It is becoming a familiar story in sports: Boy meets drugs. Boy likes drugs. Boy likes drugs too much. Boy loses career. Boy sees the light.
Familiarity, however, need not breed contempt. No matter how many times it is told, the story remains poignant.
The latest to tell it is Alex Ramos, a middleweight who enjoyed an incredible amateur career (198 wins in 207 fights with 168 knockouts), turned pro at age 19 and never flinched, winning his first 18 professional fights.
Then it all started to come apart. There were drugs and alcohol and parties and women. Ramos stumbled in the fast lane. He started losing. He left his native New York and moved to Arizona. He changed managers.
But he wouldn't change his life style.
Finally in November of 1984, Ramos was stopped in the ninth round by James Kinchen in a Lake Tahoe fight.
Ramos had had enough.
"I never lost to fighters because they were better than I was," he says. "I lost to myself. I was really down in the dumps after the Kinchen fight. For the first time, I gave up on myself. I didn't take care of myself. I was confused. I didn't know which way to head.
"I had to decide what I wanted to be--a bum or a champion. I figured, all the years I put in in this sport, I've got to get something out of it. It was either that or getting a job pumping gas, and I was not going to do that.
"There were a lot of people against me. I just decided to buckle down and do what I had to do."
Ramos decided to come to Los Angeles where his good friend, Hector Camacho, was training under Jimmy Montoya.
Ramos put himself under Montoya's control, and the results have been dramatic. Ramos licked his drug problem and then went on to lick four of his last five opponents, losing only a close split decision to Charles Carter.
"I told him I would handle him as long as he followed my rules," Montoya says. "He's stayed with me and become like a son. He's straightened out. The big thing was to get rid of his old environment, getting rid of the crowd he was hanging around with. The girl he's with now, Tracey, has helped a lot, too."
In August, Ramos won the California middleweight championship by knocking out Fred Hutchings of Stockton in the fifth round.
"I've been clean for two years and I plan to stay that way the rest of my life," Ramos said. "I'm proud of how far I've come."
But Ramos, now 26-4-2 with 20 knockouts, hopes the journey has just begun. After all, at age 25, he's young enough to still be taken seriously as a title contender.
But is he ready to step into the middleweight division's top 10?
He may find out Nov. 21, the night he steps into the ring at the Reseda Country Club. His opponent, in a fight to be televised by ESPN, will be Michael Nunn of North Hollywood, 19-0 with 12 knockouts and ranked 10th by the World Boxing Assn. At stake will be Ramos' state title.
Nunn has not only won all his fights, but almost every round of every fight with a dancing, jabbing style that has left frustrated opponents swinging at a whirling image they never seem able to catch.
Montoya dismisses Nunn in two words, the second of which is "Nunn."
"After a few rounds, I'll know what to do," Montoya says.
"Nunn is a good runner," Ramos says. "I've seen him box. I've also seen him in trouble. Who has he fought that is a veteran? Name one world-class fighter."
The only time Nunn was in trouble was in March when Carl Jones knocked him down in the first round of a 10-round Las Vegas bout. Nunn immediately got up and won the remaining nine rounds.
Nunn's best opponent has been Mike Tinley, a top 10 fighter and a two-time winner over middleweight Robbie Sims. Nunn easily outpointed Tinley over 10 rounds in Atlantic City in September. Nunn followed that up with a first-round knockout over Orlando Paulding at the Country Club just two weeks ago.
"He's a runner," Ramos said of Nunn. "He's got 12 rounds to run, but I plan to catch him. It's a square ring. Whoever I tag goes down. I'm ready. The old Alex Ramos died two years ago."
Nunn shrugs off such talk.
"I don't plan on running," he says. "But in order for me to get to my destination--the title--there are going to be guys out there like Alex Ramos."
Guys with a story. And how does that story conclude?
Ramos has already written the ending in his mind: Boy turns into man. Man meets top 10 fighter. Man beats top 10 fighter. Man becomes champion.