Like most boxers, Ray Oliveira Jr. has one eye on his upcoming Friday night with the other focused firmly on the more important battles he’ll face in the real world outside of the ring.
The 26-year-old New Bedford, Mass., junior middleweight has successfully created his own legacy in the sport out from underneath the shadow of his legendary father, “Sucra” Ray Oliveira, developing into one of the region’s most respected fighters in his weight class for taking on any and all comers.
Now Oliveira Jr. (7-0, 1 KO) is in the biggest fight of his life, balancing boxing with classwork as he aims for his master’s degree while continuously climbing the ladder among the elite in the 154-pound division.
Oliveira Jr. faces another test — this time, out of the classroom — Friday night at Twin River Casino when he battles fellow undefeated junior middleweight Casey Kramlich (6-0-1, 3 KOs) of Portland, Maine, in what figures to be the toughest match of his career in the six-round co-feature of CES Boxing’s Nick DeLomba-Jimmy Williams World Boxing Council championship showdown.
After handing Andy Gonzalez and Jose Rivera their first career losses, Oliveira Jr. hopes to do the same to Kramlich, who has knocked out three of his last four opponents.
“I love the tough fights. That’s what I’m all about,” Oliveira Jr. said. “People always ask, ‘When are you going to knock some guys out?’ I don’t care. I want to fight. If we’re fighting it out, that’s what I love. It’s in my blood.
“I work so hard, train, sacrifice food and family time, so I want to make it worth it. I spend two friggin’ months in the gym. I don’t want to spend two minutes in the ring. Some people are different. They want to get in there, get out, get their money and get their record up. I want my rounds. I want guys who can fight. I want to challenge myself, too.”
Kramlich promises to bring the action. Oliveira Jr. remembers his opponent from his amateur days in Maine fighting out of the Portland Boxing Club. He describes Kramlich is a “dedicated, hard worker,” who’s “coming to handle his business.”
“I’m training to kick his ass,” Oliveira Jr. said, “and I know he’s training to do the same.”
“It’s going to be a great fight April 7th,” Kramlich said. “Two young, hungry undefeated fighters battling it out to see who’s the best. That’s what the sport is all about. I’ve had a great training camp and I’m sure Ray has as well, but come fight night I’ll be ready to display my skills and put on the best fight of my pro career so far and come out on top with the victory.”
Outside of the ring, Oliveira Jr. is working equally hard to ensure a future beyond his fighting days for himself and his 7-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter. He’s studying for his master’s degree in sports facility management and hopes to one day open his own learning center in New Bedford for athletes — a “university,” as he describes it — similar to a resort where clients can live and focus solely on their training, diet and other important details intertwined with being an elite, world-class athlete. He’s actually started scouting warehouses and possible locations.
“I want it to be in my city. I want to help my city,” said Oiveira Jr., who recalls not being able to afford gym memberships as a kid or having someone willing to train with him.
“I know there are kids with tons of talent all over my city who don’t get recognized. No one is in a rush to go to New Bedford to see what’s out there. I want to give people an opportunity to make something of themselves and not have to shop around the world to find it.”
The idea isn’t new; Oliveira Jr. says he’s thought about it for “years,” but felt he needed to back to school in order to complete his education, not only to fulfill his own dream, but to set a better example for his kids, too.
“I myself got halfway through ninth grade and then they sent me to night school for 10th grade because I used to get in trouble,” he recalls. “I was intelligent, but I never finished.
“I’d tell my kids all the time how important school is and yet time would go by and I wouldn’t do anything. I told myself this year I have to bust my ass and take it all on before it’s gone.
“I thought I’d fail. I thought I wouldn’t be able to handle it. Turns out I love school.”
The greater challenge outside of the classroom is balancing school with boxing and handling the demands of his father, who’s back in his corner as his head trainer following a brief hiatus. While it’s a delicate balancing act, the one thing the Oliveiras know how to do better than anyone else – aside from winning – is handle each other.
“He knows me. He knows how I fight. I’ve had others who’ve worked my corner, but it’s just not the same,” Oliveira Jr. said. “They can give me direction, but they don’t know how to apply it to me. Despite not being around each other while I was growing up, he knows how to reach me in certain ways.
“Sometimes he’s just tough. I’m juggling a lot of things, and if I miss a day, he lets me know. I get frustrated because I’m the one dealing with it, but I know he’s right. You can’t allow any excuses. If you have a trainer who accepts excuses, you need a new trainer. I get pissed, but I’m glad he does it. I don’t want to slack and I know he won’t allow it.”
While it’s a grind now, Oliveira Jr. is confident the hard work will pay dividends down the road when he finishes school and accomplishes his goals in and out of the ring.
“I want to be a champion, but I want to do something with my life. I want to show my kids you don’t just have to be great at one thing,” he said. “My son has eight different things he wants to be when he grows up. My daughter loves soccer and wants to be the fastest girl in the world. That’s what she told me. I told my kids to do it all, otherwise you’ll spend 10 years thinking about what you want to do instead of doing it.”
First thing’s first, Oliveira Jr. must now focus on Friday night and what figures to be another back-and-forth war with Kramlich, similar to his entertaining, edge-of-your-seat fights against Rivera and Matt Probin in December. The challenge is what motivates him to continue fighting, whether it’s in the ring or in the classroom.
“I love when they say, ‘This is going to be a tough fight,’ because I don’t want an easy fight,” Oliveira Jr. said. “I want guys who will challenge me and make me better and, most of all, prepare me for that title fight when I fight one of those big dogs.
“I don’t want to question whether I’m ready. I don’t just want to be a world champion. I want to be pound-for-pound the best and if I’m going to do that, I’ve got to fight the ones who can fight it out with me.”
Tickets for April 7th 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.