On March 17 in New York, Jose Ramirez accomplished a lifelong dream as he outfought and outboxed Amir Imam to win a vacant junior welterweight world title.
It was a joyous victory and when the scores were read Ramirez celebrated with his team, including longtime trainer Freddie Roach.
Little did anyone know at the time but that would be their final fight together. Usually, fighters change trainers when they lose, not when they win the biggest fight of their career.
Though Ramirez professes a deep respect and admiration for all Roach did for him, and for his Hall of Fame career, he also felt like he needed more attention and to be more of a priority.
And so despite a career-best win, Ramirez called Roach in April and told him he was moving on.
Ramirez left Roach’s Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, California, where Roach assistant Marvin Somodio was usually his hands-on trainer, to go with trainer Robert Garcia.
“I wish Freddie nothing but the best. He’s an amazing coach but now it’s a new chapter and I’m happy I’m with someone that feels the same excitement about my career and who does the little things to make me comfortable,” Ramirez told ESPN.
So committed to the change, Ramirez rented an apartment for himself, his girlfriend and their 2-year-old son that is only a few minutes from Garcia’s gym in Riverside, California, so he wouldn’t have to make the daily hour-plus drive from his place in Los Angeles.
“It’s bigger and I pay less than in L.A.,” Ramirez said, laughing.
And so as Ramirez will go into his first title defense with Garcia as his chief second instead of Roach when he squares off with heavy underdog Danny O’Connor (30-3, 11 KOs), 33, a southpaw from Framingham, Massachusetts, in the main event of the Top Rank Boxing on ESPN card Saturday night at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, California, where Ramirez, from nearby Avenal, California, is a huge draw and the toast of the community for his ring exploits and tireless community service.
“This was my dream. Since I was little, I wanted to become a world champion and then be able to defend the title in front of the fans of the Central Valley,” Ramirez said. “That is happening on Saturday.”
Before the fight with Imam, Ramirez (22-0, 16 KOs), 25, had already begun to consider making the switch to Garcia.
He has known Garcia for years and a couple of months before the Imam fight, before he began his full camp at Wild Card, he went to train with him for about a week.
“I liked how he worked, but I had to go to the Wild Card to finish up,” Ramirez said. “Marvin spent a lot of time with me and I wanted Marvin to be there and see become a world champion, and Freddie also invested some time in me. I couldn’t make the move before becoming a world champion. I felt I owed them that respect, to give them that credit of becoming a world champion together.”
After he won the title, Ramirez said he was still not sure if he would make the change.
“I still wasn’t 100 percent sure of leaving the Wild Card. I was used to being there. Marvin was there. It was very hard to leave,” Ramirez said.
But then something happened that Ramirez said made the decision clear for him. He and a close friend attended HBO’s March 29 Hollywood premier of the network’s documentary on wrestling legend Andre the Giant with Roach. Ramirez had just won the title and hoped that he would walk the red carpet with Roach, who would show off his new champion.
“I wish Freddie nothing but the best. He’s an amazing coach but now it’s a new chapter and I’m happy I’m with someone that feels the same excitement about my career and who does the little things to make me comfortable.”
Instead, Ramirez said a member of Roach’s team “told us to go in the back door and we’ll see you inside” while Roach walked the red carpet.
“I was a little offended,” Ramirez said. “If I had a world champion I would make sure he was known. I hadn’t made a 100 percent choice to leave until that day.”
And so now he is with Garcia and happy with his decision.
“I needed someone to really believe in me and be motivated to push me to my limits,” Ramirez said. “Freddie has had so many champions. I don’t know if his excitement was still there. I saw excitement in Robert to train me. He wanted to train a guy who was marketable and who could take it to the next level. He was excited to see someone like me and that motivated me. He wants to be a part of it too. He opens up the gym to my sponsors to go see me train.
“Freddie’s group, they’re very nice. They have my respect. Now with Robert the difference is he has a bunch of very good prospects and champions and it’s like a team. I feel like I’m part of a team. I was more by myself in Wild Card. Now there are others who push me.”
Garcia makes no secret of the fact that he had his eyes on Ramirez even when he was an amateur.
“I was after him since the amateurs,” Garcia said. “I went to a few of the amateur fights that he had in the Fresno area and I was in talks with his father and Jose and everybody surrounding Jose. They decided they wanted to start their career off with Freddie Roach and no hard feelings, no nothing. Before his last fight when he became champion we already had been talking about training together. He had already trained in my gym for a week or so but for him he said it was too difficult to be driving back and forth because he still had an apartment in Hollywood and it was very close to his fight to do the drive every day so he decided to finish up training camp and give that fight, the world title fight, to Freddie Roach, which he felt Freddie Roach deserved.
“I still had two of my guys drive to Hollywood for sparring to help him prepare for that fight. We already had that connection and following that fight it was already said we would start working together. He’s very dedicated, trains very hard, very humble, a kid that has so many things in mind not only for himself but for his community in the Fresno area. Just a great kid.”
Rick Mirigian, Ramirez’s manager, said the pairing has been outstanding.
“I was after him since the amateurs. I went to a few of the amateur fights that he had in the Fresno area and I was in talks with his father and Jose and everybody surrounding Jose. They decided they wanted to start their career off with Freddie Roach and no hard feelings, no nothing.”
“Ramirez has shown a fire I have not seen in a long time,” he said. “He is happy and motivated, feels at home and feels a good deal of respect. Garcia has done exactly what he promised, gave him the priority time, had high-level sparring with guys like Mikey Garcia and has made some great tweaks with Ramirez defense that does not take his aggressive nature away, but gives him some different looks and noticeable improvement in those areas.
“It was the right call (to switch trainers). Not an easy call but the right one as we appreciate and will always respect Freddie and Marvin. Being a world champion required being the priority now and having the fighter feel strongly that you truly believe in him to be a star.”
When Mirigian worked out the deal for Garcia to become Ramirez’s trainer he got one major concession that showed the Ramirez camp just how much of a priority he would be.
Garcia also trains his younger brother, four-division world titleholder Mikey Garcia, a reigning lightweight titlist and one of boxing’s best pound for pound. In the unlikely event he and Ramirez have fights scheduled on the same day, Robert Garcia promised that he’d go with Ramirez and leave Mikey in the care of their father Eduardo Garcia and Robert’s son, Robert Garcia Jr.
“We’ve been in that situation before, two fighters or two world champions fighting the same day. But that’s why I have a great team with my father, who has always been there to help with whatever I need. My son also. He’s learned a lot,” Robert Garcia said. “He’s prepared for whatever we need to do. If Jose is to fight the same day as Mikey, which we would try to prevent as much as possible, but if that day does come I don’t even have to talk to Mikey about it or my dad.
“My dad and my son would handle Mikey’s fight because, like I said, we’re a team. Plus my dad is very aware of Mikey’s career. My dad’s part of the team every day. My son is also, so we would have no problem with that. That wouldn’t be a problem at all. I would go with Jose and my dad and my son would stay with Mikey.”
It’s that kind of commitment and loyalty that Ramirez was looking for.
“I think I found it now in Riverside,” Ramirez said.