Gilberto "Zurdo" Ramirez has vacated his super middleweight world title, paving the way for it to be filled by the bout between Billy Joe Saunders and Shefat Isufi on Saturday.
Ramirez sent WBO president Paco Valcarcel an email in recent days thanking him for the opportunity to hold the organization's world title and informing him that he planned to fight in the light heavyweight division going forward, so he was relinquishing the 168-pound belt.
Ramirez's decision did not come as much of a surprise. On April 12, Ramirez boxed at light heavyweight and knocked out former world title challenger Tommy Karpency in the fourth round on the Vasiliy Lomachenko-Anthony Crolla undercard in Los Angeles.
Ramirez had said he wanted to campaign at light heavyweight but would consider returning to defend his title at super middleweight if there was an offer for a major fight. But without one in the offing and admittedly struggling to continue making 168 pounds, Ramirez vacated.
There should be notable fights for Ramirez at light heavyweight, where his promoter, Top Rank, is loaded. The company promotes or co-promotes world champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk, world titleholders Artur Beterbiev and Sergey Kovalev, as well as former titleholder Eleider "Storm" Alvarez and former world title challenger Sullivan Barrera.
Top Rank vice president Carl Moretti told ESPN that although Ramirez vacated the title, there was no set direction or planned fight yet for Ramirez, whose fiancée recently gave birth to their son, Franco.
Ramirez (40-0, 26 KOs), a 27-year-old southpaw from Mexico, won his title by shutout decision against Arthur Abraham in April 2016 in Las Vegas and went on to defend it five times, including twice in hard-fought decision wins over Jesse Hart.
With the belt vacant, the fight between former middleweight world titleholder Billy Joe Saunders (27-0, 13 KOs), 29, of England, who is moving up to super middleweight, and Shefat Isufi (27-3-2, 20 KOs), 29, of Germany, will be for the title.
The bout was originally supposed to be for the vacant interim title before Ramirez gave up the belt. Saunders and Isufi are scheduled to fight on Saturday (ESPN+) at the Lamex Stadium in Stevenage, England.
Saunders, a big favorite in the bout, said if he wins, he hopes to lure unified middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez into a fight. Alvarez also holds a secondary super middleweight title, which he won from Saunders' countryman Rocky Fielding by third-round knockout in December.
"I would love the Canelo fight, but does he want to fight me? I don't think so," Saunders said. "If they do want to fight me, ring me up. I am not asking for millions. Just be fair with me and we can get the show on the road. Canelo has cemented his name, made good money and is a superstar in the sport. I wouldn't say he is avoiding me, but there are plenty of people he can pick apart from Billy Joe Saunders. That is a fact. Who wants to fight a slick southpaw who is hard to hit?"
Saunders said he would be willing to fight Alvarez in the division of his choice.
"It could be middleweight or super middleweight," Saunders said. "I want the big fights and that is a reason I am moving up to super middleweight. I cannot get the big fights at middleweight." If Saunders wins on Saturday, he also has designs on a unification bout with countryman Callum Smith.
"Callum is a good fighter and big, but I think people go on about size in this sport too much," Saunders said. "We saw (small heavyweight) David Haye beating (300-plus-pound) Nikolai Valuev. Size doesn't matter in this sport. If you're good enough, you're good enough, and I believe I am good enough to beat Callum Smith. That is a fight I would entertain."