys lose a whole season if they get injured in football or basketball," Arum said. "You have to accept that. He's very motivated now. He's had time to think about boxing and I love his attitude. He is ready to fight anybody.
"I am going to try to hurt Bursak and I will give my best to win. The knockout could come at the beginning, the middle or the end of the fight but I will be trying to hurt my opponent and get the knockout."Gilberto "Zurdo" Ramirez
"Obviously, not being seen from the Abraham fight until now doesn't help his visibility and now I have to build it back up."
Ramirez initially hurt his knuckle during an eighth-round knockout win against Fulgencio Zuniga in November 2014 but it wasn't broken and he continued to fight because of the opportunities presented to him. Now, being forced to have surgery, Ramirez said it was a blessing in disguise because it has fully healed.
"Now it is better. I am pain free and it's better than it was before," Ramirez said. "Before Abraham I hurt my hand too and I wasn't confident to throw a good punch. Now I feel great. Now I can throw a good punch and I don't feel pain."
He is hoping to put on a good performance and shake off the rust of the layoff against Bursak and get people talking about him again.
"Everybody forgot me a little bit in all this time that I couldn't fight," he said. Now I am coming back and will fight more often and it's great for me. Now I feel great. I want to fight three times [in 2017]. I am looking forward to that. I don't know much about my opponent but I know he will come prepared and try to take my belt and that's not going to happen. I am really prepared for that. I saw a couple of videos on him.
"I am going to try to hurt Bursak and I will give my best to win. The knockout could come at the beginning, the middle or the end of the fight but I will be trying to hurt my opponent and get the knockout."
Should Ramirez prevail and come away unscathed, Arum said he wants to get him back in the ring in July, possibly against mandatory challenger Jesse Hart (21-0, 17 KOs), a 27-year-old from Philadelphia whom Top Rank also promotes.
And at the end of the year Arum has hopes for a major fight for Ramirez if he remains unbeaten: Golovkin, who figures to eventually move up to super middleweight.
"If they don't make Golovkin against Canelo [Alvarez] for the fall," Arum said. "If they don't make that fight, Golovkin against Zurdo is a possibility. I'm not pulling this out of my ass because [Golovkin promoter] Tom [Loeffler] has called me a number of times about possibly doing the fight with the caveat being that if he gets Canelo, Triple G would go with Canelo first."
Ramirez loves the idea of a possible Golovkin fight.
"I am looking for any fighter to be pound-for-pound," Ramirez said. "I'm looking for GGG, a champion at light heavyweight, anyone who wants to fight with me. It doesn't matter. I want to fight with the best. I want to be the boxing idol for all the world."