New Bedford, Mass., junior welterweight Ray Oliveira Jr. was in the best shape of his life in July when he stepped back into the ring for the first time in nearly eight months, but there was still a small hint of worry in the back of his mind knowing there’d be one missing piece in his corner on fight night.
Oliveira Jr.’s father, the legendary “Sucra” Ray Oliveira, took some much-needed time away from the sport shortly before his son broke camp, so he did not work his corner for the first time in Oliveira Jr.’s brief professional career.
“‘Was I going to make the right decisions in the ring and listen to my guys?'” Oliveira Jr. asked himself.
“Having my dad’s voice in my head for so long, I wanted to know that I could go in there and do it on my own and show people that I’m my own fighter also. I am my dad’s son, but I am me.”
Oliviera Jr. (5-0, 1 KO) won that night, defeating the previously unbeaten Andy Gonzalez by majority decision in the toughest fight of his career. One week from Friday, he steps back into the ring — again, without his father in his corner — to face another tough test against unbeaten Gerald Schifone of Brockton as he continues to carve his own legacy out from under his legendary father’s shadow.
The six-round bout against Schifone (3-0-1, 1 KO) — the first six-round fight of Oliveira Jr.’s career — is the co-feature of CES Boxing’s 2016 Twin River Casino Fight Series season finale, scheduled for Friday, Oct. 21st, 2016. Oliveira Jr. is dedicating the fight to his father, who he credits for getting him started in the sport of boxing at a young age and helping him develop into the fighter he is today.
“That first fight back, that was for me. I needed that for many reasons that I didn’t even know of until it was done,” Oliveira Jr. said.
“Now it’s time to do one for him. He’s the one who put me in this and he’s the one who got me to where I’m at. I put in the work, I spent the time in the gym, I made a lot of sacrifices in life, but he was right there with me through this when it came to being in the gym and the fight and everything. He was the guy training me from the amateurs.”
In some symbolic way, Oct. 21st could be a passing of the torch, a transition where Oliveira Jr. goes from being known primarily as the son of a beloved champion to a legitimate contender in the junior middleweight division building his own legacy.
“As a fighter, I’m starting to make some real changes with fighting. I’m progressing right now,” Oliveira Jr. said. “I feel like a shift in my boxing career. Before I make that real transition as a fighter, I want to make sure I give thanks to the one who got me started.”
The elder Oliveira has taken on more of an advisory role these days, helping his son promote his upcoming fights and offering support. Surprisingly, Oliveira Jr. says he rarely picks his father’s brain when it comes to advice or technique, again focusing on doing what he does best instead of trying to emulate someone else’s style.
“My thing is I don’t really like to ask for too much advice and watch too many videos. I like to just go to the gym, practice what my trainers are telling me to do and try to apply it to the fight,” he said. “If I don’t follow the game plan or I went elsewhere for the game plan, it’s going to contradict what they’re telling me.
“I really don’t like to make a plan because you don’t know what’s going to happen when you get in there. I like to let them analyze and do their job and then I do my job. I have one job and that’s to show up. I show up to the gym and I show up to the fight. That’s my job.”
Since turning pro in 2014, Oliveira Jr. has gotten the job done each time he’s stepped into the ring. The fight against Gonzalez, a close, back-and-forth war with both fighters exchanging flurries through four rounds, was the toughest of his career and a major departure from his previous fights, which were fought primarily against opponents who didn’t press the action the way Gonzalez does.
The taller, stronger Gonzalez, a Worcester, Mass., native, was considered the favorite in some circles, but Oliveira Jr. proved he could stand toe-to-toe with a slugger, not just out-box an opponent.
“Whenever I approach a fight, I always feel like the underdog,” Oliveira Jr. said. “I look at it like, ‘I’ve got to go beat this dude,’ especially with the way I fight because I’m not always going in there knocking dudes out and stuff. I always look at myself like the challenger.
“I understood that he was taller and he had the higher knockout percentage, so I knew he was coming to fight and I was going to have to prove to people that I could get in there with someone who is coming to bang.”
The best part now is this current camp, according to Oliveira Jr., might be even better than the last one, which, at the time, he said was the best of his young career.
“I’m already on weight and we have two weeks,” he said. “This may beat out last camp.
“I’ve added more miles to my normal running mileage to compensate for the rounds. Anyone who really knows me as a fighter knows I always come out to fight from the first bell, but I get better as the rounds go. I start to warm up, I start to get more comfortable. Even though I try to take these guys’ heads off and put some real ping behind each punch, I still calculate in my fight. I pay attention. As the rounds go, I pick up on things and I get more comfortable. The biggest thing is I warm up. My power starts coming through the muscle. Everything just kind of packs in and I start hitting harder as the rounds go on.
“My dad wanted me to take it slow and work my way up and I understand that, but I’ve been waiting to do more rounds. I want to drag them out into the deep end and see if they can still swim.”
Schifone, who is fighting for the first time in two years, will press Oliveira Jr. the same way Gonzalez did, which should lead to another entertaining, back-and-forth battle on a card loaded with evenly-matched bouts. It’s truly sink or swim for the younger Oliveira as he continues to build his own resume in the city of New Bedford.
“He definitely comes forward and he comes to hurt,” Oliveira Jr. said of Schifone. “He’s not in there to make it through the rounds or float around.”
Tickets for Oct. 21st are priced at $47.00, $67.00, $102.00 and $152.00 (VIP) and can be purchased online at www.cesboxing.com, www.twinriver.com or www.ticketmaster.com, by phone at 401-724-2253/2254 or at the Twin River Casino Players Club. All fights and fighters are subject to change.