While it’s not the main event on Saturday night, the best matchup on paper and the most intriguing bout is the featherweight bout between Jessie Magdaleno and Rico Ramos at The Hangar in Costa Mesa, California, (ESPN, 10 p.m. ET).
Both Magdaleno and Ramos had short stints as champions. For them to get another crack at a title, coming out victorious this weekend is essential, but they are also fighting to stay relevant in the sport.
The winner will move on to more significant bouts, while the loser will move down a few rungs in the pecking order. It’s the difference between fighting for a six-figure purse on television, versus boxing on the non-televised portion of the undercard for a fraction of that.
Magdaleno is still in the thick of his physical prime and has a glossy record. Given his connections, it’s not far-fetched that he’ll soon be competing for a world title at 126 pounds.
“Every fight’s important, every fight gets you closer to being where you need to be,” Magdaleno said. “And that’s what I feel about this fight. It’s important for me to get back to where I need to be — and that’s the top, with a belt around my waist.”
But first Magdaleno must get past Ramos (30-5, 14 KOs), who long ago was the WBA junior featherweight titlist, before losing to Guillermo Rigondeaux in six rounds in 2012 in what was his only defense of that crown. It turns out that for that bout, it was a young Magdaleno who helped prepare Ramos for this contest as a sparring partner.
“It’s going to be a great, compact, straight-forward, in-your-face fight. I’m ready for anything,” said the smooth-boxing Ramos. “If we’re going to have to box outside, if we have to make adjustments, we’re going to be ready for that, too. I’m ready for anything.”
After that loss to Rigondeaux, Ramos’ career hit a rough patch. He lost four of his next eight bouts, where he faced solid competition, but his career seemed rudderless.
“There’s no regrets — life is what it is you take it for what it is and you move forward. You hope for the best and trust in God,” said Ramos, who doesn’t seem all that bitter about his career path. Since 2016, he has won six consecutive bouts fighting in relative anonymity.
But there’s no denying the importance of this bout for Ramos. While Magdaleno has a contract with Top Rank, Ramos has no such safety net to rely on. It really is win-or-go-home for him, which is why his management called in renowned trainer Rudy Hernandez to prepare Ramos.
While Ramos is laid back to a point of seemingly not caring, Hernandez is a hard-nosed, no-nonsense boxing traditionalist. A “players coach” he is not.
“He’s crazy … don’t tell him I said that,” joked Ramos before a recent training session at the Maywood Boxing Club. “But Rudy’s a tough trainer. This is the toughest trainer I’ve had so far.”
When asked how this camp has gone, Hernandez said with a sarcastic chuckle, “Oh, we have a great relationship. We don’t even have to say anything to each other, all we have to do is look at each other and we already know what the hell we’re thinking.
“We understand how vital this fight is for Rico,” said his manager, Jimmy Karambelas. “A victory could lead to a really big fight or a shot at one of the belts. A loss, and who knows where we’re going. You hate to call any fight a do-or-die situation, but we have to be realistic here. That’s why I thought Rudy would be the perfect guy for this fight.”
If you look at the current landscape at featherweight, not only does Top Rank promote current WBO champ Oscar Valdez, but it recently made a deal with former world titleholder Carl Frampton. It’s not inconceivable that the winner on Saturday night will get one of these two in the near future.
“It’s not an elimination for a title fight but clearly it will put the winner in a position to get a bigger fight. What that is between now and the end of the year will be determined,” stated Carl Moretti, vice president of boxing operations for Top Rank.
At this time last year, Magdaleno (25-1, 18 KOs) was riding high as the WBO junior featherweight titlist. After defeating the accomplished Nonito Donaire in November 2016 for that belt, he made one successful defense in 2017 before being paired against Isaac Dogboe last April in Philadelphia.
After a quick start that saw him floor Dogboe in the first round, Magdaleno would slowly get worn down and was stopped in Round 11. But the real battle for the 27-year-old from Las Vegas was just getting down to the 122-pound limit. By fight night, he didn’t have much left in the gas tank.
In many respects, Magdaleno trained to make weight, Dogboe trained to win the fight.
“That’s what beat me up even more after that fight, that Dogboe didn’t beat me — I beat myself, and just gave him an easy night,” he admitted.
And while he jokes that he still has his WBO belt “at home,” he was no longer a champion or undefeated.
“The only thing that changed is that my ‘0’ is ‘1,’ but that’s something I never really cared about because all the true champions, they’ve all lost,” Magdaleno said.
“The only guy that can say that they haven’t lost yet is Floyd Mayweather. But that’s what makes a fighter grow, it makes them become more dangerous. Look at Canelo [Alvarez]. He lost, he suffered his first loss against Floyd, and now the guy’s a $360 million fighter. You’ve got to learn from it.”
“He knows what was lost,” said Frank Espinoza, Magdaleno’s manager. “I was in Las Vegas, I sat down with him and I really saw a serious side of Jessie. He’s really focused on coming back and making amends for what happened.”