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The Youngest Lightweight Champ
by Rick Farris
In 1965, promoters Cal & Aileen Eaton began promoting weekly televised boxing shows
from the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles. L.A. was loaded with boxing
talent and the Eatons would parlay this talent into the most successful weekly
boxing promotion in the world.
The Eatons hired veteran boxing figure Mickey Davies as matchmaker and Jimmy
Lennon Sr. (The Voice of the Olympic Auditorium) was the ring announcer.
The fights were televised every Thursday night on KTLA channel 5 from 8-to-10
with matchmaker Davies and a young Dick Enberg calling the action from
ringside. It was a winning combination. However, it was the
boxers that made "Boxing from the Olympic" the highest rated local TV
production in Southern California.
A few months after things got started Cal Eaton passed away, leaving his widow
Aileen with the responsibility of running the show. Aileen was not to be
underestimated and she had no difficulty dealing in the tough world of professional
boxing. To the managers she was known as a tough businesswoman and was
nicknamed "Dragon Lady". However, she was like a mother to
Eaton had the connections and resources to bring top name talent to Los Angeles
to headline her boxing cards and often did so. However, she was also
aware of the potential of local talent and focused her business on the
development of these young fighters. For the next decade Aileen Eaton
would help build the careers of many exceptional boxers and several would go on
to win world championships.
The first World Champion to come from this group was one of the most exciting
and charismatic to ever step into the ring at the 18th & Grand arena.
His name was Armando Ramos. Mando would become the youngest man to ever
win the World Lightweight Championship.
Mando Ramos was a boxing prodigy. His father Ray Ramos had been a boxer
and he taught his sons Junior and Mando how to box shortly after they had
started walking. When Junior began boxing as an amateur Mando would follow
his older brother to the gym. By the age of eight, Mando was competing in
Jr. Golden Gloves tournaments in Los Angeles.
By the time Junior turned professional Mando was already gaining a rep at the
gym. The tall, skinny teenager was outboxing a lot of pros and his
punching power was no secret.
Mando Ramos had a gift, but he also had a curse. The gift Mando had
would take him to the top of the world in boxing. However, the curse
would take it all away from him before he ever had a chance to reach his prime
as a boxer.
In the evening, Mando would work in his grandmother's Mexican restaurant
washing dishes. He became friendly with the restaurant's bartender and
this gave Mando access to all the booze he could want. It was the 60's and
Mando was also known to indulge in other methods of getting high. Even so,
Ramos was outclassing professional boxers in gym workouts and Junior decided it
was time to hook his brother up with a top trainer.
Junior Ramos contacted Jackie McCoy, a former bantamweight contender who had
fought Manuel Ortiz in the late 40's. McCoy was one of the best
manager/trainers in boxing and had helped guide Don Jordan to the welterweight
title in the late 50's. McCoy had heard of the kid but wanted to see for
himself. What he saw convinced him that Mando Ramos was something special.
McCoy had a featherweight scheduled to fight in a main event the following week
and he put the 16-year-old Ramos in with his boxer for a sparring match.
Ramos knocked McCoy's fighter out in the opening round. McCoy was excited
about what he saw and called his partner, Lee Praila, and told him to meet him
at the gym the next day to discuss future plans for their new prospect.
McCoy went to work and fine tuned Ramos' natural talent, molding him into
a boxer that was too good for the amateurs in Los Angeles, or anywhere
else for that matter. Amateur boxers would not fight Mando and it was
decided that in the best interest of Ramos he should turn professional.
McCoy wanted Mando to concentrate on boxing and keep him away from the bad
influence of his friends.
However, there was one problem. The California State Athletic
Commission required a boxer to be 18-years-old to get a professional boxing
license. Mando wasn't yet seventeen. McCoy feared that with no
amateur competition, Ramos' career might succumb to his love of women and
the party scene before it ever had a chance to get off the ground.
McCoy had a long talk with Mando and the skinny teenager promised to buckle down
and work if given the opportunity to fight pro. With the help of a phony
birth certificate, Mando Ramos made his professional boxing debut just two
days after his 17th birthday.
