They were born 62 days apart in 1973. They debuted 16 days apart in 1992.
And they won championships on the very same day – May 6 – in 2006.
So it’s no surprise Jose Antonio Rivera feels a particular connection to Oscar De La Hoya.
A connection so strong, in fact, that he’d still like to pick a fight with him.
At age 47.
“That is a fight I always wanted,” said Rivera, who was capturing a WBA title at 154 pounds from Alejandro Garcia at the same time De La Hoya was beating Ricardo Mayorga for the WBC belt.
“There were talks of Garcia vs. De La Hoya to unify after that night but I upset Garcia and De La Hoya went in a different direction. I think the De La Hoya fight would’ve been tough in the early rounds and I felt my superior conditioning and constant pressure would’ve helped me in the middle and later rounds. I always vision myself winning any fight I am in. I can’t see it any other way.”
Rivera, who lost his crown to Travis Simms in January 2007 – four months before De La Hoya dropped his to Floyd Mayweather Jr. – retired as a full-time fighter a few years later and went all-in on his job as an officer in the Massachusetts Court System.
He returned to the ring for individual wins in both 2018 and 2019 to boost his Rivera Promotions Entertainment enterprise, and renewed his interest in the “Golden Boy” when De La Hoya suggested earlier this year that he plans a comeback of his own.
And though Oscar insists he’ll jump into the fray against a legitimate top-10 opponent, Rivera claims a fight with him would provide a far better – and safer – barometer as to where he stands after a would-be career-ending loss to Manny Pacquiao in 2008.
He penned an open letter to De La Hoya to formally propose a challenge a few weeks back, but said he’s yet to receive a response.
“I do not think (him fighting a top-10 foe) is a good idea,” Rivera said.
“I think he should get in the ring with a former two-division world champion who is exactly his age who has been more active than him so he can test himself out first. Many boxing people think that will be a great first fight back for De La Hoya. We have two former world champions, both 47 years old, it has the Mexico vs Puerto Rico rivalry and two styles that will make for a great fight.
“I will leave it in De La Hoya’s hands. In the end he has to do what is best for him.”
Now a father of four, Rivera turned pro at age 19 and won his first 23 fights before a split-decision loss and a technical draw in the back half of 1996. Thirteen wins in his next 15 fights – including a KO of Frankie Randall – preceded a majority-decision defeat of Michel Trabant for the WBA’s welterweight title in 2003. He dropped the belt to Luis Collazo via split decision in his first defense, then moved up to beat Garcia for the aforementioned belt in his first outing at 154.
Losses to Simms and Daniel Santos followed in his next two fights in 2007 and were followed by a single win in 2008 and two in 2011, before a seven-year hiatus that ended in 2018.
“A lot of boxers put their eggs in one basket and have nothing else to fall back on,” he said. “I am fortunate to know as much as I love boxing and believed I would become a world champion someday that boxing is not forever. That is why I never quit my full-time job. I am now going on 20 years. So I do not box or promote shows to feed my family. It’s for the love of the sport.
“Besides boxing while working a full-time job, in my career I have had trainer issues, manager issues, promoter issues and personal family issues. Fighting and continuing to push through a lot of personal stuff I say is one of the hardest things a boxer can go through. Physically you can be in the best shape in the world, but if mentally you are not there it’s all for nothing. Any boxer will tell you if on fight night you are mentally, physically and spiritually strong, you feel invincible.”
As for his impression of De La Hoya, he’s always been a fan.
“I like how he used his speed and distance at the same time. One minute he was in front of you, the next he is hitting you with four, five-punch combinations and when the boxer goes to counter he is gone,” Rivera said. “That worked a lot early in his career because he was young and had fresh legs.
The “Golden Boy” won championships in six weight classes – from 130 to 160 – but was just 8-6 in his last 14 fights after starting his career at 31-0. He won title belts against Javier Castillejo, Fernando Vargas, Felix Sturm and Mayorga after his first blemish against Felix Trinidad, but also lost post-Trinidad championship fights to Shane Mosley (twice), Bernard Hopkins and Mayweather.
“You could notice his transition as a more experienced pro as he got older,” Rivera said. “He won fights more with his experience than relying on his speed alone. I think he became more of a complete boxer after the Trinidad loss, which shows we boxers can grow and get better after a loss.”
And Rivera said he’ll be just fine, too, even if De La Hoya never replies.
He and son AJ operate the promotional company that’s designed to provide opportunities for New England fighters who might not otherwise get a chance. The firm has produced eight events thus far but is in a pandemic-related standstill for the time being.
The optimism, though, hasn’t missed a beat.
“I am blessed and grateful that I have been able to achieve my goals and dreams after I felt my life was over when I was orphaned at 10 years old,” he said. My motto growing up in life has been ‘Believe In Yourself. Work Hard. Never Give Up.’”
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
Vacant IBO super featherweight title – Fondi, Italy
Patrick Kinigamazi (No. 31 IBO/No. 50 IWBR) vs. Michael Magnesi (Unranked IBO/No. 68 IWBR)
Kinigamazi (32-2, 4 KO): First title fight; Won 14 straight fights since 2012 (14-0, 1 KO)
Magnesi (17-0, 9 KO): First title fight; Two stoppage wins in two scheduled 12-rounders
Fitzbitz says: OK, unless you’re among the hardest of the hardcore, this fight isn’t on the radar. But we’ll take a crack. Magnesi is far younger and seems to have more pop. He wins. Magnesi in 10 (60/40)
WBC minimum title -- Nakhon Sawan, Thailand
Wanheng Menayothin (champion/No. 2 IWBR) vs. Panya Pradabsri (No. 3 WBC/No. 13 IWBR)
Menayothin (54-0, 18 KO): Thirteenth title defense; Eight decisions and four KO/TKO wins in 12 defenses
Pradabsri (34-1, 22 KO): First title fight; Never lost a fight in Thailand (32-0, 21 KO)
Fitzbitz says: He doesn’t create fireworks but Menayothin is a darling of the purist set thanks to a pristine record. Pradabsri is a legit foe, but not a noteworthy threat. Menayothin by decision (95/5)
Last week's picks: 1-0 (WIN: Crawford)
2020 picks record: 32-6 (84.2 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,149-371 (75.6 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.