Our Local Spotlight series continues with local boxer and owner of The Warrior Boxing Academy, Josue ‘JD’ Rivera. Rivera’s inspirational story was recently the focus of a mini-documentary by Coors Light that spotlights hometown heroes. In addition, Coors Light has completely revamped Rivera’s South Philadelphia boxing gym. We spoke with JD Rivera about his start in boxing in Puerto Rico, his eventual move to Philly, his dream fight, and his favorite South Philly cuisine, We think it’s a real knock-out. Enjoy! [Interview was originally conducted on May 18]
Independent Philly: What initially attracted you to boxing?
JD Rivera: I used to be, when I was younger, a gang leader, and was leaning in that life and that direction. One day I was sitting and watching boxing on ESPN with my step-father and we saw Emanuel Burton and he was very entertaining and I said, “You know what? I would like to change my life and maybe start doing that,” and he laughed at me said, “That would never happen; you’re almost 30 years old, you’re overweight, becoming a professional fighter takes a lot of focus and dedication”. That was pretty much the challenge set. From that moment on I walked into my first boxing gym in Puerto Rico, which was owned by Freddy Trinidad, Felix Trinidad’s uncle. He also thought it was a joke, me being there at my age. Then he put me in a ring, I knocked down one of the guys, and he was surprised. From there he took me in and started training me and I moved to Daniel Santos’ camp. Then I was in Alfredo Gomez’s camp with Ivan Calderon. Then I moved down here to Philly, on the whim of someone promising me a job. I sold everything, moved down to Philly, and there was no job. I got a job as a bouncer and started saving my money little by little. I joined a gym, Joey Eye’s boxing gym, and I became friends with Jimmy Washington Jr., son of Jimmy Arthur who is in the boxing hall of fame here in Philly, and he started training me and then we got together, we opened up a gym, and everything started going great. He had Alzheimer’s and eventually had to go to a home and I stuck with it and it’s been going great. Coors, like a miracle, heard about my hard work and dedication and got a hold on me and now they are doing this series of commercials with all of the people who are really trying to improve their lives. All this has happened and it’s just been a blessing.
Independent Philly: Is your biggest drive as a fighter the fact that you were told that being a boxer was a pipe dream and you’d never be able to accomplish it?
JD Rivera: In the beginning it was and it was a challenge. Then it [boxing] became like my religion. Boxing helped me out in so many ways: becoming a better person, being calmer, setting goals, and now it’s just not about proving anything to anybody but myself. I love the art, I love boxing. It’s not just the sport, I love the discipline and the way you have to live your life. As I said, it almost became like my religion where I have to dedicate myself and really try hard to get where I am, especially at my age with me being 40 and still active and fighting and competitive. Also, owning my own gym; boxing is my life, it’s what I do to be happy. That’s my drive: every day, waking up and boxing.
Independent Philly: Do you get more satisfaction out of fighting your own bouts or from training other boxers?
JD Rivera: I love boxing. I love to train guys and see them get ahead. If I can motivate them and help them get ahead when I train them and coach them, I’ve had my boxers come to matches and they win and yeah, there is no feeling better. But there is also no better feeling than when you, yourself, come out victorious, because the biggest challenge in the ring is you against yourself. It’s like a big mental game and as long as your believe in yourself, every time you’re in that ring you become a better person, win, lose, or draw. You really find out a lot about yourself.
Independent Philly: What advice to do you have for anyone looking to break into the world of boxing?
JD Rivera: Never give up, no matter what they say. You’re going to have people tell you to quit, tell you that maybe it’s not for you. You do what you feel in your heart is right. My greatest advice is: never give up. If you feel in your heart that you can do this, and it’s what you want to do, then there is nobody who can tell you that you can’t.
Independent Philly: You have a fight coming up this Saturday, May 20, do you have any expectations for the bout?
JD Rivera: I’m going to knock him out in the second round.
Independent Philly: If you could fight anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?
JD Rivera: I would like to fight [Floyd] Mayweather. Why? Because I want to see how good I really am.
Independent Philly: Your diet must be pretty strict while training for a fight but when you have a cheat day, what is your favorite Philadelphia food to eat?
JD Rivera: I really like Italian food. Anything in South Philly, like at Mama Mia’s restaurant they have the best spaghetti and meatballs, and stuff like that. That’s my favorite South Philly food, Mama Mia’s restaurant. At tonight’s event, that’s another thing that’s happening that’s great. They are doing this whole big event at my gym. My whole gym has been redone. They got a ring, they spent vast amounts, they donated so much that it’s amazing, it’s like a dream come true, not only with the commercial that showcases my story but with the donation of giving me a new ring, and all the new equipment so I can help out all the children. It’s literally a miracle because I work so hard, for six years I’ve been working so hard and now I get this recognition. That’s a boxing meter, everyone is always looking for the guys who are on top but there are the guys who are trying to come up, the hungry guys, the ones who are working hard and really risk it all just for a couple bucks to get that glory, you know? The other guys are fighting for millions of dollars, and we are fighting for pennies and are just trying to make our families proud. That’s a real warrior.
Independent Philly: As you mentioned, Coors Light has put out this commercial/documentary and spent a lot of money on your gym. Tell us a little more about that.
JD Rivera: It’s my gym but they’ve bought everything from the ring to the ropes to you-name-it. They didn’t miss anything, they crossed all the t’s and dotted all the i’s. They really helped me out 100%. Tonight they are showing the documentary and showing all the members how they [Coors Light] really appreciates how someone is really trying for everyone else. I can’t even put into words how happy I am about the whole situation. It’s really cool, it really is.
“We wanted to go beyond just telling Rivera’s story and invest in him, his gym and the community,” said Anne Pando, Coors Light Marketing Manager. “Coors Light donated equipment and gear that will help Rivera continue his mission to improve the lives of people through boxing. The donation ranges from protective gear and training equipment to a brand new boxing ring as a centerpiece for his gym.”
Independent Philly: Tell us something about yourself that would surprise or even shock our readers.
JD Rivera: In the beginning I was 30 years old and I trained myself until I started meeting all of the trainers. Right now I’m 40, I’m fighting a guy who’s 20 or 19. I look in great shape, I don’t even look like I’m 40 and no one would even think that. I did a lot of things that people wouldn’t know. I totally changed my life around to the person I am today, from the person I was in the past. It wasn’t easy but it made me who I am today. It made me stronger, wiser, and I went through a lot of rough stuff but I guess it was God’s plan, you know?
Due to a travel glitch, JD Rivera’s planned bout on May 20th, did not take place. However, he is currently organizing an amateur fight-night at his gym on June 16th and he is also looking for a new fight in the area that he can contend in. To further show its commitment to community heroes, Coors Light will pay for JD to open his gym, The Warrior Boxing Academy, to the public and allow Philly residents above the age of 21 to train for free this Summer. Warrior Boxing Boot Camp will take place each Saturday from June 3 to September 16 and will feature personal instruction by JD Rivera.
[Interview by David Miller]
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