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Gilberto Ramirez vacates WBO 168-pound title

Billy Joe Saunders, Gilberto Ramirez boxing photo

By Dan Ambrose: Gilberto ‘Zurdo’ Ramirez has officially vacated his WBO super middleweight title, which now makes it possible for Billy Joe Saunders and Shefat Isufi to battle for the vacant belt this Saturday night on May 18 in their fight on ESPN+ at the Lamex Stadium, in Stevenage, UK. Ramirez (40-0, 26 KOs) reportedly wrote to the World Boxing Organization to inform the WBO president Paco Valcarcel of his decision to give up his 168-pound title, according to Dan Rafael.

Gilberto Ramirez’s decision to vacate WBO was expected

The move by the 27-year-old Ramirez was an expected one, as he’s outgrown the super middleweight division after 10 years in the division, and he wants to start afresh at light heavyweight to try and capture world titles in that weight class. Had Ramirez stayed at 168 for much longer, he likely would have been beaten by one of the contenders due to how difficult it was for him to make the weight. Ramirez’s promoters at Top Rank arguably helped him stay a world champion with the WBO a lot longer than he otherwise would have been had they not matched him so weakly in the last couple of years by having him defend against arguably less talented fighters like Roamer Alexis Angulo, Habib Ahmed and Max Bursak. Top Rank did have Ramirez defend twice against Jesse Hart, and those fights turned out to be close ones that Gilberto barely won. Hart is a good fighter, but he’s not considered to be on the same level talent-wise as guys like David Benavidez, Caleb Plant, Callum Johnson, Jose Uzcategui or Juergen Braehmer.

This move by Ramirez could be a MAJOR disaster for him. He’s not the hardest puncher, and he gets hit a lot. That’s a recipe for disaster. Hopefully, Ramirez has backup plan in place in case his experiment at 175 fails to workout in his favor. The top fighters light heavyweight can really punch, and they’ll massacre an easy to hit fighter with moderate power and poor defensive skills like Ramirez. Being a volume puncher in the Antonio Margarito mold worked out well for Ramirez at 168 due to the level of opposition Top Rank was feeding him all these years, but at 175, they won’t be able to protect him in the same way. The light heavyweight division is stacked with too many lions for Top Rank to find a title for Ramirez to sit on and milk like he was doing with the WBO 168 lb strap for the last three years. If Ramirez starts getting knocked out left at right at light heavyweight, he might want to get a nutritionist and work on his diet so he can go back down and fight the likes of Saunders for his old WBO 168-pound belt. It won’s be easy for Ramirez to recapture the belt, but it’s better than him staying at 175 and ending up as a punching bag for Beterbiev, Bivol, Kovalev, Eleider Alvarez, Barrera and Gvozdk.

Ramirez recently fought for the first time at 175 in defeating former light heavyweight world title challenger Tommy Karpency by a 4th round knockout last month on the undercard of Vasiliy Lomachenko vs. Anthony Crolla on April 12 at The Forum in Los Angeles, California. It was a fine performance by the 6’2” Ramirez is showing that he’s got the talent to fight at a level at light heavyweight. After the way that Ramirez dispatched the southpaw Karpency, it was only a matter of time before officially vacated his WBO 168-pound title.

Ramirez would have stayed at 168 for big fight

Had there been an offer to Ramirez from one of the other super middleweight champions like Saul Canelo Alvarez, Callum Smith or Caleb Plant, he would have come back down to defend his WBO belt against them, but unfortunately wasn’t the opportunity that presented itself. Ramirez had hoped that former middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin would come up to 168 to challenge him for his WBO title, but he never did. There had been talk of GGG making the move up in weight to face Ramirez in the last three years, but he never did. It was too much for Ramirez to keep battling the eight at 168 for him to struggle to squeeze down in that weight class. In the end, Ramirez made the only decision he could in moving up to light heavyweight to campaign in that weight class.

Big fight opportunities for Ramirez at 175

In moving up to light heavyweight, Ramirez can take advantage of the numerous fights that are available to him in this weight class. Top Rank, the promoters for Ramirez, have three world champions from that weight class signed with them in Artur Beterbiev, Sergey Kovalev and Oleksandr Gvozdyk. Top Rank also has former WBO 175-pound champion Eleider Alvarez and top contender Sullivan Barrera at light heavyweight. Ramirez has already made it known that he would be interested in challenging WBO 175-lb champion Kovalev (33-3-1, 28 KOs) for his title in the near future. Kovalev has a title defense coming up against his WBO mandatory challenger Anthony Yarde that he needs to get out of the way in August in Russia. If Kovalev wins that fight, then there’s a possibility that him and Ramirez could face each other. However, Kovalev wants to be involved in unification fights against the other champions at 175. There’s also the possibility of Saul Canelo Alvarez moving up to light heavyweight to challenge Kovalev for his WBO title. Those fights would obviously interest Kovalev more than defending his belt against the unbeaten Ramirez.

Top Rank still hasn’t made up their mind who they plan on matching Ramirez up against in the near future. Although want to fight Kovalev, that’s not a doable fight right now. IBF champion Artur Beterbiev won’t be fighting during Ramadan. Beterbiev might be a little too tough of a fight for Ramirez to be taking in what would be only his second fight at light heavyweight. It’s likely that Top Rank will ant to put Ramirez in the best position possible for him to capture a world title when he does challenge for a belt at light heavyweight. If Ramirez faces Beterbiev right away, he could be knocked out quickly the way that the two-time Russian Olympian stopped his last challenger Radivoje Kalajdzic in the fifth round this month on May 4 in Stockton, California. Top Rank obviously doesn’t want to discourage Ramirez right off the bat by putting him in with someone a little too good like Beterbiev. Kovalev, 35, is flawed enough due to his advanced age, chin problems and stamina issues for Ramirez to have a good chance of beating him. Top Rank’s other champions Gvozdyk and Beterbiev aren’t flawed. They’re looking very good. WBA light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol isn’t signed with Top Rank, but nevertheless, he’s looking almost unbeatable right now. Putting Ramirez in with Bivol would be a bad idea.

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