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Gold medalist-turned-Las Vegan seeks 1st world title

Updated March 31, 2023 - 2:06 pm

If Robeisy Ramirez was satisfied with the spoils of Olympic glory, he woudn’t have pawned his two gold medals for $30,000, defected from his native Cuba without his family or settled in Las Vegas.

But here’s the thing about Ramirez.

He isn’t ever satisfied.

“I’ve left my life in Cuba behind. I’ve left the amateurs behind,” he says through his manager José Izquierdo, who is doubling on a dreary March morning as Ramirez’s translator outside the Salas Boxing Academy.

“One life, two different chapters. Now it’s the world title. Now it’s my professional career. … They’re different. Both important. But the other one I’ve left behind.”

An Olympic gold medalist at flyweight in 2012 and bantamweight in 2016, Ramirez (11-1, seven knockouts) can claim his first world title Saturday at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he’ll face former 122-pound champion Isaac Dogboe (24-2, 16 KOs) for the WBO’s vacant featherweight title.

The 29-year-old Cuban has won 11 consecutive fights since losing in his professional debut, packing more power than ever before — as three straight knockouts would seem to suggest.

“I’m confident now like I was in the amateurs,” Ramirez says. “Now I think I can beat anyone and everyone.”

That’s exactly what Ramirez did as an amateur, topping eventual standout professionals like Shakur Stevenson, Murodjon Akhmadeliev, Mick Conlan and Tugstogt Nyambayar en route to Olympic gold in London and Rio de Janiero.

But unlike his Olympic peers, Ramirez was barred from becoming a professional by Cuban bylaws that relegate the island’s best boxers to the amateur ranks.

A tattoo of the five Olympic rings was forcibly removed from his left bicep by the Cuban government — prompting pushback from Ramirez, long an outspoken byproduct of its esteemed amateur academies.

The scarring has since been covered by a tattoo of boxing gloves, adorned in black ink by the cities and years in which he claimed Olympic gold.

“They’re used to having people completely follow their rules,” Ramirez explained, referencing the Cuban regime, “and the minimal deviation from that, they’ll put a cross on you and it’s over.”

So like many of his predecessors, Ramirez fled — leaving the national team during a 2018 training camp in Aguascalienties, Mexico, deftly evading authorities and living nearly six months as a stowaway in various Mexican cities while awaiting the proper paperwork.

By year’s end, he’d settle outside Tampa, Florida, and find the freedom to fight for himself.

By the following spring, he’d sign a promotional contract with Top Rank amid a recommendation from Stevenson, whom Ramirez beat in the 2016 gold-medal match.

“He gave the kid the highest praise. Said he was a great fighter and also a really nice, nice person. It wasn’t hard for us to make a deal with him,” Top Rank chairman Bob Arum said. “But what we didn’t realize is how his defection and fleeing from the Cuban government had taken from him — he wasn’t in condition to fight when we booked his first fight.”

Hence why an overconfident and unprepared Ramirez lost a split decision Aug. 10, 2019, to Adan Gonzales, a loss he still discusses with disdain.

But the loss would prompt changes Ramirez “needed to make,” and a conversation with countrymen Aroldis Chapman and Yordenis Ugas, the former WBA welterweight champion who suggested he relocate to Las Vegas and train under the tutelage of Ismael Salas, one of boxing’s top trainers.

An eight-week training camp has since become an indefinite stay, allowing Ramirez to settle with his wife, Moni AlyLia Garces, and their young twin daughters.

“He gives you the confidence to get it done,” said Ramirez, who has another daughter, Renata, whom he hasn’t seen since his defection from Cuba. “Not only in training but outside the ring as well.”

With Salas in his corner, Ramirez has rallied from the defeat — winning all of his subsequent fights and fulfilling the prodigious potential he displayed in the unpaid ranks.

Lists of the world champions trained by Salas hang from the brick wall inside his gym, their names inscribed in bold white typeface atop a black matted backdrop that still includes plenty of room for Ramirez’s name.

“He’s savoring the moment,” Izquierdo said. “Robeisy does really think, as do we as team members, that his greatest accomplishments in boxing are still ahead of him.”

Contact Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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