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Yesterday’s Heroes: Manuel Ramos, Mexico’s first heavyweight of note

Manuel Ramos vs. Joe Frazier
Before Andy Ruiz Jnr and Chris Arreola put Mexican heavyweights on the map, there was 6'4 Manuel Ramos, a one-time opponent of Joe Frazier and Joe Bugner

ALTHOUGH Mexico has produced some outstanding fighters, the country is not known for producing world-class heavyweights.

That has all changed with Andy Ruiz Jnr. An American by birth, Ruiz has Mexican roots, and he represented that country as an amateur.

Another American of Mexican heritage, Chris Arreola, has had three cracks at the WBC heavyweight title but has failed to last the distance in any of them.

Arreola, though, was not the first Mexican to challenge for world heavyweight honours, as Manuel Ramos, now largely forgotten, took this accolade in 1968 when he fought the legendary Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden.

At the time, Ramos had fought his way to being ranked at No. 4 in the world by The Ring magazine. Boxing News was a little more cautious, placing the Mexican at No. 8.

Ramos stood at 6ft 4ins, and in his climb from obscurity he had beaten two excellent contenders, Ernie Terrell and Eddie Machen. In neither contest did he dominate proceedings, but his punching power had seen him through. Within the first minute of the contest he briefly staggered Frazier and an upset looked on the cards, but his lack of class was then brutally exposed by the young Frazier, one of the all-time greats, and Ramos retired on his stool after two rounds.  

Older British fans will remember Manuel chiefly for the two bouts he had over here against Jack Bodell and Joe Bugner, both of whom were outstanding heavyweights of the period. Bugner was, of course, a world-class heavyweight who met most of the greats during the 1970s – for me, the greatest era of heavyweight boxing. Bodell is mainly remembered for his last three fights, which he lost in a total of five rounds. Before this, however, he was tough and durable and could be surprisingly fleet of foot when required.

Ramos first appeared in the UK in March 1970 when he was brought over to test the 20-year-old Bugner in an eight-rounder at the Empire Pool, Wembley. At the top of the bill, Henry Cooper outwitted Bodell over 15 to become the first man to regain the British heavyweight title since Len Harvey in 1938. The young fighter from St Ives was too good for Ramos and the BN report gave an indication of Ramos’ shortcomings in stating that “the Mexican’s punches were mostly thrown from way off, losing their potency as they moved towards the target, and doing little damage.”

He was also prone to leaving himself wide open. Bugner cruised to a comfortable points victory, thereby confirming his status as young man with British title aspirations. We all know what happened next, as Bugner beat Cooper in a hugely controversial contest the following year.

Shortly after Bugner became the champion, it was Bodell’s turn to meet Ramos in a 10-rounder at the Civic Hall, Wolverhampton.

Big Jack had recently stopped the Irish-American Jack O’Halloran in four rounds at the same venue and arrangements were being made for Bodell to box Bugner in the latter’s first defence of his newly won crown. Ramos proved to be no match at all for the Midlander, losing every round and being generally beaten up for the entire 30 minutes.

Ramos then went back to the States and did little of note after that. His career went into a steep decline. He won only three of the 27 bouts that he took part in after 1968, and he finally hung up his gloves in 1977. He did fight some excellent contenders during this period, including George Foreman, Oscar Bonavena, Ron Lyle, George Chuvalo and Chuck Wepner, and most of them knew they had been in a fight when their hand was raised.

“Pulgarcito” (Tom Thumb), as he was known, died in March 1999, not the best Mexican heavyweight, but the first of note.

Deontay Wilder on Andy Ruiz
Today Andy Ruiz Jnr represents Mexico at heavyweight (Action Images/Reuters/Peter Cziborra)

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