Armando Ramos had his first pro fight at the Olympic Auditorium on November 17,
1965. In a one-sided match Ramos won a unanimous four round decision over
Berlin Roberts. Two weeks later he KO'ed tough Chuey Loera in the second
round and the fans were already taking notice of the talented kid from Long
Beach. Ramos was nearly 5'10" and weighed 126 pounds. He was
also strikingly handsome and became a favorite of the Los Angeles boxing fans
watching in person or on TV.
Ramos had only been seen in two pro fights but Aileen Eaton was already getting
letters from fans requesting to see more of this kid. Mando would start
1966 with three consecutive knockouts followed by a unanimous decision over
Bosco Basileo in a six rounder.
Ramos was 6-0 with 4 knockouts when McCoy and Eaton decided to put him in his
first ten round main event. His opponent would be a tough veteran named
Joey Aquilar. The Olympic Auditorium, which held nearly 11,000
fans, was packed for Ramos' main event debut which was being broadcast live on
television. Everybody thought that Ramos was amazing for an 18-year-old
and had no idea that he was only seventeen. Ramos battered Aquilar,
knocking the tough Mexican down three times before referee George Latka stopped
the fight in the eighth round. A star was born.
Two weeks later Ramos headlined again at the Olympic and knocked out Ray Coleman
in the 6th round. Two weeks later he iced Manny Linson in two
rounds. By the end of 1966 Ramos was 14-0 (10 KO's) and ready to take
another step up the ladder in the featherweight division.
Ramos was now an established main eventer and could sell out the Olympic within
a few days of announcing that he was scheduled to fight. Eaton would no
longer televise Ramos' fights. Mando's fights would now follow a televised
ten rounder and if you wanted to see Ramos fight you would have to drive down to
the Olympic and buy a ticket. And this is exactly what people
Mando quickly became one of the biggest box-office attractions in the history of
Los Angeles boxing. His popularity was being compared with L.A.'s last box
office Golden Boy, Art Aragon from the 50's. It was about this time that
the press discovered that L.A.'s newest Golden Boy had only just turned
eighteen, making his success even more incredible.
Two months after Mando's 18th birthday he packed the Olympic Auditorium when he
took on his first world rated opponent, unbeaten Ray Echevarria.
Echevarria was the California Featherweight Champion and rated among the top ten
featherweights in the world by the Ring Magazine.
Ramos out boxed, out punched and completely out fought the tough
Echevarria, winning a unanimous ten round decision. Two months later
Ramos would face another tough test in veteran Pete Gonzales, whom had beaten
some of the best in the world and was also rated in the top ten by The Ring.
Ramos again showed
his stuff and won a unanimous ten round decision over Gonzales.
Mando was growing and could no longer make 126 pounds. In his next bout he
would move up into the jr. lightweight class and take on unbeaten Len Kesey of
Eugene, Oregon. Ramos easily knocked out Kesey in the fifth round with a
brutal left hook to the liver. Now 17-0 (11 KO's) Ramos would face his
biggest test to date in Korea's Suh Kang-IL.
Less than twenty months after his pro debut Ramos was eighteen years old and
getting rich. everybody wanted to be close to Mando and he loved the
attention, not to mention the women. It was no secret that Mando was
keeping late hours and McCoy was upset. The fight with Suh Kang IL was
scheduled just two weeks after Ramos' KO of Len Kesey and Mando was
confident. So confident that he missed several workouts prior to the match
and showed up at the gym once with a hangover.
Suh Kang IL held victories over two world champions and on July 6, 1967 he
handed Mando Ramos his first loss as a professional. Two nights before the
fight, Ramos had gotten so wasted at a 4th of July party that he was
arrested for drunk driving on the way home. L.A.'s newest Golden Boy was
no longer unbeaten.
The following month McCoy took Ramos to Sacramento where he KO'ed Alex Luna in
two. Ramos returned to L.A. and a few weeks later knocked out Eliseo
Estrada in five. Mando was growing into a lightweight but before getting
much bigger, fans in Los Angeles were begging to see him fight another hot
featherweight making a name for himself at the Olympic, "Irish"
Crawford and Ramos were not strangers, as both worked out at the Jake Shugrue
Gym near 78th & Hoover in South Central Los Angeles. they had started
their pro careers within months of each other and were similar in build.
