Forget Cowboys training camp in Oxnard. Forget Ezekiel Elliott's impending holdout, Dak Prescott's contract worries and Jason Witten's exhumation from cold storage. Definitely don't think about Joey Gallo's injured hamate bone, the trade deadline or how many games in a row the Rangers need to win to get themselves back into the wild card chase. This weekend, put all of that stuff on hold and out of your mind, Dallas sports fan, and focus instead on the College Park Center on UT Arlington's campus.
For one night, at least, it's going to be the center of the local sports universe.
Saturday night, Dallas' Maurice "Mighty Mo" Hooker is going to put his undefeated record and WBO super lightweight world championship on the line against undefeated WBC super lightweight world champion Jose Ramirez. The winner will walk away with two championship belts and the likely chance to fight for an undisputed super lightweight world championship sometime in 2020. The loser will tumble to the bottom of the 140-pound division's hill, never to be undefeated again.
Ramirez (24-0) has the better pedigree. He represented the United States in the 2012 Olympics and has been marked for future stardom since turning pro in 2012. Hooker (26-0-3) has the more impressive recent results, having beaten fighters with a combined record of 100-0-1 in his last four fights. Oddsmakers see the fight as something close to a 50-50 proposition, with Ramirez currently listed as a small (-137) favorite.
Hooker's fight against Ramirez is his latest and best chance to make a big name for himself on the local and national scene. It's got real stakes — those two belts and a potential undisputed championship — and is taking place on a weekend without much competing for viewers' eyeballs. With two victories, the South Oak Cliff native can set up his eight kids — Hooker has seven boys and one girl — with generational, life-changing wealth.
"This fight means everything to me," Hooker said Thursday. "I'm ready to go one round, I'm ready to go two rounds, I'm ready to go 12 if I have to, but the way Jose fights I think it's going to end early because he's run right into my right hand."
Hooker won his title belt in June 2018, winning a split decision over Terry Flanagan, 33-0 at the time, in Flanagan's hometown, Manchester, England. He's defended his championship twice over the last year, beating Alex Saucedo in November and Mikkel LesPierre in March.
Were it any other time in Dallas sports history, he'd be an outlier in a city that struggled to produce championship boxers for most of the 20th century. In 2019, however, Hooker's rise means that he's part of a class of three of North Texas' most exciting young athletes, each of whom is getting a showcase in the next couple of months.
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Following Hooker's star turn, Grand Prairie's Vergil Ortiz Jr. is next up. Ortiz turned 21 in March, but is already just a couple of fights away from a title shot. He's 13-0 in his pro career with 13 knockouts, including a third-round KO of former world title challenger Mauricio Herrera on the undercard of Canelo Alvarez's most recent fight in May. Two weeks from Saturday, Ortiz will headline his first major card at home in Grand Prairie, taking on Antonio Orozco in a super lightweight fight at The Theater at Grand Prairie.
Then there's the guy Ortiz and Hooker are both looking up to, welterweight world champ and reigning Observer athlete of the year Errol Spence Jr. Spence (25-0) won his IBF world title in May 2017, beating Kell Brook in front of a partisan crowd in Sheffield, England. In the two years since, Spence has become a bona fide superstar. In March, he won a shutout decision over Mikey Garcia in front of more than 40,000 fans at AT&T Stadium in Arlington and on Sept. 28, he'll get his first chance to unify his title when he takes on WBC welterweight champ Shawn Porter at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Boxing's still a niche sport, but it's found a home in Dallas.