Michel Rivera overcame adversity to deliver his most spectacular win to date.
The unbeaten Dominican graduated from prospect to contender, climbing off the canvas to score a highlight reel, eighth-round knockout of Jon Fernandez in their WBA lightweight title eliminator. Both fighters hit the deck, with Rivera having the last say to end matters at 0:44 of round eight in their Showtime-televised bout Saturday evening at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California.
Rivera used his jab early in the fight, though later reserving the weapon as a range finder for his long right hand that would provide the most damage throughout the fight. The unbeaten Rivera—who now lives and trains in Miami—buckled the knees of Fernandez with a chopping right at center ring midway through the round.
Fernandez fought at his desired pace and range in rounds two and three. The Spaniard protégé of promoter and former middleweight champion Sergio Martinez exploited Rivera’s low punch output in round three, pumping his jab and also connecting with a left hook over the top.
The level of inactivity produced by Rivera prompted an earful from career-long head trainer German Caicedo, who urged the 23-year-old to let his hands go. Rivera responded in kind, considerably outworking Fernandez and reestablishing his straight right hand which landed repeatedly throughout round four.
Another right hand for Rivera rocked Fernandez midway through round five, as it appeared that the unbeaten lightweight hit his stride. Fernandez—normally a volume puncher—was being outworked by his younger foe.
One punch changed the course of the fight in round six, with Rivera suffering the first knockdown of his career. A right hand by Fernandez landed as Rivera dipped to throw a left hook to the body, hitting the canvas midway through the round. Rivera beat the count but was suddenly pressed to fight through adversity as his early lead was drastically reduced by the midway point.
“I could see the power on his record, 21-and-1 with 18 knockouts,” Rivera noted to Showtime’s Jim Grey of the knockdown. “I knew that he had power… I got a little careless in that moment.”
Fernandez continued to apply pressure in round seven, though Rivera did his best to punch his way back into the fight. Neither fighter gave an inch in the tightly contested round, as the fight threatened to turn into a war of attrition.
Rivera put an end to that in a hurry.
A jab pushed Fernandez into position for Rivera to connect with a flush right hand. Fernandez crashed to the canvas, immediately rendered unable to continue by referee Jack Reiss.
“I could see the right hand was there, and the right hand won (the fight),” Rivera noted. “I am the reincarnation of Muhammad Ali!”
Rivera led 67-65 on all three scorecards at the time of the stoppage.
While one punch put an end to the fight, Rivera’s greater accuracy was key in setting up the spectacular finish. Compubox punch stats had Rivera landing 87-of-337 total punches (26%), including 59-of-160 power punches (37%) as he improved to 21-0 (14KOs).
Fernandez was 76-of-330 (23%) in total punches, including 51-of-183 power shots (28%) as he falls to 21-2 (18KOs). The loss snaps a five-fight win streak.
Rivera is now in line to challenge for one of the many WBA lightweight titles in circulation. The win is his second of 2021, coming four months after scoring an eighth-round knockout of Anthony Mercado in a welterweight bout this past February.
“I know that I can beat the top guys,” vows Rivera. “I can position myself into the Top 5 and beat guys like Ryan Garcia. I am here and I am not joking.”
Rivera-Fernandez served as the televised co-feature to WBA interim junior lightweight titlist Chris Colbert (15-0, 6KOs) in a title defense versus 2012 Olympic Silver medalist Tugstsogt Nyambayar (12-1, 9KOs).
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox