World title stays with Jose Ramirez despite formidable challenge

José Ramírez, left, connects with a left hook during his WBC super lightweight title defense against José Zepeda at the Save Mart Center on Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019. (Jose Romo Jr./The Collegian).

World Boxing Council super lightweight champion of the world Jose Ramirez (24-0, 16 KOs) was once again fighting in front of a hometown crowd of 14,034 at the Save Mart Center and nationwide audience, facing the toughest test of his career in Jose “Chon” Zepeda on Sunday.

From the opening round, it was evident that Zepeda (31-1, 25 KOs) was not going to make it an easy night for Ramirez, as he was able to go blow-for-blow with the champion, making Ramirez unable to get into rhythm more than any fighter has done before.

Zepeda worked to get Ramirez out of his comfort zone, fighting very intelligently, frustrating Ramirez by any means, using head-butts and the clinch in order to stop Ramirez’s rhythm and at one point pressing his glove on the forehead of Ramirez to keep him at a distance.

In the championship rounds of the 11th and 12th is when Ramirez was able to make an impression on the judges, especially in the closing minutes of the 12th as Ramirez finished with a flurry of shots to the head and body of Zepeda, winning him the round and the fight.

Throughout the fight, there were times of uncertainty that Ramirez would be able to walk out of SMC with his title as Zepeda took Ramirez the full 12-rounds, ultimately leaving the decision in the judges’ hands. The judges’ score cards reflected just how close Ramirez was to defeat with majority decision of 114-114, 115-113 and 116-112.

In the post-fight interview, Ramirez said that his next move would either include a unification bout between the World Boxing Council and other organizations’ champions, including the World Boxing Association (WBA), World Boxing Organization (WBO) and International Boxing Federation (IBF) or a move up in weight class.

“I want champions. I felt like I’ve beaten the top contenders ranked high in the WBC, so I think it is time to go for a unification,” Ramirez said. “If not, if no one is out there to unify, we might look at 147 (welterweight).”

If Ramirez decides to move up to welterweight and challenge champions at 147, the list of names that Ramirez could face are some of the top fighters in boxing, the likes of which include Errol Spence Jr., Terence Crawford, Keith Thurman and Manny Pacquiao.

Despite Ramirez/Zepeda being the main event, the bout before between Raymundo Beltran (36-8-1, 22 KOs) and the previously unbeaten Hiroki Okada (19-1, 13 KOs) for the vacant WBC Continental Americas and WBO Intercontinental 140-pound titles was arguably fight of the night, as the Save Mart Center became reminiscent of ancient Rome in the process.

Both Beltran and Okada waged war on one another from the opening bell. The two combatants threw caution to the wind, as each fighter landed punch after punch with more ferocity than the last.

The bout was highlighted by a second-round melee that both fighters will forever be known for. As both fighters gave it their all, Beltran was able to knock down Okada with a smooth yet devastating left hook, sending the crowd into a frenzy, only to be stunned by Okada later on in the round with a devastating shot, causing Beltran’s knees to buckle.

Beltran talked about that second round in a post-fight interview and diagnosed Okada’s plan of attack.

“I knocked him down in the second round, but he came back and got me good, too,” Beltran said. “We knew his plan was to stay at a distance and keep me at bay with the jab. I saw an opening with the right hand and that’s why I started throwing it.”

The opening Beltran saw is what led to a pair of knockdowns in the ninth round after Beltran seemed to slow the pace in the previous two rounds, ramping up the action, and forcing Okada’s corner to stop the fight to protect Okada from further damage. Before the corner stoppage, the judges’ score cards showed a very close bout, reading as 78-74 Beltran and 76-76 (2x).

In a bout for the vacant WBC Continental Americas super bantamweight title, Arizona native Carlos Castro (22-0, 9 KOs) captured the title in a dominant performance over veteran Genesis Servania (32-2, 15 KOs) with a 10-round unanimous decision. Castro’s skills in the ring looked unmatched as Servania was not able to get in a rhythm and looked outright lost, as Castro cruised to a victory. The judges scored the bout 100-90, 99-91, and 98-92.

The effervescent boxing sensation Gabriel Flores Jr. (12-0, 5 KOs) continued to show why the lightweight is the youngest fighter in history to be signed to Top Rank promotions, as he earned his 12th win by unanimous decision over Alex Rynn Torres (6-3, 3 KOs).

Flores Jr. came out loose from the start and barely broke a sweat throughout, as he was able to cut the ring off in half, gaining confidence each time he connected on Torres. The lack of offense from Torres and with Flores Jr.’s ability to exude confidence in every waking moment, led to the judges’ scoring of 60-54 (2x) and 59-55 in favor of Flores Jr.

Fresno native Isidro Ochoa (7-0, 3 KOs) improves his undefeated record to 7-0 with a fifth-round TKO over Jesus Guzman (7-3, 5 Kos), due to corner stoppage after Guzman’s corner realized their fighter could no longer defend himself.

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