'Zurdo' Ramirez: I visualise getting my hand raised, bring the belt back to Mexico

Unbeaten Mexican will attempt to become a two-weight world champion when he faces WBA light-heavyweight belt-holder Bivol in Abu Dhabi on November 5

Gilberto 'Zurdo' Ramirez during an August 31 press conference to announce his world title fight against Dmitry Bivol and Gilberto Ramirez in Abu Dhabi on November 5. Victor Besa / The National
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Deep into camp for the greatest test of a professional career embroidered already with one world title, Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez’s mind has been consumed with becoming a two-time world champion.

“Every day,” the undefeated Mexican tells The National. “Every night I dream, I focus on myself, I visualise myself. That’s the key for me.

“Get my hand raised, bring the belt back to Mexico. And enjoy. Enjoy that night.”

The chance to realise that dream is less than two weeks away. A former WBO super-middleweight champion, Ramirez takes on WBA light-heavyweight belt-holder Dmitry Bivol in the headline clash at Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi on November 5.

The night marks the capital’s introduction to elite-level boxing, part of the “Champion Series” deal announced in August between the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi and renowned promotion Matchroom Boxing.

Keen to launch with a statement card, organisers have plumped for Bivol-Ramirez at its head. Both boxers are unbeaten as professionals: Ramirez in 44 bouts, Bivol in 20.

“I feel great. I feel ready for the fight,” Ramirez says as he contemplates competing for the first time in Abu Dhabi, and the Middle East. “It means everything for me. To represent Mexico, to be there fighting in a different part of the world, it’s great. It’s a pleasure for me.”

Ramirez, 31, touched down in Dubai late last week. Bivol, meanwhile, has been based in Abu Dhabi since late last month. Yet the former sees little advantage in the latter’s extended stay.

“Not really,” Ramirez says. “Because I grew up in Mazatlan, Sinaloa, and it’s kind of the same weather as Abu Dhabi: hot and humid. And I spent my whole life there.

“He needs to be worried; that’s why he’s there. It’s good for him. I hope he’s having fun there in Abu Dhabi. I don’t care where he’s at right now. I’m focused on myself.”

Understandably, considering what’s on offer next week, Ramirez says motivation is high. It needs to be. In Bivol, he faces a boxer widely regarded as one of the pound-for-pound top 10, a slick and technical pugilist who makes the ninth defence of a belt he’s held for almost five years.

Ramirez stepped up from middleweight to light-heavyweight only three years ago, but has been practically flawless through five fights. Most recently, in May, he knocked out Dominic Boesel in the fourth round in California to become the WBA’s No 1 mandatory challenger.

Ramirez, though, had long before before declared a desire to take on Bivol. He has been public – and persistent.

“Because he called me out,” Ramirez says. “He said on social media that he wasn’t afraid of anyone, and he called me out. And it’s a good match, because the two greatest have to fight.

“People want to see that fight; people been asking that fight. And we want to give to the fans what they ask.”

Having asked for Bivol, Ramirez understands the challenge that lays ahead.

“Every fight for me is important since the beginning because obviously I’m undefeated and this is a good opportunity for title fight,” Ramirez says. “And the fight is interesting.

“But the real challenge to fight myself every day is to be in the gym, to whoop my [butt] every day. That’s the biggest challenge for me.”

Bivol, also 31, comes into the contest having recently successfully negotiated his toughest professional examination thus far. In May, one week before Ramirez stopped Boesel, the Russian dominated Saul “Canelo” Alvarez to prevail on points and retain his WBA crown. It represented the second loss of Canelo’s 62-bout pro career.

A rematch with the celebrated Mexican, the most bankable star in the sport, seems the obvious next move should Bivol erase the ‘0’ from Ramirez’s resume.

Yet he underestimates his upcoming opponent at his peril.

“It’s good,” Ramirez says. “He can talk; he can make plans or whatever they want to do. I don’t care. I’m looking at November 5. And I’ll take the belt, I’m sorry for him.”

In fact, avenging Canelo’s defeat in May adds another layer of motivation.

“It’s great to have another Mexican like Canelo,” Ramirez says. “For me, it’s good because I want to represent Mexico, I want people to represent Mexico too.

“Everyone knows Canelo. Even people who don’t know boxing know Canelo. It’s good because he’s one of the greatest in boxing. And everyone will know the potential that ‘Zurdo’ has when I will take the belt November 5.”

Bivol beats Canelo - in pictures

A world champion across four weights, Alvarez is one of the most recognisable names in the game. He is said to have made, despite the loss, $40 million from the Bivol bout.

Ramirez would welcome that level of fame and fortune. He expects it, too.

“Eventually I will have everything like that,” he says. “It’s the right time.”

Ramirez, who took up boxing initially to fend off street bullies in Mazatlan, says he knew early on that he would be a world champion. Once he achieved that, in 2016, ambitions were recalibrated to concentrate on capturing another title.

He wants to be regarded, like Alvarez and a long line of Mexicans before them, as a boxing legend.

“I’ve been dreaming so many times to be a two-time world champion and I want to prove to myself that I can do it,” Ramirez says. “And I will do it. I have so many goals, and this November 5, I will get one.”

Unbeaten still – he has 30 pro knockouts, including in all five bouts at light-heavyweight – Ramirez says losing is “never an option”. It is clear the confidence from maintaining that undefeated tag carries him through to, and in front of, Bivol.

He is convinced in his ability.

“Because I train hard every day,” Ramirez says. “I’m in the gym every time. That builds confidence. I believe in myself. And I know my potential.”

Saturday week should once more require that steadfast self-belief. Especially as, at Etihad Arena, Bivol is expected to enjoy the majority of the fans' backing.

“It’s great that he has a lot of support,” Ramirez says. “People can come to the fight and support and yell for him and do whatever they want.

“But no one can help him in the ring. It’s just me and him. That’s it.”

Asked how the fight will play out, Ramirez simply falls back on the moment he has long gone over in his mind.

“It doesn’t matter for me,” he says. “I just see myself raising my hand.”

Updated: October 28, 2022, 12:10 PM