Having fought in the latter stages of the 2011 World Championships, flyweights Andrew Selby and Michael Conlan had high hopes of glory at the 2012 Olympics in London. The pair were due to renew their rivalry with a place in the final on the line, yet young Cuban prodigy Robeisy Ramirez hadn’t read the script. At only eighteen years of age, he swept through not only Selby in the quarters, but also Conlan in the semis on the way to a brilliant gold medal. The youngster was one of the undisputed stars of the Olympic boxing program, and seemed to have it all in the palm of his hand.
Yet Ramirez’s path was far from smooth. He was unable to build on his success, crashing out of the next World Championships in Almaty, Kazakhstan at the quarter-final stage up at bantamweight. Worse was to follow. Despite a gold medal at the regional CAC Games, he didn’t even fight at the Qatar World Championships in 2015, the Cuban authorities choosing Andy Gomez ahead of him, despite his beating Gomez in the national finals the year before. What had happened to Ramirez? Had he fallen into the trap of enjoying the nightlife too much and losing focus?
However, there was light at the end of the tunnel. Gomez had crashed out of the World Championships at the last 8 stage, failing to qualify for the Rio Olympics. Despite losing his place in the Cuba Domadores World Series of Boxing team, it was Ramirez who was given the chance to book his ticket to Brazil in the Americas qualifying event. His first chance would end in disaster, losing out in the early rounds of the competition.
There was still hope however, at the world qualifier. This time, he took it, a semi-final defeat immaterial as he gave himself the chance to win a second consecutive Olympic gold. The competition was stiff, with Conlan (now a world champion) and American star Shakur Stevenson potential opponents on the way to gold. The lean years had taken their toll on Ramirez, and he had to began his campaign in the very first round, rather than receive a bye like his rivals. Four wins later, including a particularly impressive victory in the semi-finals against world silver medallist Murodjon Akhmadaliev, and the stage was set for another classic Cuba vs USA contest.
It was to be one of the most skilful fights of the whole Olympics, with Ramirez ending up the victor, the judges favouring his greater activity to the more precise approach from Stevenson. Yet again, it seemed like Ramirez had the world at his feet, just twenty two years old, he had won two Olympic golds, with more Olympiads potentially on the horizon.
Yet again however, he failed to kick on. After an extended break following his second Olympic triumph, he went off the rails, ballooning in weight and picking up injuries as he missed out on the 2017 Worlds in Hamburg. There would be no more major international competitions for Ramirez as, one year on, he broke away from training camp in Mexico, following the example of former teammate Joahnys Argilagos who abandoned camp in March. Twenty one year old Argilagos, a former world champion and Olympic medallist, is an intriguing prospect in his own right, yet it is Ramirez who will get tongues wagging across the boxing world. Of the two, it is Ramirez whose style looks more suited to the pros, as he is comfortable fighting at all ranges, and, unlike most Cuban fighters who have defected in the past, has a fairly high workrate in the ring.
However, as we have seen so many times before, it isn’t always enough “just” to be talented. The sport is littered with so many talented fighters who failed to make the most of themselves, especially from Cuba. If Ramirez is to embark on a pro career, it will be all change for him, leaving behind the regimented set-up back home for a system which allows him more freedom. The question is, now at the age of twenty four, will Ramirez finally be able to knuckle down and become a superstar, or will he fade away into anonymity?