NEW YORK -- Jose Ramirez was 8 years old when he began boxing, and for the next 17 years, he worked toward this one moment on Saturday night: to win a world title.
Mission accomplished in a fantastic action fight, as Ramirez outpointed Amir Imam by unanimous decision to win a vacant junior welterweight world title before 4,672 in the Top Rank ESPN main event at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden.
Ramirez badly swelled Imam's right eye and landed all kinds of hard punches throughout the fight to win by scores of 120-108, 117-111 and 115-113. ESPN.com also had Ramirez winning 117-111.
"This is a dream come true for me. It is an honor to be a world champion," Ramirez said. "I'm thankful for the talent God gave me. There was a point in the fight that I said to myself, 'Jose, what are you doing?' That's why I caught my second wind, and I gave it my all in the championship rounds."
Imam was by far Ramirez's most formidable professional opponent, but Ramirez rose to the occasion to win one of the 140-pound world titles that became vacant when Terence Crawford, who was ringside, unified all four major belts in August and then relinquished them to move up to the welterweight division.
Ramirez, who won the 2,000th world title fight in the WBC's 55-year history, dominated, and the CompuBox punch statistics illustrated it. He landed 282 of 799 blows (35 percent), and Imam landed 189 of 653 (29 percent).
"The kid was relentless," Imam promoter Don King said of Ramirez. "Imam made him miss a lot, but he didn't throw enough punches back. He just didn't throw enough punches."
Ramirez's victory also gave his promoter, Top Rank's Bob Arum, a win against his decades-long rival, King. The now-friendly rivals were promoting a fight together for the first time since the Miguel Cotto-Ricardo Mayorga junior middleweight title fight in March 2011.
"Imam landed some good shots, and Ramirez landed good shots. I give the kid credit. He won the fight," said Stacy McKinley, Imam's trainer. "Amir turned him around a couple times and hurt him, but the kid came right back and landed more. I give him credit."
Imam did not debate the decision.
"I should have done more to the body, and I needed to," Imam said. "I just keep thinking about all the things I should have done."
Both fighters came out aggressively in the first round and tested the other's chin. Both took the shots in a close round.
Many of Ramirez's fans made the trip from California's Central Valley, and they began chanting "Jose! Jose!" in the third round as he and Imam exchanged punches.
Imam landed a good right uppercut that caught Ramirez's attention in the fourth round of a very competitive fight.
Ramirez (22-0, 16 KOs), 25, a 2012 U.S. Olympian from Avenal, California, had a big sixth round when he landed two right hands that knocked Imam off-balance and appeared to rattle him. Ramirez then landed another right hand and chased after Imam when he scooted away. Imam used his legs to try to stay away for the rest of the round as he tried to collect himself.
In the seventh round, Ramirez went to his best punch, the left hook, and landed several that connected hard and backed up Imam.
They battled toe-to-toe for much of the eighth round, exchanging head and body shots, with Imam seemingly getting the better of the action. But they both took clean shots as the crowd cheered.
Ramirez had a strong 10th round, hurting Imam multiple times with his right hand and forcing him to step back and cover up. He continued the assault in the 11th round, when Imam's right eye began to swell badly. Ramirez continued to score in the 11th round, nailing Imam (21-2, 18 KOs), 27, of Albany, New York, with a clean right-left combination in the middle of the ring that stopped him in his tracks.
Ramirez attacked Imam in the 12th round. He was clearly going for a knockout. Imam's swollen eye was nearly closed, and Ramirez forced him to the ropes and unloaded as Imam's corner shouted at him to go for broke.
"Amir is a great fighter, and he came well prepared," Ramirez said. "That's why we gave the fans a great fight."
Ramirez's win was also a big one for his Hall of Fame trainer, Freddie Roach, who guided Ramirez from his pro debut to a world title.
"I thought we would box him a little more, but the fight unfolded very well," Roach said. "[Ramirez] won every single round. A hometown fight for Jose next would be great, but New York was great to us tonight. By the end of the fight, everyone was on our side."
With the victory secured, Ramirez is now mandated to face Houston's Regis Prograis (21-0, 18 KOs), 29, who was ringside. Prograis claimed the vacant interim title with a second-round knockout of former unified titlist Julius Indongo on March 9.
Arum hopes to take Ramirez to his home region for his first title defense in Fresno, where he draws sellout crowds and is a major star in California's Central Valley, not only for his ring exploits but also for his tireless efforts working on community issues such as farmer water rights and immigration.
"I dedicate this fight to all the immigrants. I fight for them," said Ramirez, whose mother, Juanita, recently received her green card and made her first trip cross-country to see the fight.
Arum and Prograis promoter Lou DiBella met in New York this week to talk about what would happen if Ramirez won. Arum proposed to put Prograis on in the co-feature of Ramirez's first defense in Fresno to build up their fight.
"I'd like to have Prograis fight in Fresno in a co-feature of Jose's first defense and build it into a huge attraction," Arum said. "We in boxing know Prograis is a terrific fighter, but the public doesn't know him yet. We want them to see him, and we can make it a huge fight."
Arum said he was proud of Ramirez for both his boxing ability and commitment to community service.
"He's a great kid. He can fight, and he does so much for his community. I really had high hopes for him when we signed him," Arum said. "We signed three guys out of the 2012 Olympians, Oscar Valdez [of Mexico], Jose Ramirez and [Puerto Rico's] Felix Verdejo. And the consensus was Verdejo was by far the best and maybe Valdez was second and Ramirez was third.
"But Ramirez had the fortitude and discipline to become a great fighter, as did Valdez, and Verdejo [who got knocked out on the undercard] didn't."