Top Rank promoter Bob Arum has a nickname for a close-knit trio of young, undefeated world titleholders he promotes.
“We call them the ‘three amigos.’ The have such a great camaraderie,” Arum said of featherweight Oscar Valdez, super middleweight Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez and junior featherweight Jessie Magdaleno.
They will each defend their belts on Saturday night on pay-per-view at the StubHub Center in Carson, California, having trained with each other for their tasks at hand.
While preparing for a prize fight is often a lonely endeavor done in relative solitude with just a few people in the camp, the three titleholders spent their training camps working side by side at trainer Manny Robles’ The Rock gym in Carson, where they became each other’s support system and developed close friendships in a family atmosphere.
Where: StubHub Center in Carson, California
TV: PPV, 9 p.m. ET
• Featherweights: Oscar Valdez (21-0, 19 KOs) vs. Miguel Marriaga (25-1, 21 KOs), 12 rounds, for Valdez’s title
• Super middleweights: Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez (34-0, 24 KOs) vs. Max Bursak (33-4-1, 15 KOs), 12 rounds, for Ramirez’s title
• Featherweights: Shakur Stevenson (0-0) vs. Edgar Brito (3-2-1, 2 KOs), 6 rounds, featherweights
• Junior featherweights: Jessie Magdaleno (24-0, 17 KOs) vs. Adeilson Dos Santos (18-2, 14 KOs), 12 rounds, for Magdaleno’s title
Robles trains Valdez and Magdaleno and opened his gym to Ramirez, who is trained by Hector Zapari and managed by his father, Jesus Zapari, whom Robles has been close to for more than 20 years. The result was a happy training camp where they pushed each other day in and day out, helped each other and commiserated with each other.
“We all feed off one another as coaches and as fighters. Once you’re here, it rubs off on you,” Robles said. “It’s like a family. We all understand what’s at stake, we’re in this similar situation, they’re all world champions. They know what it took to get here. We all support each other. We’re all in this together is the way I look at it.
“From my point of view, as a coach, you have to create that atmosphere in the gym and keep it positive. Everyone gets treated well and with respect and is welcome in the gym.”
Valdez said he loves the atmosphere of Robles’ gym and training alongside his pals.
“We all help each other out and all prepare together,” Valdez said. “It helps us a lot because we push each other all the time. Me and Jessie and Zurdo are great friends. We see each other working hard and we have the same goal to be great fighters. We’re all world champions and we know what the other guys are dealing with, so we help each other out.
“We just give good talks to each other, give each other little hints, stuff like, ‘you’ll catch him this shot,’ or ‘work on this.’ We’re just great friends and want to help each other out. We’re gym partners. We cheer each other up if someone is having a bad day or struggling with their weight. We try to pump each other up.”
Arum likened the arrangement to a sports team and also compared his trio to trainer Emanuel Steward’s famed Kronk Gym team from the 1980s, which include fighters such as Thomas Hearns, Hilmer Kenty and Milton McCrory, and trainer Lou Duva’s group of 1984 Olympians that included Evander Holyfield, Pernell Whitaker, Mark Breland and Meldrick Taylor.
“They push each other, and if one guy wants to slack off, the other two will push him,” Arum said. “These guys are always performing when they practice at a top level because they don’t want to be embarrassed before their peers. They have a bond. It’s a remarkable thing.”
Valdez (21-0, 19 KOs), 26, of Mexico, will make his second title defense when he squares off with mandatory challenger Miguel Marriaga (25-1, 21 KOs), 30, a dangerous puncher from Colombia, in the main event. Marriaga has won five fights in a row since facing Nicholas Walters for a vacant featherweight world title in June 2016 and losing a unanimous decision the day after Walters was stripped of the belt for failing to make weight.
Ramirez (34-0, 24 KOs), a 25-year-old southpaw from Mexico, will make his first defense against Max Bursak (33-4-1, 15 KOs), 32, of Ukraine, in the co-feature. Ramirez won the title by shutout decision against Arthur Abraham last April, but has been out of action since because of a knuckle injury that required surgery.
Magdaleno (24-0, 17 KOs), a 25-year-old southpaw from Las Vegas, took a big step up in competition in November and edged Nonito Donaire to win his belt. He will make his first defense against Adeilson Dos Santos (18-2, 14 KOs), 25, of Brazil.
The card will also feature a pair of 2016 Olympic medalists making their professional debuts. Featherweight Shakur Stevenson, 19, of Newark, New Jersey, who claimed silver in Rio de Janeiro, will face Edgar Brito (3-2-1, 2 KOs), 22, of Phoenix, in a six-rounder that will be part of the telecast. In an untelevised bout, junior welterweight Fazliddin Gaibnazarov, 25, who won a gold medal for Uzbekistan, will face Victor Vazquez (7-2, 3 KOs), 21, of Yonkers, New York, in an eight-round bout.
Valdez said having Ramirez and Magdaleno around throughout camp made getting through it easier.
“If I surrounded myself with guys who want to go out and eat at night or go to the movies, I’m being distracted,” Valdez said. “But with Jessie and Zurdo, we stay focused on the No. 1 objective, which is to win.”
Ramirez said he is happy he decided to train in Southern California.
“They are my friends,” Ramirez said. “Sometimes we run together in the morning. We have a friendly competition. I’m really glad I train with them. It’s an honor to fight here in L.A. with these two guys. I see them training hard and it’s motivating to me. We are the future of boxing.”
Arum said he has received such good reports from the training camp that he hopes they will continue to train together. While they won’t regularly fight on the same card, he hopes to keep them fighting around the same time so their camps will at least overlap.
“They have great, great personalities and they really get along. They’re really nice kids,” Arum said. “They’re all in their 20s with bright futures. The way we hope to plan things is to keep their fights in proximity to each other so we can keep them in camp together.”
As far as Robles is concerned, it’s the perfect situation for everybody involved.
“It’s a special relationship. They have a bond,” Robles said. “All three boys are similar in age; they like the same music, they get along very well and they respect each other. They enjoy each other’s company at the gym and there are no egos.
“This is what I always say to my boys — you guys spend more time at the gym than with your families, so you better love what you do. We try to make it a positive environment and leave the negative outside. We keep a smile in their face, keep them motivated and they put in the hard work.”