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Ramirez beats Imam to win WBC 140-pound title

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

By BRIAN MAHONEY

AP Sports Writer

NEW YORK (AP) Jose Ramirez left the comforts of California to chase his title shot across the country.

When he goes back home, he'll take a championship belt with him.

Ramirez won his first world title Saturday night with a unanimous decision victory over Amir Imam to win the WBC's vacant 140-pound belt.

Ramirez pulled away in the late rounds, swelling Imam's right eye in the process to take the title that became open when Terence Crawford moved up to welterweight.

Ramirez relentlessly pressured Imam and pounded away with hard left hooks, and Imam just couldn't keep him off for all three minutes. Ramirez won the final three rounds on all three scorecards after Imam had gotten back into the bout with some good work in the middle rounds.

"There was a point in the fight that I said to myself `Jose what are you doing?'" Ramirez said. "That's why I caught my second wind and I gave it my all in the championship rounds."

Ramirez, a 2012 U.S. Olympian, won by scores of 120-108, 117-111 and 115-113. He improved to 22-0 with 16 knockouts.

"Two judges need to be investigated and one judge was being honest. He won every single round," trainer Freddie Roach said. "A hometown fight for Jose next would great, but New York was great to us tonight. By the end of the fight, everyone was on our side."

The Associated Press scored it 118-110 for Ramirez.

Ramirez is an Avenal, California, native who has done most of his fighting around home, and his first title defense will likely be back there. Promoter Bob Arum said they would look to do something in an outdoor stadium in the Fresno area, where Ramirez has a loyal fan base because of his talent and also his commitment to help the farming community.

Imam fell to 21-2.

"I should have done more to the body," he said. "And I needed to. I just keep thinking about all the things I should have done."

The WBC's 2,000th world title fight was the first time promoters Arum and Don King went against each other since March 12, 2011, when Miguel Cotto stopped Ricardo Mayorga in a WBA super welterweight fight.

King, wearing a giant button of President Donald Trump on his glittery denim jacket, boasted big as always leading into the fight but had to acknowledge that his fighter lost it afterward.

"The kid was relentless. ... Just relentless," King said. "Imam made him miss a lot but he didn't throw enough punches back. He just didn't throw enough punches."

Ramirez did most of his damage with left hooks in the early rounds but hurt Imam with a right to the head in the sixth. He went back to the left hooks in the seventh, ripping Imam with at least three or four, but Imam came right back with a strong eighth.

But Ramirez quickly regained control and wobbled Iman late in the 10th. Imam, who was the WBC's No. 1 rated contender, had a swollen right eye in the 11th and any chance of rallying to win the bout ended when Ramirez drove him back into his own corner with a hard combination moments after the 12th began.

"Every round that he fought was full speed," Arum said.

The crowd really heated up following the main event, when former Irish Olympic bronze medalist Michael Conlan delighted a St. Patrick's Day crowd decorated in green with a second-round TKO of Hungarian David Berna (15-3). Conlan (6-0, 5 KOs) also made his pro debut at Madison Square Garden last year on St. Patrick's Day.

Oleksandr Gvozdyk of Ukraine beat Mehdi Amar of France by unanimous decision to become the WBC's interim light heavyweight champion. Gvozdyk (15-0, 12 KOs) had knocked out his last eight opponents and 12 of his 14 overall by stoppage, but had to go the distance against Amar (34-6-2, 16 KOs), who was fighting for the first time in the U.S.

And in an undercard upset, Puerto Rican lightweight Felix Verdejo (23-1) lost for the first time in his pro career when he was stopped by Mexico's Antonio Lozada Jr. (39-2, 33 KOs) with 23 seconds left in the 10th and final round.

Verdejo, ending a 13-month layoff, was hurt in the middle of the fight and never fully got his legs back, and finally was knocked down in the 10th. Lozada landed another flurry of punches later in the round and the referee stopped the fight right in front of Verdejo's incensed corner men.

Updated March 17, 2018

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