With his lifelong dream in jeopardy, Jose Ramirez had one last round to rectify a bad start to the fight of his life. After an electrifying trials tournament, he found himself down three points to boxer Raynell Williams, the USA's lightweight representative in the 2008 Olympic semifinals.
In the short three-round matches of Olympic qualifying, a three-point deficit is as good as beaten. With his Olympic career on the line, Ramirez remained cool and composed.
Ramirez's promoter, Rick Mirgian, was ringside and saw the whole thing starting to unravel from just a few feet away.
"[Jose's trainer and godfather] Armando Mancinas told him that he was losing, because he got to see the score card. If you know boxing, that might as well be 3,000 points. It's a humongous thing to try and overcome in three rounds.
Mancinas recalls the moment right before the third and final round started. "[I told him], 'You really have to pick this up.' Right there, he just went to work," Mancinas says. "He made the guy miss, landed numerous punches and really fast flurries with a lot of strength."
Mirgian added, "When Armando told him that, Jose turned to him and said, 'Armando, relax, I got this.' He went out there and absolutely destroyed the guy to win the round."
As the conclusion of the match neared, Ramirez fought with a vengeance, landing one combination after another and burying Williams in punches.
"It was nothing short of Babe Ruth pointing to left field and calling the home run," Mirgian said. "We all looked at each other, standing there like, 'Did this kid really just say, "Don't worry, relax, I got this?"'"
"I thought it might have been over," Mirgian adds. "When you're losing by three points going into the final round, you're about an 80-20, maybe 90-10 not in your favor, fighting a 2008 Olympian. These types of fighters (don't) give up three points. It's ridiculous."
Ramirez is used to fighting the odds. Growing up the son of two farmers in rural Avenal, California, a small farming town smack in between Los Angeles and San Francisco, he made a promise to his father to become the first in his family to graduate from college.
While he is on leave from school to train for the London games, he hasn't forgotten what he needs to do after next summer.
"I'm going to be gone a very long time," he says, "so there is no way I can be a full-time student. But afterwards, I plan to take classes at a nearby community college and then next year, I will re-apply to Fresno State and transfer back in."
As for his job as a barista at Starbucks, Ramirez, wise beyond his years, realizes that it too will have to be put on hold.
"I'm going to have to leave work now, because I don't want to be a bad employee and I don't want to give my co-workers and the managers a hard time because I'm going to be out of town a lot. I would rather be replaced with someone who is going to be there more, and be the better worker."
Work is precisely what Ramirez forecasts for his next 12 months. On August 22, he will head to Colorado Springs to begin training with his new Olympic teammates.
"Now I'm going to train harder and continue to stay focused, and then there shouldn’t be a reason for me to be nervous, because I know I'm going to go up there ready," he adds.
The business-as-usual, no-frills approach has served the 18-year-old very well.
Ramirez has now captured his 10th National Championship and fifth consecutive USA boxing gold medal in the toughest and most desirable division, the lightweight. All of this puts him in truly elite territory, territory never reached by premier fighters like Fernando Vargas, Shane Mosley, Floyd Mayweather and Ramirez's idol, Oscar De La Hoya.
For Ramirez's father, who traveled to Alabama for the trials, seeing his son overcome such seemingly unassailable odds was a very special moment. "He was very emotional," Ramirez says. "He saw me growing up, so he always saw me as a kid, but now he realizes I am a champion. He was very proud. My mom was telling me that now he goes to work with a big smile."
For Mirgian, who has been Ramirez's trainer for eight months now, traveling around the country and watching countless tournaments, he never doubted. Instead, it was a matter of questioning the judging. In boxing, perhaps more than any other sport, subjectivity plays a massive role in officiating.
"You see very opinionated judges," Mirgian says. "You see organizations like Golden Gloves, where they'd have literally senior citizens judging -- that had arthritis, hearing aids and bifocals, and that's where Jose lost. We watched that fight like 90 times talking to ourselves like, 'How does this happen?' Because he obviously had won the fight."
The buzz around Ramirez throughout the last couple of months, and especially since his qualification last week, has steadily grown. The teenager recently hosted "Friday Night Fights" and appeared on both ESPN Deportes and ESPN News, among others. In one night, he appeared on ESPN six different times.
"He leaves his amateur status being the most publicized, promoted and hyped amateur ever to go into the Olympics, and he lived up to it," Mirgian says.
"It's unprecedented; it's never been done before. He has a chance to make an impact on boxing that has not been seen in 25 years. He has a star quality about him, an appeal outside of the boxing ring, second to none. I think that boxing is starving for something like that."
Mirgian is quick to add that "it's not gold or bust. The fact that he became an Olympian is the greatest achievement,"
Ramirez speaks for himself, like a true champion. "I'm ready for what's to come," he says.
"For some reason, I feel like I was chosen to become a good person. I feel like I was given this talent ... I am confident that I'm going to do well and probably be the one who brings back the gold."
Plus, check out my brand new HuffPost sports blog, The Schultz Report, for a fresh and daily outlook on all things sports.
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