LAS VEGAS -- Super middleweight contender Gilberto "Zurdo" Ramirez risked his status as a mandatory challenger for a world title when he faced Gevorg Khatchikian on Friday night in the main event of truTV's "MetroPCS Friday Night Knockout" series at the Cosmopolitan.
It turned out to be not much of a risk, as Ramirez rolled to a unanimous decision, winning by shutout scores of 100-90 on two scorecards and 99-91 on the third. ESPN.com also had Ramirez winning 99-91.
"I tried to knock him out," Ramirez said. "I did my best, but he moved better tonight than he did on the video we watched. I went for the knockout and didn't get it. I'm ready to fight for the title, but I have to speak to my team first."
Ramirez (33-0, 24 KOs), a 24-year-old southpaw from Mexico, had not fought since June, and he and his handlers did not want him to sit around getting rusty before challenging for a world title in early 2016. So they matched him with Khatchikian, 27, a native of Armenia living in the Netherlands, and he dominated, putting him in line for the next shot at the 168-pound belt held by Germany's Arthur Abraham, although Abraham first defends his title against England's Martin Murray on Saturday in Hannover, Germany.
Khatchikian (23-2, 11 KOs) connected with some solid shots in the first round, but Ramirez dominated the fight thereafter. After the opening round, he picked it up and picked Khatchikian apart with an assortment of power punches.
"He caught me with some good punches, but I wasn't hurt and we went back to the body," Ramirez said. "That was the whole plan."
In the third round, Ramirez landed a hard right hand that staggered Khatchikian, and he landed a lot of heavy body shots and straight left hands that marked up Khatchikian's face. Ramirez continued to pressure Khatchikian nonstop and backed him up throughout the fight.
"This wasn't my night," said Khatchikian, whose only previous loss came in 2014 by 11th-round knockout to James DeGale, an Olympic gold medalist from England who went on to win a world title in May. "He's very active. He's very busy. He throws a lot of punches. I couldn't get to him."
In the co-feature, bright lightweight prospect Saul Rodriguez, 22, of Riverside, California, scored two knockdowns and destroyed Ivan Najera, 22, of San Antonio, by first-round knockout.
Rodriguez (19-0-1, 14 KOs) dropped him for the first time with a punishing left hook to the face that immediately blew up Najera's left eye. Najera (16-2, 8 KOs) was very unsteady when he got to his feet, and when the fight resumed and Rodriguez landed a few more shots, Najera went down again. Referee Kenny Bayless called off the fight without a count at 2 minutes, 6 seconds.
"I felt the power go up and down my arm on that left hook," Rodriguez said.
Najera lost his second fight in a row. In his previous fight, on June 13, he went the 10-round distance with 2014 ESPN.com prospect of the year Felix Verdejo, even though Verdejo, who knocked him down twice, fought with an injured hand that required surgery right after the fight.
Top Rank and trainer Robert Garcia have very high hopes for Rodriguez.
"He's the real deal," Garcia said. "He's the next big thing out of our gym."