“El Gallo” Jose Antonio Rivera Steps into the Dog House: Through God All Things Are Possible!
INTERVIEW By Ken Hissner, Dog House Boxing (Nov 17, 2014)
“El Gallo” Jose Antonio Rivera
“El Gallo” Jose Antonio Rivera knew what hard times were by the time he was 10. His parents broke up when he was 1 ½ and his mother died when he was 10. By the time he was 16 he moved out on his own to pursue his dream of being a world champion boxer.
At 18 by 1991 Rivera was the New England Golden Glove champion. He won a Bronze medal in the National PAL tournament. His trainer from the start was Carlos Garcia. His manager was Steven Tankanow. His sister Maria Rivera was his lawyer.
In Rivera’s 15th fight he won the Massachusetts State welterweight title. Funny, since he beat Troy Smith, a cousin to Olympic Gold medalist and later world champion Meldrick Taylor. He was rolling along and in his 22nd fight he faced Sal Lopez, 17-1-2, a former USBA champion back “home” at the legendary Blue Horizon. In the 5th round referee Charley Sgrillo (now President of VBA Ring One) called a halt to the fight giving Rivera his biggest win to date.
In Rivera’s next fight in June of 1996 he defeated Mohamed Moka, 21-13-1, of the Congo who was fighting out of Canada, and defeating him at Foxwoods Resort, Mashantucket, CT. The following month Rivera would face defeat for the first time in his 24th fight losing to Willy Wise, 20-3-4, by split decision in 10 back at Foxwoods. Wise was the USA NY state champ. He would go on to defeat Julio Cesar Chavez 3 years later.
Rivera would then have a rematch with Troy Smith which ended in a 2nd round technical draw. It would be 6 months later when Rivera would capture the IBO title defeating Gilberto Flores, 25-17-2 in 2 rounds on a cut from a right hand in the 1st round that worsened. He followed this up with a good win over Teddy Reid, 8-1, over 10 rounds. He would win his 7th fight in a row defeating former NABF and IBO champion Kip Diggs, 30-4, stopping him in 5 rounds.
Things seemed to be going good for Rivera until his next fight when he lost a majority decision to Pat Coleman, 25-5, back at the Blue Horizon in Philly. Next he lost to former IBC champion Robert “Push Ups” Frazier, 17-4-2.
Rivera would start a new win streak defeating Patrick Byrd, 14-6, brother of Chris Byrd, for the NABA title, in Miami, FL. This followed with a 10th round stoppage over Frankie Randall, 55-10-1, the former WBC/WBA light welterweight champion in a NABA title defense. He would then stop in 6 Reading, PA’s, Bobby Heath, 25-9-5, who was coming off back to back fights defeating Michael Covington, 23-1, in Atlantic City and a draw with James Wilson, 10-1-1, in Philly.
In 2002 Rivera only fought once but 14 months later he got a vacant title fight due to the fact champion Ricardo Mayorga was upgraded to “super champion” of the WBA. He traveled to Germany to fight one of their own in unbeaten European champion Michel Trabant, 38-0, in Berlin. In the 2nd round Rivera dropped Trabant with a right to the head just prior to the bell. He would upset the apple cart defeating Trabant by majority decision over 12 rounds in September of 2003 to win the WBA world title.
It would be 19 months before Rivera would defend his title meeting southpaw Luis Collazo, 24-1, in Worcester, losing by split decision and his title. Strange as it may sound 13 months later Rivera defeated Mexican Alejandro Garcia, 25-1, for the WBA light middleweight title over 12 rounds in Worcester.
It would be 8 months later when Rivera would travel to Hollywood, FL, in his first defense against southpaw Travis Simms, 24-0, losing in the 9th round due to technical stoppage. The “southpaw” curse once again saw him defeated. He would take on another southpaw 9 months later at Madison Square Garden, losing to former WBO champion southpaw Daniel Santos, 30-3-1, in the 8th round. That was the third southpaw in 4 world title fights he fought losing to all 3.
It would be 10 months later when Rivera would look for a career ending win defeating Clarence “Sonny Bono” Taylor, 13-16-2, in Worcester over 8 rounds. It’s never easy for a boxer to retire and Rivera was no exception coming back 27 months later to defeat Luis Maysonet, 32-11, in Worcester over 8 rounds. Just 2 months later he ended his career defeating Paul Mpendo, 7-7-4, at the Mohegan Sun Casino, in Uncasville, CT, over 8 rounds. This brought his record to 41-6-1 with 24 knockouts.
Rivera had 31 of his 48 fights in Massachusetts and only 1 fight out of the country when he won over Trabant in Germany. He became a Worcester County court house officer. He had an acting part in the movie “The Fighter” starring Mark Wahlberg.
KEN HISSNER: Why did you leave a fighting city like Philly for Worcester?
JOSE RIVERA: I was only 2 years old so it wasn’t my choice. My mother moved to Massachusetts to be close to family.
KEN HISSNER: How did you and Philly’s Troy Smith end up fighting for the Massachusetts State title?
JOSE RIVERA: He was training in Brockton, Massachusetts at the time at the Petronelli’s legendary boxing gym.
