Super middleweight contender Gilberto "Zurdo" Ramirez has his eye on making Mexican boxing history. The 24-year-old rising star has done his homework and knows very well what winning his next fight could mean.
Ramirez, the mandatory challenger, will square off with 168-pound world titleholder Arthur Abraham on April 9 (HBO PPV, 9 p.m. ET) in the Manny Pacquiao-Timothy Bradley III co-feature at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
On Wednesday afternoon, before Ramirez and other undercard fighters met the media at a news conference in downtown Los Angeles, he explained just what it meant to him in an interview with ESPN.com.
"I have added motivation to win this fight because it means more than just winning a world title," Ramirez said through translator Ricardo Jimenez. "Obviously, I do know what this is -- it's an opportunity to make history."
Around 200 Mexican fighters have won world titles. The names of the greats easily come to mind: Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., Ricardo Lopez, Salvador Sanchez, Juan Manuel Marquez, Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, Ruben Olivares, Miguel Canto and many more.
Ramirez (33-0, 24 KOs) has a chance to do what none of them ever did -- become the first Mexican to win a super middleweight world title. Only one Mexican fighter has won a world title in a division north of middleweight, and that was Julio Gonzalez, who held a light heavyweight belt for three months between 2003 and 2004.
In a country with a boxing history as rich as Mexico's, that's a big deal.
"That's why you work so hard," Ramirez said. "You don't want to just be a guy. You want to be a special fighter. The opportunity to be the first Mexican super middleweight champion is added motivation for me. It really means a lot."
Top Rank promoter Bob Arum has excelled at promoting Mexican fighters and said he believes that Ramirez becoming Mexico's first super middleweight titleholder would be a sure springboard to stardom.
"I am absolutely convinced it would be huge," Arum said. "It would make him an instant superstar in Mexico and with Mexican-Americans. There's not even a question. He'd be the [second-]biggest weight champion in the history of Mexico. His fight with Abraham, who's a damn good fighter, so this is no guaranteed win, is a historic fight."
Indeed, Germany's Abraham, 35, a former longtime middleweight titleholder (10 defenses during 2005 to 2009 reign), is a two-time super middleweight titleholder and heading into the sixth defense of his second 168-pound reign. He has won eight fights in a row since his last defeat in 2013 and has appeared reborn since a rough stretch in 2010 and 2011. That is when Abraham (44-4, 29 KOs) lost three of four fights and came up short in the Super Six World Boxing Classic with losses to Andre Dirrell and in world title fights to Carl Froch and Andre Ward.
"I'm very excited for the opportunity because I know what a great champion Abraham is," Ramirez said. "He has all those defenses, and he's undefeated since 2013. The accolades go on and on. I'm excited and honored to fight him, but we are ready. I've worked very hard to get to this point, and I have to work harder on April 9."
Arum went to great lengths to make sure the fight will take place in the United States rather than Germany because he wanted to give Ramirez the best chance to win and also have it on the worldwide platform of a Pacquiao fight.
So even after Abraham promoter Team Sauerland won the purse bid to gain promotional rights to the bout, which it was planning to have in Germany, Arum continued to work with the German company. It is highly unusual for a company to win a purse bid and then make a deal to put the fight on a competing promoter's card, but they were able to make a deal.
"We went into our pocket to put this fight in the United States because I think it gives Ramirez the best chance to win because, whatever Gilberto says, you put a Mexican kid in Germany, and he's going to be a little bewildered," Arum said. "He has never been through that before. I didn't want to take a chance. I was ready to bite the bullet to do the fight in the U.S., a place where he is used to fighting.
"I know it's unusual what happened with the purse bid, but [Team Sauerland] put a purse bid in [$1,563,057 to Top Rank's $1,500,250] that would have created a pretty big loss to them if they had gone through with it," Arum said. "So we made an attractive offer to them where it was a win-win."
Ramirez, a southpaw, said he was willing to go Germany but is certainly pleased to be fighting in Las Vegas, where he has fought twice before.
"We were ready to go to Germany. It didn't matter to us," Ramirez said. "If we needed to go over there it was fine. I was just excited to have the opportunity to fight for a championship. We were mentally prepared to go to Germany. I know sometimes you have to fight in the champion's home if you want to win the title. So it didn't matter to me, but I'm happy that Mr. Arum was able to bring it to Las Vegas, where all the big fights happen, and to put it on a big card like Pacquiao-Bradley. It will make this fight a little more special being in Las Vegas."
For Abraham's part, he said he is fine fighting in the United States and pumped for his first Las Vegas fight. He is 1-2 in the U.S. with losses to Dirrell and Ward but also with one of his biggest wins, a crushing fourth-round knockout of Edison Miranda in their 2008 rematch.
"This fight is a dream come true for me. I fought in Hollywood, Florida, versus Edison Miranda, against Andre Dirrell in Detroit and versus Andre Ward in Carson, California, but the flair of a big-time event was missing," Abraham said. "I was at Manny's fight versus Shane Mosley at the MGM Grand in 2011 and the atmosphere captured my imagination. Afterwards, it was my wish to one day step into this very ring and on April 9 I will finally get the chance to share the spotlight with the 'PacMan.'
"I do not take a win that night for granted as Gilberto Ramirez is a young up-and-coming boxer from Mexico, one of the greatest fighting countries. He wants to write history by becoming the first Mexican to win a world championship at super middleweight. But myself being an Armenian, living and fighting out of Germany, I have two values to fight for: pride and honor."
Arum's fertile mind is already filled with possibilities should Ramirez emerge victorious.
"We believe given his background and personality, if he's victorious in this fight, he will be a major star because there is such a great pool of Hispanic fans in this country that somebody like Gilberto Ramirez, as the champion, will attract a lot of attention and help the sport, help us sell tickets and pay-per-view in the future," Arum said. "I really believe he has the talent to go a long way. As far as future opponents in major fights you can reel off names. [Top Rank prospect] Jessie Hart would be a naturally great rivalry. Then you have [middleweight titlist Gennady] Golovkin. He would be a really good opponent down the line when he wants to move up. I think Gilberto is big enough and talented enough to give Golovkin a very good and competitive fight. There are a lot ways we can go with him once he wins the title but this platform that he has with the whole world seeing him against a recognized champion, Abraham, will I think make him a major star."
Ramirez embraces Arum's dream.
"We know what we're up against, but this is what we dreamed of and what we worked for," he said. "No Mexican is going home disappointed. It's going to be a historic night. I'm enjoying getting ready for this fight because on the night of the fight I will enjoy becoming champion."