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Ricardo Jimenez: photo by Holger Keifel
By Thomas Hauser
Another big fight week is here. All eyes are about to focus on Manny Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto. Through it all, a soft-spoken man with a round face and neatly-groomed walrus mustache will be in the background, quietly doing his job.
Ricardo Jimenez is Top Rank’s interface between the English-and-Spanish-speaking people of the boxing world.
“I worked with Ricardo before I was at Top Rank,” says company vice president Carl Moretti. “I thought I knew how nice he is and how good he is at what he does. Now that I’m with Top Rank, I feel those things even more strongly.”
“Ricardo is a great person with a big heart,” adds Lee Samuels (Top Rank’s director of publicity). “I’m so glad he’s on our team.”
“The media loves him,” Bob Arum proclaims. “The fighters love him. I love him. He’s Mexican, but the Puerto Ricans love him. He’s a great, great guy.”
“Ricardo is promiscuous,” observes Top Rank matchmaker Bruce Trampler. “He falls in love with all the fighters he works with and they all fall in love with him. Most people have no idea how active he is with the fighters behind the scenes. He’s like an uncle to these guys. They all defer to him. He’s honest; he’s loyal. It’s a situation where the job is perfect for the man and the man is perfect for the job.”
And then there’s the competition. In the back-stabbing world of professional boxing, what do other publicists say about Jimenez?
Fred Sternburg: “Ricardo knows what the media needs and wants. He knows what sells. He’s completely dependable. He’s always there. He never gets ruffled. I’d say I’m his biggest fan, but I’m sure you can find a lot of people who would say that.”
Ed Keenan: “This is a crazy business. There are times when people are screaming and yelling and going in ten different directions. But Ricardo always has everything together.”
Alan Hopper: “Boxing is filled with bullies and people who have way too much testosterone. Ricardo is the antithesis of that. He’s one of the nicest people I’ve met in my life, in or out of boxing.”
Ricardo Jimenez was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, on November 28, 1955. His father worked in a shoe repair shop owned by Ricardo’s grandfather. When Ricardo was ten, his oldest brother finished high school and wanted to go to college.
“Two things were important in my family,” Jimenez says. “Sports and education. But my father couldn’t afford the tuition; so he moved to Los Angeles to work in a shoe factory, where he could make more money and send money home for my brother’s tuition. Then he became a foreman in the factory and brought the rest of us to Los Angeles. I was in fifth grade. I didn’t speak English. So in school, I sat with the fifth-grade kids in math, history, and science. But in reading and writing, I had to sit with the second-grade kids for two hours every day.”
Ricardo graduated from high school and took a job in the mailroom at an insurance company. He also enrolled at Cal State-Fullerton University, where he registered for night courses. Eventually, he was placed in charge of the mailroom. In 1983, he graduated from college.
Three years later, opportunity knocked. La Opinión, which is sold throughout southern California, is the leading daily Spanish-language newspaper in the United States. In 1986, the paper sent two of its five sports reporters to Mexico to cover the World Cup. That left a void at home, and Jimenez was hired on a temporary basis.
Ricardo’s English was flawless by then. His Spanish was another matter. “I spoke Spanish well,” he says. “Writing was a different game because my schoolwork had been in English. Everybody in the sports department took me under their wing, and the copy editors helped me a lot.”
After three months, La Opinion offered Jimenez a permanent job. The “Anglo” sports (football, basketball, and tennis) became his turf. He was the paper’s go-to guy for the Los Angeles Lakers and Oakland Raiders. He covered ten straight Super Bowls. In 1997, he was named acting sports editor and became the paper’s boxing writer. One year later, “acting” was removed from his title.
Good things happened to Jimenez at La Opinion. He enjoyed his work. He learned at lot. He met a woman who was a reporter for the metro section and would ultimately become his wife. They were married in 1998 and have two daughters (Alejandria, age ten; and Elizabeth, eight).
“But the paper began to change,” Ricardo says. “The sports staff was cut. More and more editorial decisions were made based on the budget instead of what news was important. I got tired of working so hard and not being able to cover sports the way I thought we should. It wasn’t fun anymore.”
In November 1999, Jimenez traveled to Las Vegas to cover a WBO super-flyweight title bout that was co-promoted by Top Rank. On the day of the weigh-in, Lee Samuels asked him, “Do you know anyone we can hire to help with publicity on the Spanish shows?”
“How about me?” Ricardo suggested.
“Would you leave the newspaper?”
“And Lee said nothing,” Jimenez remembers. “Then, right after Christmas, I resigned from the paper. I had to slow down. I’d had enough. It was time to do something else. I told myself, ‘I’ll manage a McDonald’s franchise if I have to.’ I just wasn’t happy there anymore.”
