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Gilberto 'Zurdo' Ramirez goes for fourth title defense, waits for unification fights

Super middleweight world titleholder Gilberto "Zurdo" Ramirez has been in something of a holding pattern.

The Mexican southpaw won a 168-pound world title in April 2016 when he pitched a shutout against Arthur Abraham to take the belt from the longtime titleholder on the Manny Pacquiao-Timothy Bradley Jr. III undercard in Las Vegas. Since then, Ramirez has defended the title three times, all in convincing fashion, but without having had the chance to face a top opponent.

Top Rank, his promoter, does not have much to offer him in his weight class other than Jesse Hart, whom Ramirez outpointed in September. Several of the other top super middleweights were fighting their way through the eight-man World Boxing Super Series over the past year, a tournament that Top Rank elected not to sign Ramirez up for despite overtures from the organizers.

And after Top Rank last month signed world titleholder David Benavidez -- a friend of Ramirez's -- with designs on putting together an eventual unification fight, the deal fell apart when Benavidez returned his $250,000 bonus check and elected to go back to promoter Sampson Lewkowicz, who said he still had Benavidez under contract.

So Ramirez has been left to face obscure opponents with no profile and little in the way of accomplishments: Max Bursak, Habib Ahmed and now Roamer Alexis Angulo.

Ramirez would prefer a title unification fight but will nonetheless make his fourth defense when he faces Angulo on Saturday night in the main event of a Top Rank Boxing on ESPN tripleheader at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, home of the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder.

"From what I know, he's a big puncher, and I know that he will try to knock me out. I'm going to try and knock him out, too. He doesn't have a loss on his record, but he will on Saturday." Gilberto Ramirez

The main card will air on ESPN and ESPN Deportes beginning at 9 p.m. with the full card to stream live on ESPN+ beginning at 6 p.m. ET.

"I am looking for unification fights. That's what I want," Ramirez said. "But first things first. We have a tough fight with Angulo, and after that, we are looking at any of those fighters. Let's do it. Let's make it happen."

The main card also will include junior welterweight contender and Oklahoma City resident Alex Saucedo (27-0, 17 KOs), 24, against Australian brawler Lenny Zappavigna (37-3, 27 KOs), 30, in the 10-round co-feature that could send Saucedo into a world title fight with a victory, and 2016 Brazilian Olympic gold medalist Robson Conceicao (7-0, 4 KOs), 29, facing Ecuador native Gavino Guaman (5-2, 1 KO), 26, in a six-round junior lightweight match.

The card is in Oklahoma City because of Saucedo's presence, and Ramirez said he has been welcomed with open arms since arriving earlier in the week.

"I am very excited to be in Oklahoma, because since I arrived in the city, I have been feeling the love and good vibes of my countrymen, from the fans and from the family of Saucedo," he said. "Everyone has shown their support. The weather in OKC is like the warm weather of my hometown of Mazatlan, Mexico.

"I feel that there will be a lot of Mexican fans supporting me in the arena on Saturday night, and that motivates me a lot. I come well prepared to defend my title and bring it back to my country."

"I don't feel like he has any advantages. We both have two legs. We both have two arms. We both have two eyes. We are equals, and anything can happen when you get in the ring. It has been my dream to fight for a world title, and now the opportunity is here. Gilberto Ramirez is a great champion, but my time is now." Roamer Alexis Angulo

That is expected, given how big of a favorite he is against Angulo (23-0, 20 KOs), 34, of Colombia, who has a glossy record but nary a recognizable name on it. He is unknown even to the most ardent fight fan.

"We've seen a couple of tapes," Ramirez said. "He's a big puncher. He has a good record, and I have been preparing very hard for him. I've been doing a lot of sparring with different guys, and I'm ready to put on a great performance for Oklahoma City and the people watching on ESPN.

"He's a dangerous fighter because we don't know what he brings. Like I said, I prepared really well for this fight. We don't know what kind of strategy he brings to the ring, so we're preparing with different styles."

When Ramirez (37-0, 25 KOs), who turned 27 last week, faced the equally obscure Ahmed in February, at least he knocked him out in the sixth round to provide a few fireworks. He has the same plan against Angulo.

"From what I know, he's a big puncher, and I know that he will try to knock me out. I'm going to try and knock him out, too," he said. "He doesn't have a loss on his record, but he will on Saturday."

Angulo may be unknown, but he is talking tough.

"I don't feel like he has any advantages," he said of Ramirez. "We both have two legs. We both have two arms. We both have two eyes. We are equals, and anything can happen when you get in the ring. It has been my dream to fight for a world title, and now the opportunity is here. Gilberto Ramirez is a great champion, but my time is now.

"I'll give my best. I can assure that the fans will be very happy with the fight. We've worked to take the title to Colombia. It's a long trip, and it's been a strong preparation, so taking the title home is the least we expect. Ramirez is a great world champion, which is why I think it will be an interesting fight. I'm sure he will also be prepared to give his best. I know it will be an excellent fight."