Like Ramos, Crawford was a tall featherweight at 5'9" and was a
knockout puncher. Another thing the two boxers had in common was natural
ability and poor
training habits. In later years they would become stablemates when McCoy
took over management of Crawford's career and the two fighters became
friends. however, on October 5, 1967 the two brought no friendship
into the Olympic Auditorium ring when the two met for the first of two great
Mando had about an inch in height on Crawford and at the weigh-in came in nine
pounds heavier, which is quite an advantage to a guy under 130 pounds.
Before a sellout crowd of 10,500 fans, Frankie Crawford stepped on Ramos'
toes, hit him low, thumbed him and opened cuts with head butts and elbows.
I knew Crawford well and can guarantee you that Fritzie Zivic and Ace Hudkins
had nothing on Frankie when it came to dirty fighting. However,
Crawford beat him legit. It was Crawford who entered the ring in better
shape and who scored an upset decision victory over Ramos. I remember that
Frankie had exhausted himself so much fighting the heavier Ramos, he was given
oxygen in the dressing room after the match.
Ramos had lost for the second time in three months and this was a loss that
Mando would have to avenge or forever hold his peace. Mando turned
nineteen a month after losing to Crawford and three months later, on February 1,
1968 he'd meet Crawford again in a rematch. Mando entered the ring in
shape this time and won a unanimous decision over Crawford. Mando Ramos
was now ready to get back on the road that would lead him to a world title.
A few months after beating Crawford, Ramos would score his biggest win to
date by defeating World Jr. Lightweight champ Hiroshi Kobayashi of Japan in a
ten round non-title fight. Ramos beat Kobayashi easily and as a result was
rated the number one lightweight in the world by The Ring Magazine.
Ramos was 19-years-old and in his next fight would face Carlos "Teo"
Cruz for the World Lightweight Championship. If Ramos could
beat Cruz he'd not only be the youngest boxer ever to win the lightweight
title, but would do so as a teenager.
Cruz was a clever champion from the Dominican Republic who had won the title by
defeating a great champion in Carlos Ortiz. Ramos trained hard for Cruz
and I remember that Aileen Eaton would need more room to hold the fight than at
the 10,500 seat Olympic Auditorium or the 15,000 seat Los Angeles Sports
Arena. Eaton held the Cruz-Ramos lightweight title fight at the Los
Angeles Memorial Coliseum along with a World Featherweight Championship bout
between Ramos' stablemate, WBA Featherweight Champ Raul Rojas and challenger Sho
Cruz opened cuts over both of Ramos' eyes and won a close decision after fifteen
rounds, but it was obvious that Mando could beat Cruz. McCoy refused
to let Ramos rest and wanted to keep him active. Mando had fought Cruz on
even terms throughout much of the fight and Aileen Eaton signed Cruz to
give Ramos a second shot at the title four months later.
After scoring KO's in two tune-up matches, Ramos challenged Cruz once again for
the lightweight title on February 18, 1969. This time it was Ramos who battered Cruz and opened cuts over both eyes of the champion. Referee John
Thomas, on the advice of ringside physician Dr, Bernard Schwartz, stopped
the bout in the eleventh round. Three months after his 20th
birthday, Armando Ramos became the youngest boxer in history to win the
World Lightweight Championship.
Three months after winning the title Ramos KO'ed little known Jerry Graci in a
non-title fight in Hawaii. He then returned to Los Angeles for the first
defense of his title, knocking out newly crowned Jr. Lightweight Champ
Yoshiaki Numata of Japan in the seventh round at the L.A. Sports Arena.
On March 3, 1970, Ramos would defend his title for the second time against
former Lightweight Champ Ismael Laguna of Panama. During the five months
between his first title defense against Numata and the Laguna fight, Ramos
had enjoyed all the perks of being a world champion. It was obvious from
opening round that Mando Ramos was not ready for the skilled Panamanian.
By the ninth round Mando was cut to ribbons and bleeding from cuts over both
eyes. On the advice of ringside physician Dr. Bernard Schwartz,
referee Larry Rozadilla stopped the fight. Laguna had taken the title from
over a year later he had won it.
