Gilberto Ramirez withdraws from title defense after finger injury

Super middleweight titleholder Gilberto "Zurdo" Ramirez tore the tendon around the knuckle of his middle finger on his right hand during a sparring session Tuesday and has withdrawn from his upcoming defense.

Ramirez (34-0, 24 KOs) will have surgery Friday and could be sidelined for the rest of the year. He was scheduled to make his first defense against Dominik Britsch (32-2-1, 11 KOs), 28, of Germany, in the co-feature of the card headlined by the junior welterweight world title unification bout between Terrence Crawford and Viktor Postol on July 23 (HBO PPV) at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Ramirez, 25, of Mexico, was in the gym at his Hermosa Beach, California, training camp when he threw a right hand that caught his sparring partner awkwardly behind the head and damaged Ramirez's finger, adviser Sean Gibbons told ESPN.com.

Gibbons said Ramirez immediately left the gym and paid a visit to noted hand specialist Dr. Steven Shin, who recommended immediate surgery to repair the damage.

"Gilberto Ramirez sustained an injury to the third knuckle of his right hand after a punch to the head of his sparring partner," Shin said in a statement given to ESPN.com. "I examined Gilberto later (Tuesday) and ordered an MRI of his right hand. The MRI revealed a complete tear of the ulnar sagittal band at the third metacarpophalangeal joint (knuckle) of his right hand, a region of the hand that is commonly injured in boxers. Gilberto will undergo surgery this Friday for repair of this injury. We anticipate that the soonest he will be able to fight competitively will be in approximately five months."

Shin has worked with a number of boxers, including junior lightweight titleholder Vasyl Lomachenko and former middleweight titlist Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in recent years.

Ramirez won a 168-pound world title in a surprisingly easy shutout decision against long-reigning titleholder Arthur Abraham on April 9 on the Manny Pacquiao-Timothy Bradley Jr. III undercard.

Although disappointed, he had a positive outlook following the injury.

"I was in top shape and on weight but I know these kinds of things can happen in boxing," Ramirez said. "I will recover and come back stronger physically and mentally. I have a long boxing career in front of me and for sure a lot of big fights will be coming my way."

Gibbons said Ramirez has been dealing with soreness in the area that was injured for the past two years. Gibbons said Ramirez initially hurt the knuckle during an eighth-round knockout win against Fulgencio Zuniga in November 2014.

"It's been sore since that fight," Gibbons said. "The he banged it up again against [Gevorg] Khatchikian in November when he hit on the elbow. It's always been tender and had issues, and this time it just went 'boom.' But it's better for this to happen during a sparring session than in the fight. It's horrible, but it is what is. He's very disappointed, but you have to be a realist. You keep your spirits up, but it's just a bummer after working so hard to get the title. But he'll come to Vegas for the fight and talk to the media, enjoy himself and rehab."

Top Rank chairman Bob Arum said he has faith in Shin and that when Ramirez is better he will get him right into a title defense.

"I talked to the doctor, and I've all the confidence in him," Arum said. "Dr. Shin said it would have been crazy to go through with the fight and the best thing is to get an operation."

Arum said he and his staff are going over possible replacement bouts for the pay-per-view telecast, which also includes Mexico's Oscar Valdez (19-0, 17 KOs) taking on Matias Adrian Rueda (26-0, 23 KOs), of Argentina, for a vacant featherweight title and a welterweight bout between Phoenix's Jose Benavidez Jr. (24-0, 16 KOs) and Francisco "Chia" Santana (24-4-1, 12 KOs), of Santa Barbara, California.

Arum said one possibility is to take the junior welterweight world title elimination bout between Lenny Zappavigna (34-2, 24 KOs), of Australia, and China's IK Yang (19-1, 14 KOs), which was not scheduled for the domestic telecast, and move it on to the pay-per-view card.

Another possibility, Arum said, is to move blue-chip light heavyweight prospect Oleksandr Gvozdyk (10-0, 10 KOs), a 2012 Olympic bronze medalist from Ukraine, from a non-televised bout on Top Rank's July 16 card in Lancaster, California, and put him on the pay-per-view a week later against a more formidable opponent.

"We'll fill the spot," Arum said. "We're working on it, and we'll have something. Zurdo was really picking up traction, but we still have Valdez; Benavidez against Santana, which will be a hell of a fight; and a great main event. Does losing Zurdo's fight hurt? A little bit. Is it devastating? No."