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Better times ahead for Ramirez

5/29/2007 - Boxing

What is a fighter? It should be the easiest question I could ever be asked. My whole year is spent going from city to city, studying, interviewing and analyzing fighters.

I watch tapes of the way they move. I read books on how they think. Yet here in the span of a week I have redefined what I know a fighter to be.

On Thursday, my partner Teddy Atlas and I spent the day with severely wounded soldiers at the Walter Reed military hospital. You can watch the news or read the newspaper and assume you understand what that experience may be like. Whatever you would think it to be, it's more than that -- much more than that.

This week I will be ringside to broadcast Marcos Ramirez's 12-round featherweight battle on "Wednesday Night Fights." Likewise, whatever you would think his story to be, it's more than that -- much, much more than that.

Both Marcos and the soldiers left a little something of themselves on the battlefield. For the servicemen Teddy and I tried to comfort, it was limbs, eyesight and innocence on the roadside of Iraq. For Marcos, it was happiness, hope and his heart in a nursery at his home.

It was a January morning last year when Ramirez was awakened by his wife, Rochelle. Just five months earlier Marcos had been riding high. He had won a main event in front of his Kansas City, Mo., hometown fans on ESPN. He was a local hero as a firefighter, and the proud papa to a baby boy, Diego.

Diego Ramirez, born Dec. 7, 2004, was bringing so much joy to the young couple. Marcos was set to give his son a better life than the one he had to endure.

The only concern was his chosen career path. The firefighter/boxer combination can make for a worried wife.

"It's scary, and it worries me, more so him being a firefighter than a boxer," said Rochelle Ramirez. "I see what he does in the ring, what he's capable of -- I'm more confident in his boxing skills. A lot of the fire situations are uncontrollable; you never know what you're going to be faced with."

Yet it wasn't Marcos who first was faced with an uncontrollable situation. On that Friday morning last winter, Rochelle went to the baby's room to check on little Diego. He felt cold. Very cold.

She alerted her husband. The man who works hard to protect and save lives knew instantly his own son's life was in danger.

"He flew out of bed and that's when it came to mind -- oh my God, something is really wrong! And that's when we went in there and just ripped the covers back. When I saw that we were not getting a reaction, that's when it hit. After that it was pure chaos," said Rochelle.

Diego had passed. Thirteen months old. Label it as SIDS, or part of God's plan, the only true definition is unspeakable horror.

"I always thought if I lost a child before I go that I would either take my own life or I would be institutionalized for the rest of my life," Rochelle said.

Marcos said, "I went into depression. It got really bad in this house."

I pray that no one reading this column ever comes close to having to deal with such tragedy. To those who already have been through such tragedy, you know what it means to be a fighter. You know how it feels to experience hurt far beyond what a Mike Tyson uppercut ever put forth. You know how hard it is to go on -- beyond any fatigue the Thriller in Manila ever produced.

Those of you who have buried a child know what real pain is. Not the kind that challenges you to get off the stool for one more round, but the kind of pain that tests you to keep on living, to keep on growing, when the only thing you ever cared to live or grow for is no longer doing either.

My wife's parents and my parents are such fighters. The loss of my wife's brother and my sister gives us an indescribable respect for our mothers and fathers. It's a respect that Ramirez fully understands, but it doesn't lessen his hurt.

"Today, it's an ongoing battle for both of us. It's gotten better with time," the 26-year-old Marcos said. "We started going to church, gave our lives to God. We got reborn, saved, but the pain is always going to be there. There's a chunk of me that died with him, you know? Things are better, but you always have that pain."

Ramirez (24-0, 16 KOs) can get a little of himself back when he steps up against Adailton DeJesus on "Wednesday Night Fights" (Wednesday, 10 p.m. ET, ESPN2) in front of his loyal Kansas City fans. DeJesus is an undefeated Brazilian (19-0, 17 KOs) with lots of South American sizzle both in style and hype.

"I'm not going there just to participate. I'm going there to win," said DeJesus. "I want to get a belt and be in the gallery of Brazilian world champions like Acelino Freitas, like Eder Jofre."

Toppling DeJesus will be a tough task for Ramirez.

"Even the fights I have now, I have to dig down deep to really train hard, to really focus. I try to do my best for God, and I try to use my son as motivation. I know my son's in heaven. I know my son cheers for me in heaven, that's what keeps me going. When I feel like there's nothing here, there's no motivation, I try to think that way, and it helps me," said Ramirez.

Marcos Ramirez is a fighter. He also is a father. Come early December he may even be father to a little boy again.

Rochelle is pregnant. The baby's due date is Dec. 7. It would have been little Diego's third birthday.

Joe Tessitore is the blow-by-blow announcer for ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights."