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Forgotten Warriors: Wilfredo Rivera

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  • Forgotten Warriors: Wilfredo Rivera

    A world class welterweight who was robbed twice against Pernell Whitaker and gave Oscar de la Hoya and Shane Mosley tough fights, Wilfredo Rivera was a Puerto Rican top contender in the 90s who was not a puncher but more a tough boxer with some power. At 5'11, he was a tall welterweight and has a reach of 72 inches. He had a long career, spanning from 1988 to 2005 (with a shorter layoff in between) and fought for a world title 3 times, twice against Whitaker and once against De la Hoya.

    He was born 4 May 1969 in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico. As amateur, he was a member of the Puerto Rican team, but he wasn't chosen for the 1988 Olympics, as the PR boxing federation instead preferred Harry Arroyo. He had 51 wins and 6 losses as amateur. As he could not compete in the Seoul OG that summer, he chose to turn pro on 2 April that year, first fighting at lightweight. He won his first 6 fights, 2 by ko, before fighting future world champion Leavander Johnson and drawing against him, 12 September '89 in Atlantic City. It was Rivera's fourth fight in USA. Between April and September '93, he participated at the Forum welterweight tourney and on 9 September beat Stephan Johnson by UD to win the tourney, at Great Western Forum in Inglewood. He was 23-0-1 when he was chosen as the next opponent of the WBC welter champion Pernell "Sweet Pea" Whitaker, 12 April '96 in Atlantis Casino on Cupecoy Bay, St. Maartens island. Ike Quartey vs Vince Phillips was on the same card. In the main event, the young Rivera outboxed and outlanded Whitaker, to everyone's surprise, landing 193 blows to Whitaker's 187. He was however only given the victory by one judge, while the other two scored it for Whitaker. Whitaker had been a 5-2 favorite and afterwards blamed his poor performance on the flu. Also Harold Lederman had Rivera winning, 115-113. They had a rematch on 20 September, this time in Miami. In the fifth round, Rivera landed a body shot that put Whitaker down, but in the next round he was first penalized for a low blow and then knocked down by a straight left to the chin. It was again a very close fight, but this time, Whitaker got the decision from all three judges and Harold Lederman also scored it for him by 116-109. However, there were again people who thought Rivera deserved to win. The scorecards were closer than the last time also.

    No matter the truth, Rivera had failed to win the world title for the second time, but it was a honorable failure. He went back on track by knocking out the former WBA lightweight champion Livingstone Bramble in 3 rounds, 22 March '97 in Puerto Rico. He was only the third man to achieve that. After scoring three more ko wins, he was matched against the new WBC champion: Oscar "Golden Boy" De La Hoya. DLH was undefeated at 26-0 and the new star of the division, after taking the title from Whitaker earlier that year. The fight happened on 6 December at Caesars Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City. Rivera was down in round 4 but managed to win a couple rounds before he was stopped due to a bad cut in round 8. It was his first stoppage loss, but not the last. He then beat the ancient Carlos Palomino, who had come out of a long retirement, by UD10 and undefeated Angel Hernandez also by UD10, before fighting Shane Mosley 25 September '99. Mosley was just coming up from lightweight where he had reigned as the IBF champion. The fight was very tough and both guys got their licks in. After 9 rounds, Mosley was ahead on 2 cards but Rivera was ahead on the third. He was then hurt and stopped against the ropes with only 22 seconds to go of the 10th round and the fight. This loss set him back somewhat and next year he just had one fight, against a journeyman Gerald Coleman, winning by TKO4. He made a comeback, or attempted to, just a day after his 32nd birthday, against Fernando Vargas, who was also making a comeback after getting stopped by Felix Trinidad in a megafight. It was 5 May 2001 at Don Haskins Center at El Paso when Rivera sent Vargas down in the second round with a surprise punch, but Vargas got up and soon thereafter took control of the fight, stopping Rivera by TKO6.

    It was the end of Wilfredo Rivera as a serious contender and he would get stopped once more, in July 2002, by Alfredo Cuevas, by TKO7. He also dropped a decision to Michael Lerma before that. After winning two more fights, the last one a UD8 against Darien Ford on 10 July 2005, he hung em up and retired at the age of 36 and with a record of 35 wins, 21 by ko, 7 losses and 1 draw. In retirement, he fell on hard times as he lost his job as a security guard following his divorce and ended homeless for a while. He lived in his van in Puerto Rico for a long time. He was born with a stuttering condition, which led many to believe he was punch drunk. Rivera was a capable and skilled fighter who was at least once robbed against one of the greatest fighters ever, Pernell Whitaker. He always came to fight and was never stopped or beaten easily. And that is why he is a FORGOTTEN WARRIOR!
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