If he had lived, former two-time lightweight champ Mando Ramos would be 75 today. The warrior who was born in San Pedro, California in November of 1948, really did shine brightly for a while. Ramos, who partied as hard as he fought, turned pro at age 17, using a fake birth certificate to do so. By the time he was in his mid-20s, Ramos was a faded force, the wars, along with the drugs and the booze, having taken a heavy toll.
But when he was at his best, this during his three-year peak, from 1969 to 1972, Ramos thrilled his millions of fans. During this time, it is said that Ramos was the biggest boxing star in all of Los Angeles, with celebrities such as Kirk Douglas, John Wayne, and Bill Cosby turning up to see him fight. Ramos, who was a genuine ball of fire, blessed with a ton of stamina, an all-action style, good power, limitless guts, and bravery, won his first 17 fights before he dropped a decision to Kang II Suh.
Ramos made The Olympic Auditorium in LA his second home, and Ramos regularly sent his legion of fans home in a bewildered state, his fights so exciting. In September of 1968, a 22-3 Ramos, who was still just 19 years old, got his first shot at a world title. Carlos Teo Cruz of the Dominican Republic knew just a little bit too much for him, winning a close but unanimous 15 round decision.
Ramos threw himself into training for the rematch (which was not something he always did, with fellow great Carlos Palomino once stating how Ramos “once went 15 rounds after training for just one weekend”) and this time, in February of the following year, he stopped Cruz in the 11th round. Ramos made history by becoming the youngest lightweight champion ever at age 20. Yet even before he beat Cruz, Ramos had defeated Hiroshi Kobayashi, the reigning champ at 130 pounds, the fight being a non-title affair. Now that he was champion, Ramos set about defending the WBC and WBA titles. However, Ramos managed just one retention before he was stopped on cuts in a battle with the brilliant Ismael Laguna, who stopped Ramos in the ninth round in March of 1970.
Ramos, still only 22, was now 28-4. What followed, in August of 1970, might just be the single greatest 135-pound war ever seen. Ramos faced Sugar Ramos in a non-title ten-rounder, and the action was so incredible it has to be seen to be believed (check it out on YouTube). The late, great match-maker, Don “War A Week” Chargin, once said that the Ramos Vs. Ramos battle was the best fight he ever saw live:
“That fight was at The Olympic Auditorium, and the arena held 10,400 people. That night, we had 14,000 in the place,” Chargin told me a year before he passed away. “Both guys just went at it, both were cut really badly, and fans from both sides were screaming that the fight should be stopped. That was possibly the most brutal fight I ever saw. If you watch it, it’s a fight you will not be able to take your eyes off. Mando Ramos was a great fighter, but he was all shot by age 22 or 23. if he’d looked after himself, he could have been one of the real greats.”
Instead of looking after himself, Ramos got into drugs, and his lifestyle caught up with him. Still, Ramos had plenty of fight left in him after winning the split decision over Sugar Ramos. In November of 1971, Ramos lost by way of DQ when he fought Pedro Carrasco in Spain, this in a fight for the vacant WBC lightweight title. Ramos won two split decision rematches with Carrasco, and he was now a two-time champ. And then, after being stopped in the 8th round by Chango Carmano in September of 1972, Ramos was pretty much all done.
Addicted to heroin, Ramos was “sleeping in cars” by 1974. It was a terrible fall for him. Ramos was like a comet in that he shone brighter than bright for a short time before he crashed and burned. By his final fight, which came in October of 1975, Ramos was a shell of a once superb fighter. Ramos quit with a 37-11-1(23) record, with most of these losses coming at a time when he was, as Chargin put it, “all shot.”
In his retirement years, Ramos got clean and sober and he became a teacher of kids, this as he made, as he said himself, “a comeback as a human being.” Sadly, Ramos passed away at the young age of 59, this in July of 2008.
For the jaw-dropping fight he engaged in with Sugar Ramos alone, Mando Ramos is remembered as something truly special.