At the age of 21, Ramos had already won and lost the Lightweight
Championship. It would be more than five months before Ramos would step
into the ring again, and when he did, he faced former Featherweight Champ
Sugar Ramos. Sugar Ramos had been fighting in the lightweight division
since losing the featherweight title to Vicente Saldivar six years previous.
Ramos and Ramos engaged in one of the bloodiest battles I have ever seen.
In the end it was Mando's fight but he left the ring with major cuts over both
eyes. A couple of weeks later he underwent plastic surgery to remove the
scar tissue in hopes that it would prolong his ring career.
After giving his skin four months to heal, Ramos would engage in a fight
that was as important to him personally as it was professionally. He would
be matched with his former stablemate Raul Rojas. Rojas was the former WBA
Featherweight & Jr. Lightweight Champion and his criticism of Ramos was
making headlines in Los Angeles sports pages. Mando trained harder than
ever for this match.
On December 10, 1970 Ramos and Rojas would fight before a sellout crowd at the
Olympic Auditorium. The match would be the highlight of an all-star card
that also featured Frankie Crawford, welterweight prospect Armando Muniz and
myself in a six round TV prelim.
I remember the weigh-in for this fight. It was at 11am. on the day of the
match (today weigh-ins are held the night before a fight). All of the
boxers were weighed-in on a scale set up inside the ring at the Olympic
Auditorium. Frankie Crawford stepped onto the scale right after I was
weighed and as we left the ring I asked Frankie about Mando's
conditioning. Crawford said he's
never seen Mando in better shape and that he was going to destroy Rojas.
That night I opened the show with a unanimous decision win over Antonio
Villanueva. In the next bout Armando Muniz remained unbeaten with a KO
win. In the televised main event Frankie Crawford knocked out Jose Luis
Martinez with a late blow that landed a second after the final bell.
After Crawford's controversial win, Ramos and Rojas entered the
The odds favored Ramos slightly but Rojas was a tough former world champ and
there was bad blood between the two. In the sixth round, Ramos caught
Rojas with a solid left hook flush on the jaw that put his former stablemate to
sleep. Referee Dick Young didn't even bother to count.
Ismael Laguna had lost his lightweight championship to Ken Buchanan of
Scotland. After Ramos KO'ed Rojas promoter Aileen Eaton signed Buchanan to
defend his title against Ramos. The bout was scheduled for the Los Angeles
Sports arena on February 12, 1971. I was also signed to fight on the
undercard of the Buchanan-Ramos fight and would serve as a Buchanan sparring
partner briefly. Less than a week prior to the fight Ramos pulled out
claiming to have been injured in the gym. This would cost promoter Aileen Eaton
a great deal of money and she was fortunate to get my stablemate Ruben Navarro
to substitute for Ramos. Navarro was training for a fight the following
month with Jimmy Robertson and was not quite in condition for a fifteen
rounder. However, Navarro ended up flooring Buchanan before losing a
This was not the first time that Ramos had pulled out of an important match
claiming to be injured or sick. Mando's problem had nothing to do with
injury, it had to do with heroin addiction. Mando's party habits had
taken control of his life was destroying his career.
Mando didn't fight again for another nine months and when he did I appeared on
the undercard of that match as well. It was September 30, 1971 and Ramos
would face my stablemate Ruben Navarro at the Olympic Auditorium. The
winner of this match was guaranteed a shot at the vacant WBC Lightweight
Championship against Spain's Pedro Carrasco.
Mando had his hands full with Navarro and at the end of ten rounds the crowd was
aware that Navarro had beaten Ramos. However, the judges saw it
different and awarded Ramos a narrow split decision win.
Two months later Ramos would fight Carrasco in Spain for the WBC title but end
up losing on disqualification in the 12th round after beating the Spanish
fighter handily. Three months later a rematch would be held in Los Angeles and
Ramos would win the title via a unanimous fifteen round decision. Mando
had trained very hard for this match and looked the best I had seen him since
flattening Raul Rojas.
I remember driving Frankie Crawford to Mando's apartment in Belmont Shores a few
weeks before this fight. Crawford and I had stopped in to visit Mando and
the former champ was really focused. On the door to his refrigerator he
had a photo of Carrasco set in the middle of a target. Mando's focus paid
off and Mando was once again a World Champion.
