Worcester, Massachusetts is the second most populous city in the six New England states. The small industrial borough of roughly 200,000 is home to former three-time world champion boxer, Jose Antonio “El Gallo” Rivera (41-6-1, 24KOs). At 45 years old, Rivera is poised for a comeback in the sport he left behind seven years ago to fight on the same card as his son’s professional debut.
Jose became a father in 1993, at age 20, just shy of eight months into his professional boxing career. Jose’s son, Anthonee Jose “A.J.” Rivera, was born with spina bifida, a rare neural tube defect which manifests itself as an incomplete closing of the backbone and the membranes surrounding the spinal cord. At his mother’s first ultrasound appointment, physicians informed the Riveras of his condition, expounding that A.J. was unlikely to walk and that he would require the assistance of a wheelchair for mobility. His life expectancy was an estimated 19 years, during which he would need to intermittently drain excess fluid surrounding his brain and employ a colostomy bag. However, at birth, a thin layer of skin shrouded the spinal void, thus retaining the fluid which would have otherwise undermined his nervous system. Now 24 years old and exuding tenacity, not only can A.J. walk, he is slated to become the first professional boxer to have been born with his affliction.
Jose and A.J. are also business partners, working in tandem as licensed boxing promoters within their family-owned promotion company, Rivera Promotions Entertainment, through which they have organized a 5-fight deal in the city of Worcester. Another milestone, their scheduled bouts on August 17th will mark the first instance in which a father-son boxing promotion team has ever fought on the same card. A.J. will compete at welterweight (<147 lbs), while Jose will fight as a middleweight (<160 lbs), his natural weight class in which he had fought in his most recent contests in 2011. Jose is the only Massachusetts boxer to have won world championships in more than one weight class (welterweight: International Boxing Organization [IBO] Championship, Apr. 25, 1997; World Boxing Association [WBA] Championship, Sept. 13, 2003 and super welterweight: World Boxing Association [WBA] Championship, May 6, 2006.)
I spoke with Jose and A.J. in April, 2018 regarding their upcoming spectacle:
Tyler C. Belec [TCB]: “How were you first introduced to boxing?”
Jose Antonio Rivera [JAR]: “I used to watch boxing on TV with my dad, brother, uncle, and cousins. We used to look forward to getting together to watch the big fights.”
TCB: “When did you first introduce A.J. to boxing?”
JAR: “He was 5 years old when he had his first exhibition bout.”
TCB: “Did his condition prevent him from being able to do certain things while boxing?”
JAR: “Not sure. At 5 years old, when training him, I just focused on the basic mechanics. We were not training hard like he is training now, or like I trained him when he was 15 to 18 years old.”
TCB: “Does the high activity level from boxing appear to help in keeping his condition controlled?”
JAR: “I think today, besides the minor back pains he gets, he is good and doesn’t show any negative reactions to his boxing training.”
TCB: “When did A.J. begin competing?”
JAR: “He started competing officially at 15 years old. He only had about 15 amateur bouts. I think he was 8-7 and was able to win the Rocky Marciano Tournament.”
TCB: “What does it mean to A.J. to be the first professional fighter with spina bifida?”
JAR: “It means a lot because I feel that he is giving other kids and adults suffering with spina bifida hope! It lets them know that they don’t have to limit themselves because of their handicap.”
TCB: “When did you decide you wanted to train for another fight?”
JAR: “I officially made my mind up around the holidays last year.”
TCB: “What does it mean to you [Jose]to be fighting on the same night as your son?”
JAR: “I am excited about the possibilities! I will say the ‘possibilities’ because it’s not official until the day of the fight, when we are both able to enter the ring against our respective opponents. After that night happens, I think we will both be able to look back at it with pride because we’d talked about this opportunity many years ago.”
TCB: “What does it mean to you [A.J.] to be fighting on the same night as your dad?”
A.J. Rivera: “It means a lot. I’ve been through the whole journey of my dad’s career from beginning to end with him, and it feels great to be able to top that journey off with both of us fighting together on the same card.”
The Riveras have partnered Chuck Shearns of Granite Chin Promotions, whom will promote the event, which will take place on Friday, August 17th, 2018 at The Palladium at 261 Main Street, Worcester, MA 01608; their respective opponents TBA. Ticket information will be publicly available soon.