Local hero Jose Ramirez defended his junior welterweight title via unanimous 12-round decision on Friday in a sensational fight with Antonio Orozco that featured sizzling two-way action in every round.
The roaring crowds inside Save Mark Arena in Fresno, California, and ESPN's TV audience was treated to one of the best fights of the year, as both men put everything they had on the line from the first bell to the last.
Ramirez, from nearby Avenal, won by scores of 119-107 on all three judges' scorecards. He was making the first defense of the vacant junior welterweight title he won by defeating Amir Imam on March 17 at Madison Square Garden.
Ramirez was scheduled to make a homecoming defense against Danny O'Connor in July, but O'Connor was forced to withdraw 24 hours before the fight when he was hospitalized, suffering from dehydration and kidney problems incurred while trying to make the division's 140-pound limit.
The wait was well worth it. Ramirez (23-0, 16 KOs) and Orozco (27-1, 17 KOs) wasted no time slugging it out. They set a dizzying pace in the opening round and seldom slowed down.
Ramirez's jab, combination punching and body shots were the keys to his victory. Orozco battled back with left hooks to the head and body, but despite his punch output, he couldn't turn the fight in his favor.
Many of the rounds were close, as both fighters hammered away at each other with reckless abandon. But Ramirez's hand speed and slightly harder punches allowed him to edge most rounds.
Still, every time Ramirez seemed on the verge of scoring a knockout, Orozco, of Stockton, rallied back to stay in the fight.
A toe-to-toe exchange in the fourth round resulted in a knockdown when Ramirez countered a combination from Orozco with a right to the jaw that dropped his adversary for a nine count.
Orozco, 30, did some of his best work in the sixth when he connected with a series of rights to the head. He also did well in the seventh when he moved laterally and tagged Ramirez, 26, with a number of hard jabs.
It looked like the end for Orozco in the eighth. Ramirez forced him to the ropes and delivered a brutal left hook to the liver. Orozco winced in pain and crumbled to the canvas. It was the sort of punch that frequently leads to a knockout, but somehow Orozco managed to beat referee Marcos Rosales' count and blast back with his own punches.
Before the start of the ninth round, the ringside doctor examined Orozco but allowed him to continue. He battled on fairly even terms with Ramirez in the ninth and jarred the titleholder with a right uppercut in the 10th round.
Orozco appeared to be tiring in the 11th, and Ramirez made good use of his left hook to regain total control. By then Orozco was bleeding from a cut on his left eyebrow.
Ramirez won the final round as well, but with less than a minute to go, they stood chest-to-chest and banged away until the bell rang, at which point the crowd erupted in a well-deserved ovation.
"Antonio Orozco is a true warrior. He wouldn't stay down," Ramirez said, adding that he hopes to unify the title.
"No excuses," Orozco said. "He was a better fighter than me. He's a great champion. But I'm going to rebuild and come back."
In a one-sided junior lightweight bout, Jamel Herring won every round against an overmatched John Vincent Moralde to win a unanimous decision. All three judges scored it 100-90 for Herring.
Herring (18-2, 10 KOs), 32, a southpaw from Cincinnati, dominated the 10-rounder with an unyielding body attack and a steady flow of combinations to the head. But in the final round, an accidental clash of heads opened a nasty cut over the winner's right eye.
Moralde (20-2, 10 KOs), 24, of General Santos City, Philippines, didn't have the skill or punching power to deterred Herring's attack. He did, however, stay on his feet throughout and bravely lasted the distance.
In the TV opener, lightweight Gabriel Flores won a unanimous six-round decision over Roger Gutierrez. The judges scored it 58-54, 59-54 and 59-54 for Flores.
Flores, 18, the youngest boxer to ever sign a contract with Top Rank, was knocked down in the first round when Gutierrez, 25, landed an overhand right to the temple.
Flores, of Stockton, California, worked his way back into the fight in the second by moving and catching the hard-charging Gutierrez, of Pacoima, California, with stiff left jabs.
Flores was also helped when referee Gerard White penalized Gutierrez, a point for hitting behind the head in the third. There were no previous warnings and Flores was ducking when the punch landed. The crowd booed the referee's action.
Flores (10-0, 5 KOs) stayed away from wild-swinging Gutierrez (7-2-1, 4 KOs, I ND) in the fourth and fifth, landing more jabs and an occasional right, but could not discourage his opponent.
Gutierrez went all out in the final round and finally pinned Flores on the ropes as the clock wound down, but couldn't put him down again.