It is safe to say that the San Joaquín has never seen a gathering of elite pugilists who will showcase their skills and chase their dreams before more than 10,000 fans this Sunday at the Save Mart Center.
And, there are more story lines this week than in an Isabel Allende novel.
▪ Hometown favorite José Ramírez (he was actually born in Hanford and raised in Avenal, but he also attended Fresno State) will defend his WBC super lightweight title against Long Beach’s José ‘Chon’ Zepeda in the main event. In the other corner from Ramírez will be former trainer Freddie Roach.
▪ Ray Beltrán, who is still going strong at age 37, faces unbeaten Japanese boxer Hiroki Okada in a 140-pound undercard.
▪ Gabriel Flores Jr., a graduate of César Chávez High School in Stockton, isn’t old enough to buy beer but has 11 professional victories to his name. He goes for his dozenth win in a lightweight bout against Alex Torres Rynn.
▪ Fresno native Isidro Ochoa, unbeaten at 6-0 will make his fourth, Save Mart appearance in a super featherweight bout.
Beyond the talent, there’s the philanthropic side.
Team Ramírez donated $2,500 to Roger Smith, Luella Theus, and Ana Flores for representing the fight against cancer.
After Sunday’s fight, Ramírez will auction off his purple gloves and fight night apparel to benefit the Community Cancer Center in Clovis.
Cancer has stricken family members or friends of the majority of the boxers taking part in the ‘KO Cancer’ mission.
“It’s a very important fight because the meaning behind this fight is much bigger than the event itself,” Ramírez told The Fresno Bee last December. “Fighting for cancer, fighting for everyone, including (promoter Rick Mirigian’s) mom (Pauline Soto) and many others who have cancer or have gone through cancer. We want to demonstrate that we’re there for them and supporting them and that we’re going to help them in any way to go through cancer.”
Helping out the community is not new to Ramírez. In recent months, he has held fundraisers to help an injured soccer player and the family of a runner who was killed in a hit-and-run accident.
Sunday evening, however, Ramírez (23-0, 16 KOs) will be all business in his quest to reunify the super lightweight belts. Including Zepeda, Ramírez’s last four opponents have a combined 101-2 record.
“Now, I’m going against a fighter with more experience, with 31 fights and trained by Freddie Roach,” said Ramírez earlier this week during a training session at the Tachi Palace in Lemoore. “The fights are becoming bigger with undercards like (Ray) Beltrán and Hiroki.
“We’re bringing good fighters, and making everything more entertaining.”
Having a Hall of Fame trainer like Roach in his opponent’s corner does not concern Ramírez.
“A trainer can only sharpen someone. They can’t change his overall style,” said Ramírez, who is now trained by Robert García. “It’ll make José Zepeda sharper, and it’s better for the fans. The fans should be excited about that.”
As for having a title bout on a Sunday, Ramírez looks at it as giving boxers “an extra day to lose the weight.”
Zepeda (30-1), whose only loss came in a WBO lightlweight title bout in London against Terry Flanagan, is a southpaw. He suffered a shoulder injury in the second round against Flanagan and couldn’t continue the fight.
Zepeda, who hails from Long Beach, accurately predicted he was “sweating a little bit to make weight.” At Saturday’s weigh-in at the Tachi Palace, Zepeda came in at 140.2 pounds and had to shed his boxers to get to the required 140 pounds.
Zepeda has trained with Roach for two months, and praises his impact.
“He sees in me what I don’t see,” said Zepeda about Roach.
He also sees a dangerous opponent in Ramírez.
“He’s an aggressive boxer and he has a will to win. He’s a strong boxer, but he can be outboxed,” said Zepeda. “The main thing is that I’ll be able to do my boxing.”
Zepeda is not worried about stepping into an arena full of Ramírez fans.
“To be honest, I don’t worry about that. It doesn’t get to me,” said Zepeda about fighting in someone else’s backyard. “My first title shot, I went to England to fight Terry Flanagan. It doesn’t get to me. I feel comfortable.”
Ramírez responds by saying he feels stronger and better a different trainer.
“I’m getting older, more mature,” said Ramírez. “My power is coming together. My technique and my confidence, all that is building organically with time. And Robert is here to push me and sharpen me.
“I know I’m more prepared than any other fighter out there,” said Ramírez.
The Ramírez-Zepeda bout headlines a special ‘Top Rank on ESPN’ starting at 4 p.m. with the Beltrán-Okada bout. The main event is expected to start at about 5 p.m.
ESPN+ will stream all the undercard bouts starting at 1 p.m.
Doors open at 12:30 p.m.
Tickets range from $25 to $150. Details: (800) 745-3000, or Ticketmaster.com.