Twenty-five years ago, CES Boxing president Jimmy Burchfield Sr. promoted his first event at the Rocky Point Palladium in Warwick, R.I., headlined by then rising prospect “Sucra” Ray Oliveira of New Bedford.
On Saturday night, Oliveira’s son, Ray Oliveira Jr., fights for the seventh time as a pro at Twin River Casino in CES’ first show of 2017, kicking off the promotions’ 25th year anniversary celebration.
“My son decided he wants to box as well and starts his training this year,” said Oliveira Jr., who faces Connecticut’s Jose Rivera in a six-round battle of unbeaten junior middleweights.
“This year also marks 10 years since my grandfather, the man who pushed my dad to box, passed away. It sounds like destiny to me.”
The symmetry is undeniable. CES has always been regarded as a family promotion, and Burchfield Sr., who’s been promoting fights for a quarter of a century in both boxing and, most recently, mixed martials arts, prides himself on providing fighters with the tender loving care missing from some of the more recognizable names in the business.
While most fighters are just a number elsewhere, CES fighters remain part of the family long after they throw their final punch. New England ring legends such as Oliveira, Gary Balletto, Scott Pemberton, Peter Manfredo Jr., Jason Estrada and five-time world champion Vinny Paz, the subject of the recent biopic film Bleed For This, are all members of CES’ prestigious Ring of Honor for their contributions to the sport both in and out of the ring.
Burchfield is considered a father figure to fighters past and present, so it’s only fitting Oliveira returns 25 years later, still heavy involved in the sport, with his own son fighting on CES’ landmark anniversary show looking to keep his perfect record intact.
Saturday’s fight against Rivera, a 2-0 prospect from Hartford with two knockout wins on his resume, could be the toughest of Oliveira Jr.’s career. The younger Oliveira is 6-0 following a unanimous decision win over the tough Matt Probin in December.
“I hope you took enough notes,” Rivera warned Oliveira Jr., “because I’m not your typical test.”
Fights like this one, featuring two rising stars willing to put their undefeated records on the line, are part of what has kept CES Boxing relevant for nearly three decades in a sport where success is fleeting and up-and-coming promoters fade faster than old photographers.
In recent years, its brand has expanded to include mixed martial arts, which has become a booming business due to the worldwide exposure of AXS TV, but boxing remains the cornerstone of Burchfield’s staunch empire, a franchise he’s often likened to the Providence Bruins and Pawtucket Red Sox to properly assert its place in Rhode Island folklore.
Saturday’s card features nine bouts, all of them competitive, some of which feature CES’ top prospects stepping up to face the toughest test of their career on one of the region’s biggest stages at the Twin River Event Center. It’s what separates CES from the competition, the willingness to challenge young fighters and provide fans with a memorable experience.
“This is what our sport needs and it’s what our fan base demands. Solid, competitive fights. This is what drives the market,” Burchfield said. “Fans don’t want to show up knowing who’s going to win before the first bell rings.
“We pride ourselves on bringing you the best entertainment for your dollar and it’s an honor to be celebrating our 25th anniversary this year with a dynamite season opener at Twin River Casino.
“Without our fans, we would have never survived more than two and a half decades, so everything we do is designed to provide you with the most enjoyable, interactive experience possible to ensure our one-time fans become lifetime consumers.”
The Oliveira Jr.-Rivera bout, scheduled for six rounds, is one of several headline-worthy matches on CES’ Feb. 4th season opener. The eight-round main event features Worcester, Mass., junior middleweight and reigning Universal Boxing Federation (UBF) Northeast and International Champion Khiary Gray (14-1, 11 KOs) defending both titles against Brooklyn’s Courtney Pennington (9-4-1, 5 KOs), who promises a repeat performance of their 2012 amateur bout in New York, won by Pennington.
“This stage gives me the opportunity to show that I belong in the conversion. I’m from Brooklyn and have never had anything handed to me,” Pennington said. “Maybe that’s why I don’t mind what they call a challenge in the ring.
“I plan on my hands being raised, just like the last time we fought, only with more pain. Come February 4th, it’s bump time.”
Tickets are priced at $47.00, $102.00, $127.00 (VIP) 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.
The Feb. 4th card features an additional title bout as New Haven, Conn., vet Josh Crespo (7-4-3, 3 KOs) faces unbeaten Timmy Ramos (4-0-1, 4 KOs) of Framingham, Mass., in a six-round bout for the vacant New England Super Featherweight Championship.
A throwback fighter willing to fight anyone at any given time, the gritty Crespo has fought through tremendous adversity both personally and professionally to make it to this point. On Saturday, he fights for his second title, a year and a half after winning the N.E. Super Bantamweight Title in his second try.
“I’m what you call a true fighter,” Crespo said. “I’ve lived a life that most people haven’t. For two years, I lived in my car. When I finally met my wife and we had a child, I worked my ass off to provide for them and give them our own apartment that we call home. To this day, I still can’t believe that I’m able to put a key into a door that I can call my own home.
“For me, 2016 was a tough year. We fought the best out there. We took some W’s and some L’s, but we fought guys that no one else would. My record is deceiving and I don’t care what people say about it. I got desire and will, along with heart and balls. In 2017, my career is just beginning and in this fight I’m not leaving without this win. I have respect for Ramos, but once the weigh-in is over and he looks into my eyes, he’ll see that I’m coming, and on that Saturday, February 4th, you’re gonna see a new Crespo.”
Also on the Feb. 4th card, undefeated prospects and decorated amateurs Jamaine Ortiz (2-0, 2 KOs) of Worcester, Mass., and Canton Miller (2-0, 1 KO) of Saint Louis, Mo., square off in a four-round lightweight battle.
Coached by former world champion Nate Campbell, Miller is a 2014 USA Boxing Elite National Championships quarterfinalist and two-time National Golden Gloves Tournament of Championships quarterfinalist. The renowned Ortiz won the 2016 Western New England Golden Gloves Championship shortly before turning pro and advanced to the semifinals of the 2015 U.S. Olympic Trials in Nevada.
Framingham’s Julio Perez (4-1) ends his nine-month layoff in a four-round intrastate showdown against Salem vet Matt Doherty (5-3-1, 3 KOs), who returns to Twin River for the first time since July of 2015. Following a busy 2016 in which he fought six times in seven months, Worcester’s Kendrick Ball Jr. (4-0-2, 3 KOs) faces Minneapolis’ Kenneth Glenn (3-2, 1 KO) in a four-round middleweight bout and Providence junior welterweight Anthony Marsella Jr. (3-0, 2 KOs) faces 16-fight veteran Francisco Medel in just his fourth fight as a professional in a four-round bout.
Taunton, Mass., welterweight Marqus Bates (0-1) aims to bounce back from a loss in his professional debut in a four-round battle against Providence, R.I., native Aaron Muniz, who makes his debut. Junior welterweight Khiry Todd (1-0, 1 KO) of Lynn, Mass., battles Woburn, Mass., native Bruno Dias (0-2) in a four-round bout.
The Feb. 4th card will also feature another special CES Ring of Honor ceremony inducting famed boxing trainer Kevin Rooney, who worked with world champions Mike Tyson and Paz in his storied career.