Junior welterweight world titleholder Jose Ramirez's second chance to make his first title defense is at hand.
Ramirez, the Central California star, was gearing up to make his first defense against Danny O'Connor in the main event of a Top Rank Boxing on ESPN card on July 7 at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, only to have the fight shockingly canceled on a little more than 24 hours' notice.
O'Connor, struggling badly to make the 140-pound weight limit, collapsed a few hours before the weigh-in and had to be hospitalized with severe dehydration and kidney problems.
With O'Connor unable to fight and a suitable opponent unable to be found on such short notice, the fight was canceled, though the rest of the show did go on.
It was a difficult situation for everyone involved. Ramirez had put in hard work throughout training camp and was ready to fight but didn't get to. O'Connor had a health scare, but he is OK now and scheduled to fight on Oct. 20. Top Rank, ESPN and those who run the arena were also inconvenienced by the situation.
But Top Rank quickly rescheduled Ramirez and matched with a far superior opponent in longtime contender Antonio Orozco. They will meet on Friday (ESPN and ESPN Deportes, 10 p.m. ET, with the entire card streaming on ESPN+ beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET) before an expected crowd of about 14,000 at the Save Mart Center, where Ramirez has long been a popular draw.
Ramirez (22-0, 16 KOs), 26, handled the situation with O'Connor like a champ.
Ramirez 'very disappointed' fight vs. O'Connor is off
Jose Ramirez's title bout versus Danny O'Connor has been canceled after O'Connor was hospitalized with dehydration.
"It was a little disappointing for me. I was frustrated. We trained so hard, we sacrificed so much," Ramirez told ESPN this week. "There were fans who bought tickets, some who traveled for hours, some that had tickets to fly in, and [the fight] gets canceled. It's disappointing. It's frustrating. But it's a learning experience. Things like this happen in boxing. You have to be prepared.
"The fans in Fresno and in Central California, they understand that I did my part, and they're all coming out to support me for this fight."
Ramirez was grateful that Top Rank could reschedule his first defense so quickly.
"They done a great job on that," he said.
Ramirez's maturity in handling the situation was not lost on Top Rank chairman Bob Arum.
"Jose has not only developed as a fighter -- because when he first came with us out of the  Olympics, there was a lot to be done to make him into a good professional fighter -- but he has matured as a person. He has become a really intelligent, aware young man, both about political issues, about his lifestyle and everything. When you talk to Jose, you're talking to somebody who has real substance.
"Sure, he wasn't happy because he had trained. But we gave him a payment [for a portion of his purse]. Not pennies. That helped assuage a lot of it."
Said Rick Mirigian, Ramirez's manager, "He is a true professional. He wanted to weigh in to make sure the public knew he did his job. He came to the fight and did a lot of PR-related items, and we donated $15,000 to Valley Children's Hospital that night and auctioned [a signed title belt] and finished strong even in a bad scenario."
After the fight with O'Connor was canceled, Ramirez went on vacation with his family to Hawaii.
"In Maui, I was out there running and enjoying the fresh air, getting my frustrations out," he said. "It's frustrating when you get ready for a fight, and then it falls through. There was a lot of disappointment coming from my fans, but they understand that it wasn't my fault, that it was more my opponent not doing things correctly. At the end of the day, everything happens for a reason.
"I have a much better opponent to make my first title defense [against]. I think it's going to be a good fight for the boxing fans, for the Hispanics and the Mexicans that really like action fights. Specifically for them, I think they are going to be pleased to watch it on a big boxing weekend [when Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez fight their rematch on Saturday]."
If there was a silver lining to the July 7 fight being canceled, it was that it gave Ramirez more time to work with trainer Robert Garcia, who will be in his corner for the first time. After Ramirez outpointed Amir Imam to win the vacant belt on March 17, he parted ways with Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach, believing he was not getting enough attention. Garcia promised to make him a priority, and they've been working together for the past few months.
"We had more time to get used to each other," Ramirez said. "The chemistry built much better. The relationship -- he got to know me as a fighter much better. We had more time for him to work with me on certain things. He was very welcoming from day one. He's followed my career since the amateurs. He enjoys my style. He respects my work ethic and the motivation that I have."
Orozco (27-0, 17 KOs), 30, of San Diego, has been a leading contender for the past few years, and it shapes up to be a highly competitive fight. Orozco said he has no worries about fighting in Ramirez's home region.
"I'm fighting Jose Ramirez. I'm not fighting the fans or Fresno. That's beside the point," he said. "I'm focused on Jose Ramirez and the fight. Everything else is just ambient noise."
Orozco, however, has had his own problems making weight. Twice in 2017, he badly missed weight, forcing televised fights to be canceled. Orozco, manager Frank Espinoza and members of Orozco's promotional team at Golden Boy say he is in shape and will make weight without issue.
Despite what happened with O'Connor in July, Ramirez said he has faith that Orozco will indeed be on weight.
"I'm not worried about that. It's a championship fight," Ramirez said. "He didn't look too big when I seen him at the little press conference we had a few days ago.
"Antonio looks like he's going to be on weight, so that's good. I've had a long training camp with Robert Garcia. As everyone knows, my last fight got cancelled, but I didn't take much time off at all, only a week-and-a-half or two weeks. You don't lose much in two weeks. I recovered from the last camp, and I'm ready to go."