Jose Ramirez has passed up a title shot against Regis Prograis after the WBC set the purse split at 65-35 in favor of the junior welterweight champion, Ramirez told ESPN on Monday.
Now, Ramirez (27-1, 17 KOs) is set to return March 25 in Fresno, California, in an ESPN/ESPN+ main event, sources said. He is in talks to meet fellow former champion Richard Commey in a 140-pound bout, according to Commey's promoter, Lou DiBella.
"I'm disappointed in that split," Ramirez, ESPN's No. 4 junior welterweight, said in a text message. "This fight should definitely be a 50-50 [split] and I was OK on taking 10% less but I can't be fighting for free and risk too much of a pay cut. Boxing is a tough sport and we want to make sure we get valued.
"This is a huge fight [vs. Prograis] that is not being promoted properly. Hopefully we can make the fight happen in the future when we both get compensated as we should."
A matchup between Prograis, ESPN's No. 3 boxer at 140 pounds, and Ramirez has been sought after since 2019, when both reigned as junior welterweight champions.
Ramirez, who fights out of Central California, was in line for a rematch against Jose Zepeda this fall for the vacant WBC title at 140 pounds but declined the opportunity due to his October wedding.
"I wanna make sure I fight when I'm at my best," Ramirez, 30, told ESPN earlier this month. "I knew I had a wedding to focus on and I knew I was gonna be very distracted ... mentally, physically ... drained from going back and forth, getting things done with the wedding."
After Ramirez passed on the fight, which would have paid him and Zepeda 50% each of the winning bid, Prograis, the next available contender, landed the title shot.
MarvNation Promotions won the rights to Prograis-Zepeda with a bid of $2,400,000. Prograis (28-1, 24 KOs) went on to score an 11th-round KO of Zepeda last month to win the WBC junior welterweight title.
The Mexico-based organization mandates 75-25 splits in title fights in which there is already an established champion (rather than a vacant title bout) but Top Rank petitioned on Ramirez's behalf for a more favorable cut against Prograis.
A deal between Top Rank and Prograis' promoter, Probellum, would have avoided a purse bid in which the rights to the fight are auctioned off, but the companies don't conduct business with one another.
Ramirez didn't care for the politics and told ESPN weeks ago he would proceed with the fight -- and the purse bid -- if he were entitled to 40% or better.
"It's not Top Rank's career. ... It's my career," said Ramirez, who has two fights remaining on his long-term deal with Top Rank. "I'm pushing this fight and I'm gonna set an example to what you do when you really want to fight someone. You just don't talk about it."
The WBC did adjust the split, but only to 35% for Ramirez, who has earned several multimillion-dollar paydays. A purse bid would have created the possibility Ramirez would have competed on a platform other than ESPN, but now he'll return to the network for his first bout since he defeated Jose Pedraza last March.
The win followed a tight decision loss to Josh Taylor in May 2021 for the undisputed junior welterweight championship. The fight would have been ruled a draw if not for two knockdowns suffered by Ramirez.
"Top Rank disagrees with the WBC's ruling on the purse split," Top Rank spokesman Evan Korn said. "Jose Ramirez is a former unified world champion, and the split does not reflect the value he brings to a fight against Regis Prograis. We fully support Jose and look forward to seeing him back in the ring soon."
Ramirez's manager, Rick Mirigian, agreed.
"The purse makes no sense given the value Ramirez clearly brings to the fight from a 360 standpoint; it's like [the WBC] didn't want this fight to happen," Mirigian said. "What fighter with a name, résumé and sells out arenas that makes seven figures is going to fight for that insane percentage?
"I can promise you this, the next guys in line and ones available won't generate half the revenue this fight would have for anyone involved, and it's not like Teofimo Lopez would fight Prograis for 30% or his handlers [would] allow him to, and then get him destroyed on top of it; as we all saw he can't fight an elite guy at 140."
Lopez, who scored a controversial decision over Sandor Martin in a Dec. 10 WBC title eliminator, is next in line for a shot at Prograis with Ramirez out of the picture.
Lopez has expressed his willingness to meet Prograis next but Top Rank has also eyed a fight between Lopez and Taylor, should he defeat Jack Catterall in a March title rematch.
"I'm disappointed to hear that Ramirez is not going through with the fight," Prograis told ESPN. "I've been wanting to fight him for the past five years and it's bulls--- he doesn't want to fight me now that I'm the champion. It shows that he never wanted to and never will fight me. It's not my fault he decided to get married and pass on the fight. If he wants to fight for the belt, he knows where to find me."
While it's unclear whom Prograis, 30, will fight next, Ramirez almost certainly will fight Commey on March 25. Commey, a 35-year-old Ghanian, lost his 135-pound title to Lopez via second-round TKO in December 2019.
Commey (30-4-1, 27 KOs) rebounded with a sixth-round KO of Jackson Marinez last year before he was routed by Vasiliy Lomachenko in December 2021. Following the setback, Commey moved up to 140 pounds for an August bout against Pedraza that ended in a draw.
"I actually think it's a really good fight," DiBella said of Ramirez-Commey. "And I'm confident we'll be able to work something out. Richard never turns away from a challenge and he also thinks it's a winnable fight. I just have to get together with his team and Top Rank."
Ramirez's return will take place at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, where he has headlined many times before sold-out crowds.