Super middleweight world titleholder Gilberto "Zurdo" Ramirez has designs on unification fights and someday a place on the pound-for-pound list.
While both goals are probably a ways off, Ramirez did what he was supposed to do in order to keep the prospect alive on Saturday night.
That's when Ramirez, the heavy favorite, dominated Habib "Wild Hurricane" Ahmed en route to a sixth-round knockout before about 3,200 in the main event of the Top Rank ESPN card at the American Bank Center in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Ramirez, the first-ever Mexican to win a 168-pound world title, retained his belt for the third time and, in the process, scored his first knockout in six fights dating to 2014.
Ramirez said before the fight he wanted to score a knockout. He was very aware it had been quite a while since his last stoppage.
"It was really important," he said. "We've been training a lot for this fight, and we were training for a knockout, and we made it. I was trying to hit the body. I kept my belt. It was my night."
It was a spirited fight, but Ramirez, with a longer reach and better skills, was in control for the entire fight. At the time of the knockout, he was ahead 50-45 on all three scorecards.
Ahmed, 27, of Ghana and making his United States debut, had an awkward style, and it led to an accidental head butt that opened a cut over Ramirez's left eye in the third round. But Ramirez was undeterred. He continued to go at Ahmed with combinations and rattled him with a combination later in the third round.
As Ramirez came forward firing punches, Ahmed did his best to hang with him. He landed a few decent shots but was constantly on the move trying to escape Ramirez's pressure, so even when he landed, he did not have much leverage on the punches.
Ramirez (37-0, 25 KOs), a 26-year-old southpaw, chased him all over the place and cornered him in the fifth round before landing heavy head shots, especially with his left hand, that had the crowd cheering.
He continued to land big shots in the sixth round, and Ahmed (25-1-1, 17 KOs) looked to be wearing down. A big right hand rocked Ahmed badly with a minute to go in the sixth round. Ahmed tried to escape, but Ramirez chased him down again. He hurt him to the body and head and was pouring it on when referee Laurence Cole stepped in and stopped the fight at 2 minutes, 31 seconds.
"Zurdo was the better man in the ring tonight," Ahmed said. "I tried, but he was all over me. His experience in big fights was too much for me to handle."
Ramirez's domination was evident in the CompuBox punch statistics. He landed 123 of 406 shots (30 percent), and Ahmed landed only 22 of 190 (12 percent). Ramirez landed at least 14 punches in every round and 40 body shots overall.
Ahmed never landed double-digit punches in any round. In the fourth round, he landed only one punch.
With Ramirez having taken care of Ahmed, Top Rank chairman Bob Arum said he expects Ramirez to fight up to three more times this year, including in May, then in a September defense in Australia followed by another in December.
Eventually, Ramirez would like to face the winner of the eight-man World Boxing Super Series super middleweight tournament, which is in its semifinal stage. World titleholder George Groves and British rival Chris Eubank Jr. meet in one semifinal on Feb. 17, and British contender Callum Smith will face former light heavyweight world titleholder Juergen Braehmer in the other semifinal on Feb. 24. The winners will meet in the final on a date to be announced in May or June.
"I would like to fight with anybody in a unification fight," Ramirez said. "I want to fight the other champions. Anywhere. I don't care. I am ready for anyone. I want the winner of the tournament. I want Bob Arum to make that fight.
"I want to be the best in my division, and I want to be the best pound-for-pound fighter. I want to be the best."
Hart, Lopez shine on undercard
Super middleweight contender Jesse Hart (23-1, 19 KOs) scored a first-round knockout of Thomas Awimbono (24-8-1, 20 KOs), who had never previously been stopped.
The fight was in the light heavyweight division because Awimbono was way overweight at 179.5 pounds, but Hart blew him away in his first fight since an action-packed unanimous decision loss challenging Ramirez for his world title on Sept. 22.
Hart, the son of 1970s middleweight contender Eugene "Cyclone" Hart, dropped Awimbono with a right hand to the body midway through the round. Moments later Hart, 28, of Philadelphia, unloaded a five-punch combination to drop Awimbono, 37, a Ghana native fighting out of Las Vegas, again, and referee Lee Rogers stopped the bout at 1 minute, 28 seconds.
"I really prepared. That was tremendous," Hart said. "I was mentally prepared. It was a lot of mental preparation."
Hart was fighting for only the second time without his father in his corner because he was in Philadelphia under the weather.
"That was very frustrating," Hart said. "That was hard. But my dad is watching back home. This is for you, dad."
Now Hart wants a rematch with Ramirez.
"I want that rematch as bad as I can taste it," he said. "I can't sleep knowing that loss is on my mind. I have to avenge that one. I want him. My eyes are locked on him."
Blue chip lightweight prospect Teofimo Lopez Jr. (8-0, 6 KOs) overcame a bad cut caused by an accidental head butt to dominate Juan Pablo Sanchez (30-15, 14 KOs) en route to a lopsided victory. The judges scored it 60-54, 60-54 and 59-55.
Lopez, 20, of Las Vegas, who fought in the 2016 Olympics for his parents' home country of Honduras, fought as a junior welterweight because Sanchez, 29, of Mexico, came in very overweight at 144.5 pounds, but the size difference did not help him.
Lopez's speed, power and skills were far superior. However, an accidental head butt in the second round left Lopez with a deep cut over his left eye. It bled for the rest of the fight, but Lopez never seemed in distress and did not panic.
He rocked Sanchez with a left in the fourth round and doled out major punishment in the fifth round when he forced him to the ropes and connected with several punches in a sustained flurry.
Lopez is due back on March 17 on the Jose Ramirez-Amir Imam undercard, but the cut probably will sideline him for that card. Sanchez lost his third fight in a row and for the fourth time in his last five fights, but he has gone the distance in each of them.