Fighting WITH Conviction : Boxer Ramos Vows to Right His Career After Prison Term

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The former U.S. Olympic team member who had grown into a hard-punching middleweight began his pro career by knocking out two opponents within 16 days. He gained attention in 1988 when he knocked out two men in the same night , but the problem was that he was not wearing boxing gloves at the time. And the two men he flattened were not wearing boxing trunks but neatly tailored business suits.

That was the night that the world came crashing down on Alex Ramos.

At first glance, Ramos' story is not unusual for the bruising, crushing world of boxing. A tough kid from a tough place finds his career unraveling and lashes out at the world, the fury he needed as a boxer now wreaking havoc on society. Prisons are full of ex-boxers. And later, when they tell their stories, a smirk often comes to their faces. They tend to be a bit proud of their deeds. Mike Tyson often has told--with no apparent remorse--of days spent hammering innocent people to the concrete when he was a youth in a tough New York neighborhood.

Ramos is different. He does not want to talk of his darkest day. When pressed, he relents, but as he speaks his eyes water and dart around the room. Clearly, he is not at ease discussing the day, likely the only day in his life, that the world broke him down.

Ramos served more than 20 months in the California State Prison at Corcoran, 50 miles south of Fresno, after being convicted on two counts of assault and battery with a deadly weapon. The weapons were his fists. The victims were a manager and a promoter who Ramos claimed had bilked him of thousands of dollars.

Tuesday night, Ramos, 28, will take his first step on what he hopes is the path from being a former inmate to a world contender when he fights Ali Sanchez of Miami in a scheduled 10-round middleweight bout at the Country Club in Reseda.

"There's nothing better in this business than seeing a kid who has been knocked down get back up again and win," said Dan Goossen, president of the Ten Goose Boxing Club of Van Nuys, who signed Ramos for Tuesday night's fight. "Alex has been knocked down in his life. Now we want to watch him get back up again."

Ramos stormed out of the Bronx as a 17-year-old and fought his way onto the U. S. Olympic team in 1980. That was the year, however, that President Jimmy Carter canceled U. S. participation in the Olympic Games to protest the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and Ramos and hundreds of other athletes were left with unfulfilled dreams.

He turned professional a few weeks later and in November, 1980, launched his pro career with a quick knockout of Steve Arvin in Nevada. Just 16 days later, he knocked out Johnny Davis in Hartford, Conn., and four months after his pro career started he had a 5-0 record with five brutal knockouts. The boxing world was starting to watch.

But when he was 15-0 with 10 knockouts, Ramos' career stalled. He was knocked out by little-known Ted Sanders in Atlantic City, N.J., and the luster was gone. He lost again to Murray Sutherland in Atlantic City in 1983. In 1984 he won the U. S. Boxing Assn. middleweight championship with a 12-round decision over Curtis Parker but was knocked out later that year by James Kinchen for his third pro loss.

The next four years brought five more losses, including a 12-round decision loss to Michael Nunn, now the International Boxing Federation middleweight champ, at the Country Club on Nov. 21, 1986.

"I've been fighting since I was 11," Ramos said. "And in all that time, no one really taught me very much. I had a lot of natural ability and took advantage of that but really didn't pursue boxing as I should have. I should have been a world champion a long time ago, but the effort wasn't there."

The biggest reason for the lack of effort, Ramos said, was women. Along with his natural boxing ability, the Ramos package also includes a pair of soft, brown eyes and a handsome face.

"My main problem throughout my career was Cupid," he said. "It was always very, very difficult for me to stay away. There were always the young ladies around, and always it seemed they were the wrong ones for me. I'd forget about training for a few weeks before a fight. And while it didn't seem to matter early in my career, when I ran into the tougher guys later, the guys who were serious about the training, I got beat.

"Early in my career, when I hit a guy on the chin, he went down and stayed down. Later, against the tougher guys, they'd still go down. But they'd get back up again. And I was always just about out of energy by then."

Then, on Feb. 2, 1988, he dropped down to the junior middleweight division, six pounds under the 160-pound middleweight limit, and lost a decision to unheralded Al (Bumblebee) Long in Riverside.

And within a week, the world became a very ugly place for Ramos.

His manager and a promoter informed him, he testified at his trial, that he would not receive any money from his purse from the Long bout. They said that the expenses for the fight equaled the purse. He was enraged and nearly broke.

A few days later, Ramos' mother telephoned from her hospital bed and begged him to come home to see her. Because he could not afford the trip, he told her he could not make it.

Later that night, Ramos' telephone rang again. A friend informed him that his mother had just died.

And just before she died, he was told, she lifted her head from the pillow and cried out for her son.

Alex Ramos, a tough-as-nails man, simply came apart.

"She was waiting for me," said Ramos, a tear in his eye.

Within an hour he had found his manager and the promoter and began a fearful beating that would send both men to the hospital.

His next stop was the Corcoran prison. He was released in January, but the memory still cuts at him.

"I never had a visitor," he said of his incarceration. "I would not allow it. Family and friends called and wrote letters, but I would not let them see me there. It just didn't feel right. I felt very bad about being there. I had never been in any trouble in my life.

"I just felt so bad about what I had done. But while I was there, I said to myself every day that when I got out I was going to come back to boxing and come back with the right attitude this time."

Shortly after his release he met with an acquaintance, businessman Paul Gonzalez of Simi Valley. They talked for many hours, Ramos of his dreams, Gonzalez of his expectations should he agree to help his friend.

"We talked of caring and respect and understanding," said Gonzalez, a producer of Latin jazz. "And I liked what I saw. I'm in a business where you have to be able to judge people. I can tell if a man is bald even when he's wearing a hat. And I saw in Alex something that I liked. I saw honesty.

"I know that Alex Ramos is a good man."

Now, it's time to find out if he can once again be a good boxer. He has hired Joe Goossen of the Ten Goose club, the longtime trainer of Nunn, to guide his career.

"The money Alex can make at the Country Club is minimal," said Dan Goossen. "He knows that. But already I have had phone calls about Alex. People are interested. Because Alex Ramos has what most fighters don't have. He has a name. Everyone knows Alex Ramos, knows the talent and knows what he can be.

"And fight by fight, one at a time, we'll find out if he does become that fighter again."

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