Boxing Saved The Life Of Two-Division World Champion "El
Gallo" Jose Antonio Rivera
Like many boxers, two-division world champion "El Gallo"
Jose Antonio Rivera credits boxing for saving his life.
"Absolutely," Rivera agreed. "After my mom passed away when
I was 10 years old, I gave up on life and my decision-making
reflected that: hanging around with the wrong crowd
including gang members, consuming alcohol between the ages
of 10 and 15. I was definitely going in the wrong direction.
"I never thought I had a future until I started boxing. It's
hard to say what I'd be doing if I had never boxed, but by
the way I was living, I'd probably be in jail or dead by
Born in Philadelphia, Rivera lived in Puerto Rico and
Springfield, MA, prior to him moving to Worcester, MA, where
he met a man who helped change his life, Carlos Garcia, who
was in charge of a special boxing program at the Worcester
Boys & Girls Club.
Rivera had started boxing at the age of 14 ½ in a basement
with his friend, Felix Lopez. He had fallen in love with
boxing after watching Roberto Duran upset "Sugar" Ray
Leonard in their first fight. The young Puerto
Rican-American specifically used his amateur boxing
experience to prepare for the professional ranks. Garcia,
who is in the National Golden Gloves Hall of Fame, put him
in a novice match after only one amateur fight in order to
put Rivera on the fast track, because he understood that
Rivera dreamed of becoming a world champion as a
professional. Rivera finished with a 35-15 amateur record,
highlighted by a bronze medal performance at the PAL
"I never had big amateur aspirations but, of course, I
wanted to win every fight I competed in," Rivera said. "Once
I didn't qualify for the Olympic Trials, my plan was to turn
pro. I didn't know how much the amateurs would groom me to
be a successful professional boxer. I'm glad I listened to
my coaches, otherwise I would have turned pro earlier,
because I would get frustrated with the politics of the
amateurs. I hated losing, but I hated losing even more when
I knew that I should have won. After three years together
(with Garcia) in the amateurs and gaining a great wealth of
experience traveling all over New England, the country and
even fighting in Canada, I saw all types of styles and
talented boxers that helped me as a pro. Carlos is like a
father figure to me and during all of our training and
travels, he was always in my head, building me up to become
a good boxer, but also to help me become a better man."
On November 7, 1992, Rivera made his pro debut, knocking out
Francisco Mercedes in the second round. He went on to win
his first 23 pro bouts, including the Massachusetts State
welterweight title in 1995. His first pro loss was to
veteran Philadelphia fighter Willie Wise (20-3-4), who won a
controversial 10-round split decision at Foxwoods Resort
Casino in Connecticut. Rivera had proven that he was more
than a prospect in his first loss, losing a close decision
(98-95, 94-97, 94-96) to an opponent that upset Mexican icon
Julio Cesar Chavez (102-3-2) only three years later.
Showing the same resiliency that stayed with Rivera his
entire career, two fights later Rivera stopped Gilberto
Flores in two rounds to capture the International Boxing
Organization (IBO) world welterweight championship. Rivera
extended his new win streak to seven, before losing back to
back fights. Four fights later, though, Rivera registered
his first statement victory in 2001, knocking out Frankie
Randall (55-10-1) in the 10th round to retain his North
American Boxing Association (NABA) crown in his first
Now promoted by legendary Don King, Rivera traveled across
the Atlantic Ocean in September 2003 to Germany, where few
Americans were able to win. Rivera proved early that he
meant business, dropping previously undefeated Michel
Trabant in the second round en route to winning a 12-round
majority decision for the vacant World Boxing Association
(WBA). His reign, however, didn't last long. In his first
defense, Rivera lost a 12-round split decision at home in
Worcester to challenger Luis Collazo (24-1)
Rivera moved up one weight class for his next fight, showing
the resiliency that was a staple during his career for his
next fight, also at home, against WBA junior middleweight
World champion Alexandro Garcia (25-1).
In his next fight and first defense of his third world
title, Rivera was stopped for the first time in his pro
career, by new champ Travis Simms (24-0), and then he was
knocked out by Daniel Santos (24-0) in round eight of their
WBA junior middleweight title eliminator.
Rivera retired in 2008 only to make a comeback in 2001,
after which he retired again until returning for two fights
in Worcester to complete his pro career with 50 fights, the
last coming at the age of 46.
"Jose's USA Boxing experiences shaped him into the man of
character he is today, both in and out of the ring," said
Chris Cugliari, USA Boxing Alumni Director. "He took the
road less traveled for a world champion, and in doing so he
showcased his toughness and perseverance that made him a
great example for today's USA Boxers."
Rivera was a true working world champion. Few world
champions also had full-time jobs during their title reigns.
Rivera used vacation time, as well as personal and sick
days, when he went to training camp for some of his major
"I always had a good work ethic growing up," he explained.
"When I moved to Worcester at 16 years old, I lived by
myself: school, work, and then to the Boys & Girls Club to
train. I kept the same work ethic I had at 19 when I turned
pro. I became a father at 20, so providing for my family was
essential. Although it was hard, I knew boxing wasn't going
to last forever, and I was lucky enough to find a good job
working for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Trial Courts.
It made for long days when I was training, especially when I
was fighting for or defending my world championships. In the
end, though, keeping my job was the best decision I could
have made for me and my family."
Rivera. who was an Associate Court Officer for years and
promoted last year to Assistant Chief Court Officer, is
still involved in boxing. He and his oldest son, A.J.
Rivera, own and operate a boxing promotional company, Rivera
Promotions Entertainment, to give young fighters in his area
opportunities to fight more often and at home. Jose
occasionally drops by the Boys & Girls Club to visit his
former coaches, Garcia and Rocky Gonzalez, to support their
young talent. He also goes to his friend Kendrick Ball's
gym, Camp Be Right, to give young fighters there a few tips
and to keep in shape (not for another comeback).
Jose Antonio Rivera will be best known for his toughness and
determination, which led him into a different life,
including three world championships and a wonderful life he
never would have enjoyed.