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Ramirez looks to cap decorated amateur career with Olympic gold

LONDON -- Remember what you were doing at 19? For me it was a melting pot of playing pickup basketball and meeting girls. I had a part-time job and, you know, tried to study a little in between.

Jose Ramirez? He likes girls and pickup sports, too.

And that's pretty much where the comparisons between me -- and most everyone else, really -- and Ramirez ends.

He has achieved more at 19 than what many do in a lifetime. He's a sophomore at Fresno State -- the first in his family to go to college, by the way -- on track for a degree in computer engineering. He's the most accomplished amateur in U.S. boxing, with 144 wins and 11 national titles, including six straight USA boxing gold medals that puts him ahead of Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather and Sugar Ray Leonard in that category.

He has the kind of sponsor backing that would make Michael Phelps blush. McDonald's, Nike, AQUAhydrate, 2XU, Beats, Wonderful Pistachios, Everlast; they are all on Team Ramirez. He has his own website, iPhone app and Android app. He doesn't cash the kind of checks Phelps does but the $1 million his manager, Rick Mirigian, estimates he is worth more than covers his college tuition.

Oh yeah, and he's a U.S. Olympian.

Guy like that has all the luck, huh? Well if you call spending your adolescent years stuffed in a two- bedroom apartment with a dozen or so family members lucky, sure. Ramirez's father, Carlos, immigrated to the U.S. at 16, where he would mix chemicals and spray the California fields. Ramirez remembers those days, vividly. He remembers his father coming home after 17-hour shifts. He remembers the three- and four-month jobs and the uncertainty that came with it. He remembers his parents sneaking off into the kitchen for hushed conversations about how they were going to make ends meet.

"I never knew when he was going to come home from work," Ramirez said. "We were living check to check."

His mother? Juanita Ramirez had her own problems. When Juanita was five months pregnant with Jose she and Carlos drove up a nearby hilltop for a picnic. When they came back down, their car was struck by a drunk driver and flipped. Juanita broke her left arm and needed 76 staples to close a cut that ran from her elbow to her shoulder. Doctors told her it was possible Jose would be born with developmental problems. To this day she still battles headaches and a sensitivity to light, side effects from the horrific crash.

Ramirez's history has shaped him, molded him into who he is today. When boxing started to pick up for him in high school, he easily could have quit school. Instead, he went from school to training to Starbucks, where he worked 16 hours a week.

Think that's grueling? As a freshman at Fresno State, Ramirez had classes from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. After class, he would drive 90 minutes back to Avenal, Calif., to train from 5 to 8. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, he would work at Starbucks. Weekends, he would work at Starbucks.

Why?

"I didn't want my father to have to pay for anymore clothes for me," Ramirez said.

That's not a problem anymore. Ramirez is one of the top lightweight prospects in the world. He won his Olympic debut with a thrilling 21-20 win over 29-year old Frenchman Rachid Azzedine, and on Thursday will face Uzbekistan's Fazliddin Gaibnazarov for the right to advance to the quarterfinals.

The last lightweight to win a gold medal for the U.S. was Oscar De La Hoya, who, not coincidentally, is a big fan. De La Hoya calls Ramirez "the future of boxing," and his promotional company, Golden Boy, will be first in line to try to sign him. But they won't be alone. Everyone is going to line up for a piece of Ramirez.

That suits Ramirez just fine. There is just one thing a prospective promoter must remember.

"I'll be a sophomore in the fall," Ramirez said. "And I'm going to graduate."

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