Heavyweights aren’t supposed to look like Oscar Rivas anymore. A nudge over six feet tall. 230 pounds. He is a compressed anomaly in a forest of giants. From Fury to Joshua and back to Wladimir, heavyweights have got bigger, taller, heavier. Not necessarily better, but bigger. For every Gypsy King there is an Alexander Ustinov after all.
Heavyweight contenders don’t tend to emerge from Colombia either. It is birthplace for skilful Light-Welters like Antonio Cervantes or Flyweight greats like Fidel Bassa and Irene Pacheco, not heavyweights. True, Bernardo Mercado laid Trevor Berbick out flat in ’79, and overcame Earnie Shavers a year later, but the hard head from the cattle ranch capital of Colombia, Monteria, never did land the title shot, losing to Neon Leon in a final eliminator in late 1980. Heavyweights do, however, come from Canada, the scene for Mercado’s upset win over Berbick, the home of Tommy Burns, who held the title a century or more ago, and Sam Langford, the greatest fighter never to land a shot at the championship. It also where a then 21-year-old Rivas settled 12 years ago, having left the Amateur vest of his homeland to begin a career in the paid ranks.
His journey as a prize fighter continues next week against former foe, and deposed Canadian Cruiserweight champion, Sylvera Louis. I had the chance to speak to Oscar this week about his long overdue return to the ring, that Dillian Whyte fight and the possibility of contesting a Bridgerweight title this summer.
The fight against Louis will be Rivas’ first since his break out performance against Dillian Whyte in the Summer of 2019 and his first since signing with American powerhouse Top Rank a year ago,. “I am very excited to be to be fighting again on the 16th and I’m very happy that my management team has managed to organise the fight. I’m so motivated to show my best. My training has been good, and the past year here in Canada has offered me the support I needed to come back. Boxing is in my blood. It’s my passion.”
In their first encounter, Rivas and Louis were, essentially novices professionals, and boxed to a tight points decision in the Colombian’s favour. The COVID pandemic, and the travel limitations and inactivity it has imposed, has been a source of frustration for fighters around the globe. For Rivas, with his reputation enhanced even in defeat to Whyte, Louis represents a step back, one enforced by the convenience of geography; “My objective has been the same since long before I turned professional 12 years ago. I want to win a World Championship belt and I won’t change that until I do. My management team has worked so hard to organise fights in 2020 but because of COVID we had to cancel a fight in March in Quebec City, and June in the US which was meant to be my debut alongside Top Rank.”
The connection with Bob Arum’s Top Rank, despite the changing landscape and emerging promotional and broadcast competitors, bodes well for Rivas’ prospects of landing significant fights as the international lockdowns ease. It is a relationship prompted by Rivas’ performance in defeat to highly ranked Brit Dillian Whyte, Rivas’ floored Whyte in the 9th round of a competitive bout. Aside from the battle between the ropes, controversy swirled outside them afterward too. Whyte and the promoter, Eddie Hearn, didn’t disclose a failed A’ Sample test to Rivas and his team, the revelation emerged post fight and added a sour note to his first setback. The B’ Sample result has never, to this writer’s knowledge, been publicised.
“My last fight with Dillian is unforgettable for me for so many reasons! Contentious for a variety of reasons. I knew before the fight I belong [at World level] and I proved it in the fight. Since then I have used all the time to improve myself, to make sure I’m at my best, to be in the best condition possible to make sure I was ready for the next opportunity after COVID.”
Being ready is a point of discussion in the modern era with lower levels of activity now commonplace and with many domestic level fighters battling to remain solvent, retain sponsorship and be ready for ‘that’ call. Despite the difficult situation he was submitted to, unwittingly, in the Dillian Whyte fight, Rivas is all too aware that the UK, home to Fury, Joshua, Whyte and now Joe Joyce too, is a lucrative market in his division. Thankfully, he has fond memories of his time in England. Rivas explained; “The experience in England and London has been amazingly unforgettable because of the hospitality I received in London. At all levels the fans in England are so passionate and fantastic. I can’t wait to go back there and give my best for them! I’ll never forget that fight and the contested outcome for various reasons but I am a fighter and I proved to English fans and the boxing world that I don’t back down on nothing and nobody.”
It is the fighter’s creed. To resist negative thoughts, to look forward, to not concede to weakness or regret. A pragmatism that Rivas adopts and one which is infectious in conversation. A mindset that led Rivas, and his lifelong friend, Eleider Alvarez to leave Colombia as young men in pursuit of their dream, aware even then, that the North American Market and a trainer as capable as Marc Ramsey would be necessary to maximise their potential. “The decision to come to Montreal was easy. Everything was done for us. I knew it was right then and it is reconfirmed after all these years. We’ve stuck together, Marc, Yvon Michel, my promoter and my manager Stephane, we’re all close friends now. Getting to Canada was a bit of an adventure but we recognised you need a world class trainer like Marc Ramsey, and his recruiting efforts convinced us to come to Canada. Eleider and I are very close friends, from the same background in Colombia and we shared an ambition.”
The ambition still burns bright. The chase for the heavyweight championship shot, the Whyte fight was for a spurious Interim version of the WBC title, continues to drive Rivas as the boxing industry emerges from the hibernation of lockdown. Ambition underpinned with a pragmatism that presents the newly inaugurated Bridgerweight division as potential target too. “I have respect for the big names, the heavyweight division is full of talented boxers, but I am second to no one. I can become the next Heavyweight Champion of the World, but me and my team are working hard….we are close to finalising a fight for the Bridgerweight Championship in June against Bryant Jennings. The WBC have accepted, I’m optimistic that fight can happen.”
Should Rivas win on the 16th, a June date with Jennings appears a progressive next step and will be a strategic chip in his quest for a heavyweight opportunity. There is a long queue for title shots as the weight class waits on the unification between Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua, with Oleksander Usyk, Deontay Wilder, former foe Dillian Whyte and latterly, Joe Joyce ahead of him presently. Busyness will be his friend.
As will the pragmatism and drive that brought him to this point.
My thanks for Claire Couturier in facilitating this interview.