As far as professional debuts go, it couldn’t have gone much worse for Robeisy Ramirez.
Typically, the first fight for decorated amateurs such as Ramirez is a quick showcase for their potential. But after the two-time Olympic gold medalist for Cuba was knocked down in his first pro round — and lost — Ramirez had to quickly reckon with his career.
Either get it together or find another promoter, he thought.
He got it together.
Some significant changes and 11 victories later, Ramirez is now one fight away from becoming a champion. With a win over former titlist Isaac Dogboe on Saturday (ESPN+, 7 p.m. ET), Ramirez can win the WBO’s vacant featherweight belt.
Part of his camp for the upcoming bout was moved from Miami to Mount Charleston, Nevada, a city sequestered among the mountains to the northwest of Las Vegas, where Ramirez now trains. The measured approach he took during his preparation for Dogboe is why Ramirez is on the verge of becoming a champion.
Ramirez’s training runs through the elevation typifying the approach that has been successful following his early pro stumble.
“I don’t let my mind wander away too much,” Ramirez said through a translator. “It’s just the task at hand at this point.”
Coming out of Cuba, the 29-year-old was one of the most heralded prospects in recent years. He won the gold at the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games. That put him in elite company alongside 11 two-time gold medalists from the island, including legends like Felix Savon (3), Teofilo Stevenson (3), Mario Kindelan and Guillermo Rigondeaux, among others.
“He was a household name for a long time in Cuba,” said manager Luis DeCubas Sr., who has worked with several top Cuban fighters throughout his career, including current 168-pound contender David Morrell.
And because of the nature of the boxing system in the country, where turning pro isn’t allowed, the amateur system is considered one of the most competitive in the world. DeCubas recalled a story from former champion Joel Casamayor, who was gifted a bicycle by the Cuban government for winning a gold medal in the 1992 Olympics. Casamayor later sold that bicycle for pork for his daughter’s birthday.
“I remember Casamayor always telling me that the toughest fights he had were in Cuba because everybody was trying to leave the country so they could get something to eat, or they could get some shoes and sell them,” DeCubas said.
What put Ramirez on Top Rank’s radar was when he beat Shakur Stevenson in the 2016 Olympic Games bantamweight final. After Ramirez defected in 2018 during a training camp in Mexico, Stevenson was one of the ones who urged Top Rank to sign the young star, according to Top Rank vice president Carl Moretti.
Ramirez’s pro debut came against Adan Gonzales, who had four wins in eight total fights when he faced Ramirez in Aug. 2019. Ramirez was knocked down in the first round and lost a split decision to Gonzales.
Between the money, a new diet and adapting to the culture, Ramirez was marked by a lack of professionalism. The week after the loss, Moretti said Top Rank brass, including founder Bob Arum, let Ramirez know in no uncertain terms that things needed to change.
“If we’re going to do this, you got to do these things the right way or else forget it,” Moretti said. “No one’s going to care. And to his credit, he’s done the right thing ever since.”
He switched trainers after the loss and hired Ismael Salas, who is considered one of boxing’s top trainers and comes from the Cuban boxing program. Ramirez also hired Jose Izquierdo as an advisor. And after the stern warning from Arum and Top Rank, Ramirez dedicated himself to being a professional.
For this fight against Dogboe, he spent roughly five weeks working in the elevation in Mount Charleston. When he’s running and listening to music, he said he remains fixated on winning his first pro title.
“If I don’t win this fight ahead, then why the hell am I going to start thinking about the next one, right?” Ramirez said through a translator. “There’s no point in that.”
If Ramirez wins, he is expected to be back in the ring in either July or August. There is no shortage of intriguing names in the 126-pound division, from current champions to top contenders.
“It’s basically the here and the now,” Ramirez said. “This is the task. And I know for a fact that now is the time for me to become a world champion.”