FORT CARSON, Colo. – The barista-turned-boxer is back on course for the London Games.
Jose Ramirez used a flurry of jabs to capture his third straight national title on Saturday night, beating former Olympian Raynell Williams 19-13 in their 132-pound bout.
The 19-year-old Ramirez also knocked off Williams at the Olympic trials last August to put himself on the path toward London, only to lose his spot and have to fight to earn it back.
Under the new Olympic selection procedures, boxers who won at the trials had to qualify internationally at the 2011 world championships. Failing to do so, Ramirez's spot was reopened and up for grabs at the USA boxing national championships.
Ramirez got it back by breezing through the bracket, winning six straight bouts. He landed a series of left punches in the second round that momentarily stunned Williams. From there, Ramirez simply held off the hard-charging Williams, who represented the U.S. at the 2008 Beijing Games.
Ramirez now faces one final hurdle before earning an official ticket to the Olympics: He has to place high at a qualifying tournament this May in Brazil.
"I'm right back to the spot where I want to be," said Ramirez, who is from Avenal, Calif., and once worked at Starbucks to earn extra cash.
In all, there were seven vacant spots on the line Saturday night. Santos Vasquez (108 pounds), Jamel Herring (141), Terrell Gausha (165), Marcus Browne (178), Michael Hunter (201) and Dominic Breazeale (201-plus) also moved a step closer to the Olympics.
Like Ramirez, they still must fare well at the international qualifier in Brazil to secure their place.
For most of these fighters, it's been a stress-filled week as a mammoth field of 478 athletes showed up to compete in the championships.
For others, this was a chance to simply sit back and be a fight fan. Soon-to-be three-time Olympian Rau'shee Warren (114) along with Joseph Diaz Jr. (123) and Errol Spence (152) already locked down their spots and didn't have to step into the ring at nationals.
"A lot of people wish they were in my shoes," Warren said, laughing. "But I deserved it, because I've worked hard.
"This is great, though, watching these boxers put on a show. They're putting everything on the line; they're fighting."
Herring was in the same boat as Ramirez, winning at the trials only to stumble at worlds and surrender his spot.
And while the thought of having to earn his position all over again energized Ramirez, it crushed Herring.
So much so that Herring was thinking of taking a break from boxing. The light welterweight has completed two tours of duty with the Marine Corps and contemplated finishing out his military career, then maybe down the road returning to the ring as a professional.
That all changed when he was invited to participate in a test bout at the Olympic venue in London last November. Stepping inside that ring, he could almost picture himself being back.
"Fighting one of the British fighters and getting a lot of love and respect from the English crowd, I was like, 'I want to do this. I want to get here,'" Herring said.
Herring, who's based in Camp Lejeune, N.C., needed a furious finish to hold off Julian Rodriguez 14-9 in the finals. Before the score was announced, Herring dropped to a knee, hoping to hear his name announced. He then shook his fist in triumph.
"I had to bear down and do what I do," Herring said. "I kept my composure."
The fight of the night was between Gausha and Olympic trials champion Jesse Hart. It went down to the wire, with the bout finally ruled a 3-2 decision for Gausha.
So incensed was Hart that he stormed out of the ring.
And so elated was Gausha that he collapsed to the canvas, hardly believing the news.
"It was a close, tough fight," said Gausha, who's from Cleveland. "This means the world to me. I worked hard for this."
Notes: The women who fought at nationals Saturday night earned spots at the world championships this May in China. The winners included Alex Love (106), Christina Cruz (119), Tiara Brown (125), Mikaela Mayer (141), Raquel Miller (152), Franchon Crews (178) and Victoria Perez (178 plus). ... Breazeale played quarterback up the road at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. ... Ramirez is a business major at Fresno State.