Nineteen-year-old phenom boxer Jose Ramirez is officially heading to the London Olympics to represent the United States in the 132-pound class. For Ramirez, who has a decorated amateur career of 143 wins, 11 national titles and six consecutive USA Golds, it has been a wild -- and highly unstable -- ride of qualifying for the games.
Last August, he won the lightweight division title at the United States Olympic Team Trials in Mobile, Ala., defeating a former Olympian two times. But despite the win, his journey to the games was extended by an unprecedented step in U.S. boxing. Ramirez, along with other trial winners who did not place high enough at the world championships to automatically qualify for the London Games, had to win another "reload" tournament and place high enough at last week's Americas Continental Qualifier in Brazil. The "reload" tournament featured 109 boxers, which is the largest single field in the history of any weight class.
All of this has made Ramirez's story that much more special. "Jose has re-written boxing history and cemented himself as arguably the greatest amateur USA boxing lightweight in history," says Rick Mirigian, his business adviser and branding agent.
Anthony Bartkowski, the executive director of USA Boxing, believes that the new process is "innovative" and that "it will challenge the athletes to be at their best," as he told The New York Times last December. U.S. boxing has struggled mightily since 1992, producing only two boxing gold medalists in the last four Olympics and no true professional superstars since Floyd Mayweather Jr., a bronze medalist in 1996.
For Ramirez, the past year has been a whirlwind of nerves and excitement. The teenager has 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.
The Huffington Post has been following Ramirez's story for a year, and was the first national publication to do a full-length feature on him. We caught up with the athlete as he left Brazil and returned home to resume his final training regimen for the Olympics.
Describe your emotions right now, knowing you are headed to the Olympics.
I feel amazing. I can't describe it; I'm still in shock and feel like I can win it all out there. My family, loved ones and determination to make my dream come through got me here.
Take us through the determining fight and how you were able to win.
[Rynn Alejandro] fought how I thought: tight defense and he kept coming forward trying to power punch and smother my punches. I outboxed him, breaking his defense with combinations.
How exactly did that fight end?
I knew I won the fight when the bell rang. I gave him three standing eight-counts and left no doubt.
Describe the qualifying process you've endured, and just how difficult it's been.
It's been difficult with all of the sacrifices I have made -- winning so many tournaments from the U.S. Men's Nationals to the Olympic Trials, fighting six times in six days in Colorado [at the "reload" tournament] was something I had never done before. But I still kept my hope and my faith; I kept my dream and my determination. I've been through a lot of training, a lot of hours in the gym with running and diet. I told myself, 'I've done so much, I'm not going to let go now.'
I just learned that sometimes you might not get it the first time, but if you get the second chance, you have to take advantage of it. If you really want it, it will happen. My faith just grew in me. I became more of a believer and I tell myself that everything happens for a reason, because now I'm going to be more prepared. I look at in a positive way, because now I have enough experience to do better.
How tired are you right now and how broken down is your body?
Oh yeah, definitely. You know, I've been boxing a lot this year. My body is so tired, but the Olympics are right around the corner, and knowing that I'm there I feel I can do well.
What is your training schedule leading up to London?
Now I might take a week off and get back to the gym the following week. My goal in training is to increase my strength and conditioning, to start running and do a lot of sparring, make sure I'm in tip-top shape and drop weight early on and not get too heavy. I want to work on some speed but I'll be running in the morning, strength and conditioning three days out of the week, running five-six days a week, boxing sessions Monday through Friday and perhaps Saturdays, too. I want to be training Mondays and Wednesdays, maybe an hour-and-a-half strength and conditioning, two hours boxing and an hour of running. Tuesdays and Thursdays maybe two-and-a-half hours of boxing, and then Saturdays I'll do a technical boxing session for two hours and then a 4-5 mile run.
What did it mean to you when Oscar De La Hoya tweeted you a congratulatory message?
It feels amazing knowing that some great Olympians like him, a gold medalist, are cheering me on. It makes this more fun and it makes me want to do better. It makes me want to compete and continue to succeed because I know they are watching now.
Are you looking forward to meeting your fellow U.S. athletes?
Oh yeah, definitely. I want to be representing the United States the same as people like Michael Phelps. I want to do my best in boxing for the United States.
What would you be happy with in London?
Coming back, knowing that I did my best and showing people that I was a good fighter, that I put on a great show. No matter what the results, I want people to say that when they saw me box, they saw how much I wanted it, that they could see in my eyes I wanted it and that they could see it in my fights. I want to make it exciting bouts. If I win the gold, I want people to say, 'Man, this guy wanted the gold and he got it.' If I come up short, I want them to say, 'This guy gave it his best and left it all in the ring.'"
Are you nervous?
No, not nervous. I'm more excited. You know it's too early right now to get nervous with all the excitement. I probably will get more nervous closer to the games, but it's going to be one of those kinds of nervous where you don't know what to expect. A little bit of nervous you know with the butterflies you get before you compete, but besides that right now, I feel very happy and excited. I can't wait to get home.
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