Ramos would defeat Carrassco a second time four months later and then signed to
defend his title against Mexican Lightweight Champ Chango Carmona.
Between the last Carrassco fight and the Carmona fight, Ramos had fallen
back on his old ways. After Ramos had pulled out of the Buchanan match the
previous year, Aileen Eaton had a clause inserted into any contract with
Ramos stating that if he were to pull out of the match for any reason he would
be liable for a minimum of $50,000. to Eaton.
Less than a week before the Carmona match, Ramos was found early one
morning laying half naked in the sand near his Belmont shores apartment.
Mando had overdosed on heroin. the press never got word of this and I only
heard it thru mutual friends. Mando Ramos was truly sick, however,
he would have to honor his contract and go thru with the fight.
On September 15, 1972, Mando Ramos lost the WBC Lightweight Championship at the
Los Angeles Coliseum and nearly lost his life. Carmona battered Ramos before
knocking him out in the eighth round. Ramos could not make it to his feet
following the knockout and had to be taken from the ring in a stretcher.
The magic career of Mando Ramos was history.
It would be nearly a year before Ramos would fight again and when he did he was
knocked out by Turi Pineda, a fighter that would not have lasted three
rounds with Ramos in the past.
In 1974 Ramos headed to Germany where he won three fights in two weeks,
before being KO'ed twice by Wolfgang Gans, a second rate German welterweight.
He then went to Las Vegas where he was granted a license and lost a ten
rounder to a prelim fighter with a losing record. After scoring a couple
of close victories Mando Ramos fought Wayne Beale in what would be his last
professional fight. Beale had a losing record and was somebody I had
beaten easily a few years previous as an amateur. Beale knocked out Ramos
in the second round.
Mando disappeared from sight for some time. Every once in awhile I would
hear something about Ramos and it was never good. I was told he was strung
out pretty bad and was homeless. I also heard that Mando's older brother
Junior had died from a heroin overdose.
Then one day I heard that Mando had found himself and had been able to put
together some clean time. He was said to be working in San Pedro as a long
shoreman and had organized a youth boxing program called "B.A.A.D." -
Boxers & Athletes Against Drugs.
About this time four years ago I was working as a lighting technician on the
film "CON AIR". One day Carlos Palomino had come to visit some
friends of his that were working on the set. I recognized Carlos and
noticed that he had brought a friend with him. I didn't recognize the
friend but there was something very familiar about him. I could tell the
guy had been a fighter and noticed the guy was staring at me. In
fact, I was staring at him and it appeared as if he were trying to remember
my face. I finally got a chance to break away from my work and went over
to say Hi to Carlos. As Palomino and I shook hands his friend stands up
and extends his hand to me. He said "Hi, I'm Mando Ramos".
I would have never recognized Mando. He looked great but was a lot heavier
than he used to be and had a mustache. I said "Mando, I'm Rick
Farris . . . I didn't recognize you". We both began to laugh and tell
old stories. We talked about the Olympic and our old friend Frankie
Crawford who had died in the early 80's. Seeing Ramos made my day.
What really made me happy was hearing that he had been clean & sober for
more than a dozen years. He was happily married and life was in session
again for Mando Ramos. Around his neck he had a gold chain with the
letters "MR. BADD" inscribed on a charm. Mando told me that his young
boxers had presented it to him as a Christmas
present the previous year in recognition of his program.
During the time Mando and Palomino were on the set, I watched people walk up to
Carlos and introduce him as the former Welterweight champ. Carlos had done
work in the film industry and was well known. I was shocked that nobody
even looked at Ramos until Palomino and I told people who it was.
Mando Ramos fans appeared from everywhere. People would walk onto the set
from other stages after hearing that Mando Ramos was on the lot. If I was
unable to recognize Ramos after all the years it's understandable why other
didn't either. But once they found out who it was he was the most popular
thing on stage, more so than Palomino or Nicolas Cage.
That was the Mando Ramos I remember. Mando's career is long down the road
but I have to tell you he still has that charisma. Mando Ramos has come
off the canvas and proven himself a champion in life.