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Gilberto Ramirez embraces 'new beginning' in life and career

Gilberto Ramirez proposed to his girlfriend Priscilla at the Wild Card Gym in Los Angeles. Mikey Williams/Top Rank

Suddenly, Gilberto "Zurdo" Ramirez dropped to a knee inside the boxing ring last week, but the super middleweight world titleholder had not been hurt by a punch during a fight.

Instead, as a mariachi band entered the Los Angeles gym playing traditional Mexican music, Ramirez reached into his pocket, pulled out an engagement ring and showed it to the person sharing the squared circle with him -- his girlfriend, Priscilla.

Pricilla, who is pregnant, then joined him on the canvas. They embraced and she accepted his marriage proposal. He slipped the engagement ring on her finger and they eventually stood up and raised their arms over their heads like newly crowned world champions.

Getting engaged -- only about a week before his next fight, no less -- and with a baby on the way are both major events for anyone, but for Ramirez they are just two of the many that have Zurdo declaring a "new beginning" for his life and career.

"I feel happy to propose to my fiancée. It's very exciting. And I feel ready for the fight, and ready to have a baby. I feel prepared. That's why I got engaged." Gilberto Ramirez

Along with his engagement and impending fatherhood, Ramirez has moved from his hometown of Mazatlan, Mexico, to Los Angeles and has radically changed his team by replacing the only trainer he has ever had and firing the only manager he has ever known in order to manage himself.

And all these changes come as Ramirez is about to make a huge change inside the ring as he prepares to move up in weight to the talent-rich light heavyweight division.

"I feel happy to propose to my fiancée. It's very exciting. And I feel ready for the fight, and ready to have a baby," Ramirez told ESPN. "I feel prepared. That's why I got engaged. It's the happiest moment for me and the training camp is really good with my new trainer.

"I feel like it's a new beginning, like I am born again. I feel happy. I feel very confident about my preparation and in my new team."

That new team will lead Ramirez into his first light heavyweight bout against former world title challenger Tommy Karpency in the 10-round co-feature of the Top Rank Boxing on ESPN+ card headlined by the fight between pound-for-pound king and unified lightweight world champion Vasiliy Lomachenko and former titlist Anthony Crolla on Friday (ESPN+, 11 p.m. ET main card, 8 p.m. ET for preliminaries) at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

"He has all of that stuff going on and then to move up to light heavyweight? I wouldn't say it's the ideal situation, but maybe all of it will prove to be a non-factor and give him new motivation and maybe it works out for the better," said Carl Moretti, the vice president of Top Rank, Ramirez's longtime promoter. "That's the intriguing part of the fight. Usually, you get a guy with drama surrounding him but having this many things at the same time, this kind of scenario, is rare."

Ramirez (39-0, 25 KOs), a 27-year-old southpaw, has successfully defended his 168-pound world title five times, but with it getting more and more difficult to make weight, and with there being so many prospective major fights available to him at 175 pounds, he made the decision earlier this year to move up in weight.

But at the same time Ramirez was planning to go up in weight and getting excited about his marriage proposal and the baby, he was changing the only team he has ever had by cutting ties with the Zapari family, whom he had been close to since childhood. Hector Zapari had trained Ramirez since he was 12 but was fired and replaced by Julian Chua. Jesus Zapari, Hector's father, had managed him for his entire 10-year career.

"It's the cycle of life," Ramirez said. "I decided to move forward and look to another trainer. I needed more motivation. I didn't feel that with them anymore. With (Chua and strength coach Joel Flores) I feel like I've been working with them for years, not weeks. I feel really confident with them."

Ramirez declined to discuss the rampant rumors that the breakup with the Zapari family was related to irregularities in his finances, saying only, "It's a business. Something happened. I am really happy to make the change because if I didn't make the change I wouldn't be working with Chua and Flores. I feel really happy for that."

Ramirez said he was also very happy to move to Los Angeles.

"I want to be here full time, live here in L.A. and have my family here," Ramirez said. "I want to stay here because my career is here, my trainer is here, my fights, my fans, my family is here. I will still go to Mazatlan for vacation but now I am in L.A. I want to be a pound-for-pound fighter and I need to be ready all the time and I can do that in L.A. Before it was back and forth to Mazatlan and now I am staying here and buying a house."

As a light heavyweight, Ramirez will have plenty of options for significant fights as long as he defeats Karpency (29-6-1, 18 KOs), 33, of Adah, Pennsylvania, because Top Rank also promotes world champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk, world titlist Artur Beterbiev and is the co-promoter for world titlist Sergey Kovalev and former titleholder Eleider "Storm" Alvarez.

"Everybody will see that I am ready for anybody at 175 or 168 pounds," said Ramirez, who has left open the door for a possible return to super middleweight if Top Rank can deliver a premium fight. "I want to put on a great show and have my best performance. I feel stronger at light heavyweight and I am going to try to show my skills in the ring and all the things I've been working on.

"I've been eating good, better than before. I have a good nutritionist. It's really great for me to move up to 175 because 168 was a little hard for me to make but I can make it if they give me a unification fight or something big. I would go down for unification, but I want to stay here for a title fight. I need to see how I feel (Saturday) but the goal is beat this guy, Karpency, and move forward."

Karpency will serve as a reasonable litmus test for Ramirez as a light heavyweight. He has twice fought for a world title in the division, losing a shutout decision to Nathan Cleverly in 2012 and getting knocked out by Adonis Stevenson in the third round in 2015. In 2014, Karpency scored an upset when he outpointed faded former champion Chad Dawson for his biggest victory.

Karpency also faced Gvozdyk in 2016, before Gvozdyk knocked out Stevenson for the title in December. Gvozdyk stopped Karpency in the sixth round, but Karpency made an impression by knocking him down in the first round.

"Of course, everybody will compare my fight to his fight with Gvozdyk," Ramirez said. "That's why they put me with this guy. I know Karpency is a counter puncher and he's dangerous because he's natural 175-pounder. It's an interesting fight for me.

"I think it's a really interesting division because all of the champions are good. There are possibilities to make those fights. Any of those guys I would be happy to fight with them, but I have this fight first. I am really focused on him. I don't want to mess around and think about those other fights. First things first."

As for all of the changes as he heads into Friday's fight, Ramirez said it's just part of life and none of them are a distraction.

"I've been prepared for this all my life. Changes are part of life," he said. "Everything is mentally good. I've been prepared for it. I'm training like always, motivated for my training and family. They push me. They motivate me to be the best and to have the best performance every day."