A few days later, Samuels telephoned.
“I heard you quit.”
“Can you fly to Las Vegas this afternoon and meet with Bob? We’ll have a ticket waiting for you at LAX [Los Angeles International Airport].”
“I flew to Las Vegas that afternoon,” Jimenez recalls. “The first thing Bob said to me was, ‘This is not an interview. There’s a job here for you. I just want to know what happened at the newspaper; why you left.’ I told him how I loved writing and loved sports; but things at the paper had gotten so I was worrying more about business than writing and sports. He offered me a job that day.”
Jimenez joined Top Rank on January 15, 2000. The company had a monthly show on Univision and was about to add a monthly show on Direct TV. The first fight card that he worked was a January 22, 2000, match-up between Julio Alvarez and Israel Cardona. One month later, he was assigned to Marco Antonio Barrera’s camp during the build-up to Barrera-Morales I.
“Since then, it has been one fight after another,” Ricardo says. “My job is primarily public relations. Anything from Top Rank that comes out in Spanish, I write. I deal with scheduling for all of Top Rank’s Hispanic fighters. I set up interviews. I translate for them. I get them to the TV fighter meetings.”
But it’s more than that. Jimenez is the face of Top Rank for the company’s Hispanic fighters. If they need tickets, they go to him. If they need hotel rooms or an airport pick-up for a family member or girlfriend, they go to him. Whatever it is, they go to Ricardo.
“I love what I do,” Jimenez says. “I love boxing. I’ve been watching fights since I was a kid. The travel gets to me sometimes; especially being away from my family. But I really enjoy the relationships I have with the fighters. It’s all worthwhile when they thank me after a fight for what we’ve done together. I love it when their kids come up and hug me. And Top Rank is such a good company to work for. Lee is the best. Lee taught me most of what I know about my job. And it all starts with Bob. Bob knows that not every fight will be a home run, but he treats every fight like it can be. He expects everyone at Top Rank to be professional and do their job. But he lets us do our job and shows appreciation when we do.”
The fighters that Jimenez has worked with since joining Top Rank include Erik Morales, Jose Luis Castillo, Jorge Arce, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr, Juan Manuel Lopez, Antonio Margarito, and dozens of lesser-known warriors. Then there’s Miguel Cotto, who occupies a special place in Ricardo’s heart.
“I’d never been to Puerto Rico until I went with Bob after the 2000 Olympics to announce the signing of Miguel Cotto, Ivan Calderon, Ruben Fuchu, and Edwin Algarin,” Jimenez recalls. “I still remember; Bob gathered all four fighters together before the press conference and told them, ‘If you do your job, we’ll do our job.’”
Two of the four fighters did their job; the other two couldn’t. Ricardo views the matter from his own personal perspective when he says, “To see Miguel Cotto grow from the day we signed him to where he is now brings great joy to me.”
And when two of Top Rank’s Hispanic fighters face off against one another?
“That can be hard,” Jimenez acknowledges. “Cotto-Margarito was very difficult for me. Cotto is my guy and Margarito is my guy. I worked with Cotto for that fight, and Lee worked with Margarito. Before the fight, I thought it would be okay for me. Then they started fighting. The first six rounds, I was all right because Miguel was winning and neither guy was getting hurt. After that, it got hard to watch. I walked to the back of the arena and watched it from there. I just wanted it to be over. I was happy for Tony that he won because I know how hard he worked, but I felt worse for Miguel. I’ve never watched a tape of that fight. I don’t think I ever will. I saw it once. I don’t want to see it again. Then the handwraps became an issue. I’m disappointed over that more than anything else.”
Jimenez treats everyone in the media with respect, whether they write for a major metropolitan daily or a small Internet site. He’s unfailingly courteous and always returns telephone calls. Whenever possible, he facilitates requests for information and access. Because of his newspaper background, he understands what writers need.
“Ricardo goes above and beyond the call of duty,” says Tom Gerbasi (one of boxing’s pioneering Internet writers). “He always tries to help you and he’s the best translator out there. We’ve all had the experience of asking a fighter a question and the fighter rambles on in Spanish for thirty seconds and then the translator says, ‘He feels strong.’ Ricardo gives you everything the fighter says. I know that because my wife is Puerto Rican. She listened to one of my tapes and told me, ‘This guy translated every single word.’ Ricardo is one of the best in the business; any business.”
But is Ricardo Jimenez too good?
“I know I’m supposed to learn English,” says former junior-bantamweight champion Jorge Arce. “But Ricardo is so good, why bother?”
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at email@example.com. His most recent book (“An Unforgiving Sport”) was published earlier this year by the University of Arkansas Press.