As I trawl through the upcoming fight schedule, as has been my habit this past twenty years, looking for an angle, a name, a story, I realised I have borne witness to the arc of a thousand careers. Watched young, fresh-faced fighters climb from the foot of the bill, to their personal mountain top, however modest it may prove, and then succumb to the inevitable descent. Back to the darkness and all too frequent anonymity that waits beyond the glare of the lights. Old, tired and damaged.
On one low-key card in Mexico on Friday night (12th March), I was intrigued to note the name of Cosme Rivera. A 19-year-old professional with an embryonic 3-0 record it turns out. The name doesn’t hold the same resonance as Benn or Hatton or Tsyzu, all of whom have sons who now punch for pay, but for this writer, it brought back to mind a rugged and capable Welterweight of the same name who once came to England to box James Hare.
Follow the fight game for long enough and your age will be reflected back to you in the faces of the off-spring of heroes now long retired and with the same grey temples, thickness of middle and lined face as your own. 2021 could be decorated by the progress of Campbell Hatton, son of Ricky. It may also be illuminated by Conor Benn in world-level fights, and cause fans to comment on whether Australian Tim Tszyu is a worthy custodian of the family name.
All of those sons follow in the footsteps of greatness or notoriety. Enjoying the lucrative reflections cast by their fathers as well as the genetic predisposition they have for the fight game. Boxing can be an unscrupulous world and while nepotism would be as unfair in boxing as it is in any other commercial endeavour, it would be a long way down the list of problems the sport is currently consumed by. The power of a father who can open doors, has the ear of promoters and who’s name encourages engagement with broadcasters and their audiences, can not be underestimated. Their involvement presumes to offer a protection of sorts too, although Julio Cesar Chavez Snr. always appears enraged that his son cannot do what he found so natural. So there are risks too, but experience of the boxing business bestows a certain wisdom it is hard to begrudge to a fighter.
It isn’t a new phenomenon, scores of fighters have trodden in their father’s steps down the years. From Joe and Marvis Frazier, Leon and Cory Spinks, to Alan and Ross Minter, sons who grasped the baton left by their famous fathers. More recently, daughters have joined the charge too, Joe Frazier’s daughter Jacqui fought Laila Ali, daughter of Muhammad, in the first PPV headlined by a women’s boxing match in 2001.
Any uncomfortable reminder of our own mortality and passing youth caused by the young faces of Tim Tyszu and Conor Benn, is no more acute than it must have been for fans in the past. Notable historic episodes include Jersey Joe Walcott fighting Phil Johnson in 1936 and then his son Harold in 1950, a trick repeated by Joe Bugner when he fought the self-same Marvis Frazier in 1983, a decade after tangling with his father, Smoking’ Joe.
Cosme Rivera Snr., as he is presumably now referred, was not a fighter of Joe Frazier’s distinction, nor Kostya Tsyzu’s. He was however a capable man. Remarkably, or perhaps predictably, aged 44, he is yet to retire. He most recently boxed to a 4-round loss in January. Far removed from his prime, and presumably, the hard, rugged and precise practitioner he was back then. January’s loss was his seventh in a row, eroding his record to an undistinguished 42-31-3 (29ko). It is a long way from trading punches with Zab Judah for the Unified Welterweight title as a mandatory challenger in 2005.
The fight with Judah was the culmination of a strong run that led him to 28-7-2 when he contested the title. In the prelude to that fight, he fought in England against the streaking James Hare, a neat and in-form, counter puncher who was 28-0-1 going in. Rivera proved too fresh, too busy and too strong and relieved Hare of his lightly regarded WBF belt. A surprise at the time, and a reverse from which Hare would arguably never recapture the form or belief that led him to that point.
In conversation, Hare is sanguine about the loss, his first and the last in a punishing sequence of 7 fights in 13 months; “I was never the most confident fighter”, Hare relayed to me this week, “but looking back that fight, it should never have happened. It’s easy afterwards to say this or that. You could say maybe we were inexperienced. I was jaded for sure. But nobody would speak out, me included!”. The Yorkshireman turns 45 himself this year, he retired in 2006, aged 30. Their fight in 2003 remains vivid, as losses rather than wins often do and Hare was surprised to learn his old adversory was still boxing, “I remember when I boxed him thinking, ‘how can this fella be younger than me?’, it was only a few months but he looked weathered back then. Nothing really stood out about him, he just beat me to to the punch every time. I was seeing the shots but just couldn’t slip or counter them. He didn’t buzz me”.
Hare was stopped in the 10th of the scheduled 12, tired and behind on points, a compassionate towel recognising it was better to preserve the then 27 year old for other nights; “After a few rounds I had to try and chase the fight, which isn’t my style. Perhaps, if I’d stayed on the back foot then maybe I only get beat on points. Rivera carried on his run. I remember speaking with Ed Robinson [Sky Sports’ Presenter at the time] before Rivera boxed Judah, he fancied Cosme, but as we know he got blown away [stopped in 3 rounds]. A shame, I think if he got into it then [in 2003/4] it would have been a good fight.”
That was then, this is now. Rivera Senior is not alone in punching for pay into his forties, it is a topic well covered here in recent months. Precious few opt to hang them up at 30, like James Hare did and pursue an alternative life. Like the converging arcs of their careers, boxing is all about timing. Some stay too long, some escape unharmed.
Rivera’s son, who bares a remarkable resemblance to his father, is assured of curiosity thanks to the deeds of his father. He takes a significant step up in his 4th bout, facing Leanardo Chavez, 7-1-1, over 4 rounds. Chavez is the first opponent with a winning slate Rivera Jnr. has encountered since he debuted in 2019, the teenager will need to shake off the pandemic induced ring rust if he is to preserve his unbeaten record.
No doubt his father will be looking on from ringside, a face ruddy with pride and concern, and ribboned with the scars of two decades as a nomadic prizefighter.