If the punch that knocked him down hit hard, it was nothing compared to the question asked to Rafael Espinoza by his veteran trainer Manny Robles.

“I broke my ankle,” Espinoza told his cornermen upon returning to his stool after getting dropped by Robeisy Ramirez’s hard right hand to the head that caused Espinoza’s right ankle to twist gruesomely as he fell near the end of the fifth round.

Robles asked the question that contained both concern and motivation.

“Do you want us to stop it?”

Mexico’s Espinoza (24-0, 20 KOs) knew what the depth of that query was exploring.

Did he have the pain tolerance for this? Did he have the courage for this? Did he want something more from his life?

“No, I don’t want to stop!” Espinoza roared to Robles. “I’m going to be champion of the world!”

Espinoza, 30, recounted the intense exchange recently as he was interviewed by ProBox TV Espanol.

Thanks to the resolve, Espinoza rallied to knock down Ramirez in the 12th round and won the emotional bout in Pembroke Pines, Fla., by majority decision scores of 113-113, 114-112, 115-111, advancing to the first defense of his WBO featherweight belt Friday night on ESPN+ from the Fontainebleau Hotel in Las Vegas.

Espinoza will meet Mexican countryman Sergio Chirino Sanchez (22-1, 13 KOs). Sanchez’s lone defeat is to former featherweight champion Mauricio Lara in 2018.

“We are just as hungry … there is always something more,” Espinoza said during the interview. “When we face Mexicans, we want to show we are the best of us. It’s certainly going to be a big fight. I’m very ready.”

Jumping right to such a high-ranked contender was “without problem,” Espinoza said, “because we want to prove we are the best. What better than [by fighting] a Mexican.”

Another may loom for Espinoza since Mexico’s Luis Alberto Lopez (30-2, 17 KOs) will defend his IBF featherweight belt in August versus Angelo Leo (24-1, 11 KOs). 

Both Espinoza and Lopez are promoted by Bob Arum’s Top Rank, the American promoter for Japan’s unbeaten super-bantamweight champion Naoya Inoue, whom Arum said will move up to featherweight in 2025 and pursue a fifth division title.

Whoever emerges from these two 126-pound fights as a unified champion will be in ideal position to land Inoue’s featherweight debut bout.

“That moment (of the knockdown and injured ankle) made the fight change completely and this great (title) fight happened because of that blow.”

Espinoza said embracing that notion – “if you want to be champion, you have to stand up” – pushed him through the pain, as Robles encouraged him to start piling up rounds to address the damage of the fifth round.

When the final scorecard was read, Espinoza fell to his knees, overcome by the emotion of what he had proved to himself.

He retreated to his locker room, and pulled out a pre-fight note he had written to himself:

“By the end of the day, you’re going to be a world champion.”

He displayed the note to his training team as proof of his self-confidence, which he calls upon again for Friday’s bout.

“I’m trying to compete against myself,” Espinoza said. “I’m ready to win.”

Read the full article here