A report by Richard Sandomir for the New York Times.
Sugar Ramos, a Cuban featherweight boxing champion who was best known for winning a title fight that led to the death of his opponent, Davey Moore, and that prompted calls to abolish the sport, died on Sunday in Mexico City. He was 75.
The World Boxing Council, which announced his death, said the cause was cancer.
The Ramos-Moore featherweight match took place on March 21, 1963, at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on a card that included Emile Griffith, who was defending his welterweight crown against Luis Rodriguez. A year earlier, Griffith’s barrage of blows against a defenseless Benny Paret at Madison Square Garden caused his death.
Moore, the reigning champion, was favored. But in the 10th round Ramos took over, weakening the wobbly Moore with every punch and knocking him down. Twice, Moore hung over the ropes, fatigued and battered.
When the round ended, he did not come out of his corner, conceding the fight to Ramos. Moore spoke to a television interviewer in the ring afterward and to writers in his dressing room.
But shortly after crying out to his manager, Willie Ketchum, “My head, Willie, it hurts something awful!” Moore fell unconscious, slipped into a coma and was taken to White Memorial Hospital.
There, Ramos visited Moore’s wife, Geraldine Moore, and told her he was sorry.
She forgave him and, according to an article in The New York Times, said: “I realize it’s hard for you to know you aren’t the one to blame. But I’m closest to Davey, and I’m asking you not to take it that way.”
Gov. Edmund G. Brown of California and two lawmakers swiftly demanded state legislation that would outlaw boxing. The legislature tightened boxing regulations in the state but never banned it.
Moore died three days after the fight. A panel of doctors that had examined footage of the fight said that he died from the blunt force caused when the back of his skull struck a ring rope — a kind of whiplash — as he fell late in the 10th round. An autopsy found that hemorrhages around Moore’s temples had most likely been caused by Ramos’s punches.
Ramos initially resented how Moore’s death had overshadowed his victory.
“It was my night, my glory,” he told Sports Illustrated in 1964. “I won fair and square. I beat him after he almost knocked me silly in the seventh round. I came back and beat him good. Then he dies, and nobody remembers that Ramos fought a good fight and won.”
Moore’s death would not be forgotten. Bob Dylan wrote and performed a song about the fight, “Who Killed Davey Moore?” His lyrics indict the referee, the crowd, the “gambling man,” the manager and the boxing writer before he gets to Ramos, whom he imagines saying:
I hit him, yes, it’s true,
But that’s what I’m paid to do.
Don’t say ‘murder,’ don’t say ‘kill,’
It was destiny, it was God’s will.
Ultiminio Ramos Zaqueira was born on Dec. 2, 1941, in Matanzas, Cuba. He grew up poor, one of 11 children, and cut sugar cane. He left school after the fourth grade to shine shoes. His father had boxed and guided him into the sport.
“He always told me I had to be someone in life and in boxing,” Ramos said of his father in an interview with The Los Angeles Review of Books in 2013.
Although small for the ring — he was listed at 5 feet 4½ inches tall — he had a powerful upper body. He claimed that he had always won street fights.
“That was one tough way to fight, chico, with fists, no gloves,” he told Sports Illustrated in the 1964 interview. “Only one time I get hit hard is when I come home and Mama beat me up for fighting. But I don’t say I lose to her. I don’t fight back with Mama.”
He was fighting professionally by 15, on his way to a record of 25 wins and one draw. One of those victories, against Jose Blanco in 1958, foreshadowed the fatal bout against Moore. Blanco died of a brain hemorrhage four hours after his match with Ramos.
After Fidel Castro banned all professional sports in Cuba in 1961 (he preserved amateur ones), Ramos left his family and moved to Mexico.
Ramos resumed boxing four months after Moore’s death and continued to win. His split-decision victory in May 1964 in Ghana over the Ghanian Floyd Robertson was vacated by a government agency, which sided with fans in concluding that Robertson had won. However, Ring magazine, the leading American authority on boxing, recorded it as a win for Ramos.
A few months later, in a match staged in a bullfighting ring in Mexico, Ramos lost his featherweight titles to Vicente Saldivar after failing to answer the bell for the 12th round. He never held another championship belt.
Ramos later moved up to the lightweight division and lost two fights against the champion, Carlos Ortiz, in 1966 and 1967.
Ramos fought until 1972, ending his career with a loss in Los Angeles to Cesar Sinda.
He was reported to have four children. There was no immediate information on survivors.
Ramos was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2001.
In a statement, the World Boxing Council said that Ramos was “joyful, witty and irrepressible outside business hours” and a “pure fireball of punching potency” inside the ring.