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.)