Cameron Sevilla Rivera thinks he’s discovered the secret to beating Khiary Gray, and it has nothing to do with an unorthodox training routine or who’s working his corner.
It’s his record, his blemished, imperfect record, to be exact.
Rivera has the one thing Gray doesn’t — a loss. He’s actually lost twice as a pro while Gray, the unbeaten Worcester, Mass., junior middleweight, carries an impressive 11-0 record into their 8-round World Boxing Council (WBC) Youth Title bout in the main event of CES Boxing’s 2016 season debut at Twin River Casino.
“I think it puts the pressure on him way more than it does me,” Rivera said. “It’s his neighborhood. All eyes are going to be on him.”
Fighting out of Fife, Wash., a small suburb in Tacoma just a few hours from the Canadian border, Rivera (6-2-1, 5 KOs) has flown under the radar for most of his career, but has suddenly been thrust into the spotlight with the opportunity to fight for the WBC Youth crown, a noteworthy achievement considering 47 of its former champions have gone on to win world titles.
Even with the sting from his unanimous decision loss to the undefeated Isaac Tadeo in November still gnawing at him from the inside — a fight Rivera felt he won — Rivera didn’t hesitate when asked to travel more than 3,000 miles to fight another unbeaten fighter in his backyard, not with the payoff that awaits the winner.
“When you get opportunities like this,” Rivera said, “you have to jump on them as soon as you can.”
Aside from the fact he’s already handled adversity and bounced back from it, Rivera has another bullet in the chamber for Feb. 19th, his trainer, Tom Mustin, who coached the 2000 U.S. Olympic boxing team in Australia, a team that featured four medalists and two future world champions, Jermaine Taylor and Jeff Lacy.
Working with Mustin has been especially beneficial for Rivera, a former kickboxer with only six amateur bouts — all wins — before turning pro in 2013. Adjusting to a new sport was “no problem whatsoever,” according to Rivera, except for one major difference.
“I can’t kick anybody in the face anymore,” he deadpanned, “but in terms of some movements it’s a little bit different.
“There are a lot of different angles and different things conventional boxers don’t see, so some things are a little bit different because we stand differently, but I think it translates pretty well.
“Working with Tom makes a huge difference. It makes the transition incredibly easy.”
Feb. 19th will be Rivera’s biggest challenge yet, not just because he’s fighting east of California for the first time in his career, but because of the quality of his opponent, whom he’s studied extensively over the past few weeks. Gray has nine knockout wins in 11 fights, including eight in the first round, and the two have combined for 14 knockouts in 20 pro fights.
“I’ve seen he’s a very explosive fighter,” Rivera said. “Given his record, you know he’s tough. He had a pretty stout amateur career and it’ll be a fantastic test for me – for both of us.”
Rivera launched the first salvo Monday when, in a prepared statement, said he’s looking forward to seeing what happens when Gray is forced to backpedal, which Gray and his trainer, Kendrick Ball, took exception with — “he can fight going backwards, he can fight going to the side, he can fight going forward,” Ball countered — but Rivera may have been just offering a glimpse into his game plan for Feb. 19th.
If he’s learned anything from his two losses, it’s to be more aggressive and not leave the outcome in the hands of the judges, so Rivera figures to empty the tank on Feb. 19th in a bout that likely won’t last the full eight rounds given the experience and predictable approach of both fighters.
“I’m the kind of fighter who will hit back and push you, and I know that’s what he’s been looking for, someone with some fight in him,” Rivera said. “They know they’re putting their fighter through the wringer if they’re putting him in there with me, so I appreciate the opportunity.”
The Gray-Rivera main event is one of two title bouts on CES Boxing’s 2016 season debut. Female middleweight Kali Reis (7-5-1, 3 KOs) of Providence, a former International Boxing Association (IBA) champion and two-time world-title challenger, returns home for the first time in more than three years to face New Mexico’s Victoria Cisneros (12-18-2, 5 KOs) in a 10-round bout for the vacant UBF World Middleweight Title.
Feb. 19th also features the return of five unbeaten prospect, starting with fellow Worcester native Freddy Sanchez (7-0, 5 KO), who faces the battle-tested Evincii Dixon (6-13-1, 2 KOs) of Lancaster, Pa., in a 6-round junior welterweight bout. Holyoke, Mass., junior middleweight Mohamed Allam (1-1) returns to Twin River to face Boston’s Brian Walsh (1-3, 1 KO) and Framingham, Mass., junior welterweight Julio Perez (3-0) battles Skowhegan, Maine, native Josh Parker (0-1-1), both 4-round bouts.
Stoughton, Mass., junior welterweight Travis Demko (4-0, 1 KO), Framingham featherweight Timmy Ramos (2-0-1, 2 KOs) and Alaskan middleweight Fatlum Zhuta (2-0-1, 2 KOs) are also featured on the undercard in separate 4-round bouts. Zhuta faces Greg McCoy (3-5-1, 2 KOs) of New Haven, Conn.
Tickets for the Feb. 19th season debut are priced at $40, $75 and $125 (VIP) and are available for purchase online at www.cesboxing.com or www.twinriver.com, by phone at 401-724-2253/2254 or at the Twin River Casino Players Club.