By Jake Donovan
Roberto Ramirez wasn’t supposed to be anything more than the next step in Dejan Zlaticanin’s continued comeback following a devastating knockout loss to Mikey Garcia.
Instead, their June ’18 clash ended with Ramirez scoring a 2nd round stoppage in a result that nobody outside of Ramirez’s camp could’ve ever seen coming.
The Jan. ’17 defeat to Garcia cost the squat southpaw from Montenegro his lightweight title along with his unbeaten record. Still, he entered his intended showcase versus Ramirez 17 months removed from that debacle, still regarded as a Top 10 lightweight and as a huge betting favorite.
A quick hit of Hevinson Herrera on a Dec. ’17 New York City club show provided little more than a confidence boost and means to return to the win column, but at least suggested that he wasn’t damaged goods heading into the new year.
The six months that passed between his win over Herrera and his scheduled June 21st clash with Ramirez on a club show in the Astoria section of Queens, New York was spent further refining his game under trainer Buddy McGirt.
The two hooked up in the months following his loss to Garcia, with the intention of tightening up his defense on the occasions his all-action offensive style didn’t get the job done.
Not even extensive gym sessions with the likes of Adrian Granados or former 140-pound titlist Sergey Lipinets (who along with Zlaticanin is managed by Alex Vaysfeld) could alert the team just how much the Garcia knockout loss took out of the 34-year old southpaw.
Had everyone followed the script, a Zlaticanin win in Queens would’ve likely led to a title eliminator by year’s end and—with any luck—a crack at becoming a two-time lightweight titlist at some point in 2019.
All that he needed to happen here was to show what he can do against a taller, leaner lightweight in Ramirez, who was a mere 17-2-1 at the time and who fell short in his lone other bout outside of his native Mexico. In fact, there was little to suggest in defeats to then-unbeaten Carlos Ocampo and Abel Ramos that there was any cause for concern for an upset.
It’s why Zlaticanin entered the ring as a 45-1 betting favorite for an off-TV bout in Queens that was barely on the boxing radar.
Less than seven minutes after the opening bell, it quickly made the rounds.
Whatever confidence Zlaticanin had left prior to fight night was quickly shattered—along with his jaw, as well as a busted nose for good measure as Ramirez leveraged every bit of his considerable height and reach advantage in the first three minutes of action.
Regardless of whether he’d truly fully recovered from the loss to Garcia, it was plain as day as there was no turning back from the damage sustained in the opening round. Zlaticanin was dropped hard early in round two, a right uppercut leaving him defenseless for an ensuing right hand shot.
A last-ditch effort from the former titlist came in the form of consecutive left hands that briefly stunned Ramirez.
It was the last bit of momentum he’d enjoy in a boxing ring.
Time was called to determine the severity of Zlaticanin’s earlier injuries. By then, Ramirez was fully recovered from the preceding rally and recognized that he had in front of him a mentally spent fighter.
Nine unanswered shots—including non-consecutive right uppercuts and a fight-ending straight right—put Zlaticanin down on the canvas for the second time in the fight. The ease in which the defenseless southpaw hit the deck was more than enough reason for referee Al LoBianco Jr. to wave off the contest without issuing a count.
Far gone by that time was the once-unbeaten lightweight who’d piled up wins over the likes of Petr Petrov, then-former two-division titlist Ricky Burns (who went on to pick up a belt in a third weight class) and then-unbeaten Ivan Redkach all before claiming a lightweight belt.
So, too, was any talk of his returning to the title stage—or even the ring at all.
In comparison to other major upsets in 2018, this was so much more than the boxing public being dealt an unexpected outcome.
It wasn’t a once-highly regarded contender sneaking up on a previously unbeaten middleweight titlist like Rob Brant managed to do in overwhelming Ryota Murata in October.
It wasn’t Cristofer Rosales picking off the remaining carcass of a weight-drained—and still heavy—Daigo Higa to shake up the flyweight picture earlier in the year. Nor was it Rosales being punched back into reality by England’s Charlie Edwards by year’s end.
Tony Harrison’s upset title win over previously unbeaten Jermell Charlo in December surprised many in the industry—perhaps even Harrison himself if immediate in-ring reaction is any indicator. The true shock, however, wasn’t in Charlo being dealt his first loss, but coming in a fight where so few disagreed with the final scores.
On that particular June night in Queens, nobody outside of Ramirez’s corner gave the visiting Mexican journeyman any chance of winning. Certainly not the oddsmakers, who statistically believed Ramirez was less likely to win than Buster Douglas was the night he stunned Mike Tyson in what remains perhaps the biggest upset in modern boxing history.
The lack of profile is all that keeps Ramirez KO2 Zlaticanin out of historical conversation. The final outcome itself, however, is enough to register as the BoxingInsider.com 2018 Upset of the Year.