KEN HISSNER: How was it going back to Philly fighting Sal Lopez at the legendary Blue Horizon in 1996?
JOSE RIVERA: I felt very confident and comfortable.
KEN HISSNER: How fair was your first loss to Willy Wise?
JOSE RIVERA: Fair. He caught me on a good night and fought a good fight.
KEN HISSNER: You won your IBO world title in 1997. I was 2 fights after Wise fight and rematch TD with Troy Smith. Did it surprise you even getting the shot?
JOSE RIVERA: Actually it did. But I felt I was being rewarded for my past accomplishments. Not being penalized for a split decision loss and a fluke TD.
KEN HISSNER: You beat Teddy Reid, 8-1, in your next fight who was to be a good fighter. How come you never defended your IBO title?
JOSE RIVERA: I was stripped of my IBO title due to injury.
KEN HISSNER: Your return to the Blue Horizon must have been a disappointment losing to Pat Coleman by majority decision.
JOSE RIVERA: I was very disappointed. I knew it was going to be a very tough fight, but I only have myself to blame for letting the victory slip.
KEN HISSNER: Back to back losses to Coleman and then Robert “Push Up’s” Frazier must have been a low point in your career?
JOSE RIVERA: Very low. Low point in all aspects. Life, career, everything!
KEN HISSNER: You come back with 6 wins including stopping Frankie Randall in a NABA title defense. Was that a big win in Atlantic City for you?
JOSE RIVERA: I thought it was a great win for me to show I belonged. Randall is an experienced veteran who taught me a lot in that fight. I had to dig down deep for that victory!
KEN HISSNER: With Ricardo Mayorga becoming WBA Super champ you get title shot in Germany against their 38-0 Michel Trabant though being inactive for 14 months. Why the inactivity and before it was announced did you feel you would get the decision in his home country?
JOSE RIVERA: I went through promotional changes. Fights fell out and I got sick before a fight in Vegas. I did not go to Germany to leave it in the judge’s hands, so I didn’t think about that.
KEN HISSNER: You win the world title and don’t fight for 19 months and then have to meet southpaw Luis Collazo who makes everyone look bad. Why the layoff and how did you feel about losing the split decision and your title?
JOSE RIVERA: Same problem I was facing before. Fights fell through. I went through an injury and then my opponent went through an injury so we settled for the Collazo fight.
KEN HISSNER: You come back 15 months later moving up in weight and defeat Alejandro Garcia for the WBA light middleweight title. Was it a surprise getting the title and defeating him so easily?
JOSE RIVERA: I feel I got the fight because of the war in my hometown in front of 12,000 rowdy fans and we knew I was moving up in weight win or lose against Collazo. I prepared for a tough fight against Garcia which made the fight not as grueling as I was expecting.
KEN HISSNER: You defend against another southpaw in unbeaten Travis Simms who was inactive for 27 months and lose in the 9th. What happened?
JOSE RIVERA: I couldn’t tell what happened. I just wasn’t myself. And Simms caught me with a good shot on the nose which deviated my septum. I wasn’t hurt but bleeding a lot and blood always makes things look worse.
KEN HISSNER: You fight your third southpaw in 4 fights in an eliminator losing to Daniel Santos in 8 rounds. Was fight a southpaw the biggest problem for you?
JOSE RIVERA: Southpaws in general are tough, but in the 1st round I caught Santos with a good shot but after than my game plan went out the window making me a one dimensional fighter and easier target. Santos caught me with a good shot in the 9th round that dropped me and when I got back up to continue I see the ref waving and stopping the fight. I look at him like “what are you doing?” The ref points to my corner showing they are saying enough.
KEN HISSNER: Ten month later you beat “Sonny Bono” Taylor. Did you think it was your last fight?
JOSE RIVERA: I didn’t. I was hoping for a fourth world title fight but saw I was not being supported by my promoter, so I retired after the Taylor fight.
KEN HISSNER: You come back 27 months later with a good win over Luis Maysonet and then your final fight in July of 2011. At age 38 did you finally know you were done?
JOSE RIVERA: I felt good but knew my timing was not there, but was feeling good with my defense and how I was winning fights with experience to make the fight easier. I was hoping now I was no longer having promotional issues I could get myself in the right position for a fourth world title opportunity. At 38, though I did not have the patience and time to deal with the shenanigans of boxing. Promoters don’t want to take the chance with their prospects or fighters and the ones that do or will don’t want to pay.
KEN HISSNER: I know losing your mother at age 10 it was normal blaming God. When did you accept the Lord and was that a major factor in your career and life?
JOSE RIVERA: I was 14 years old and my life was spinning out of control and I felt it was time I stopped fighting and blaming God so I reached out for help and as usual God was there to pick me right up!
KEN HISSNER: It was great interviewing you. Any parting words for people how the Lord can make a difference in their life?
JOSE RIVERA: Thank you for taking your time. My motto is live by faith and not by fear and trust God so you can always persevere. As you can see in my interview I had to overcome a lot of obstacles and set back. I never worried because I put my life in God’s hands.
Please send all questions and comments to Ken Hissner at: Kenhissner@gmail.com
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