It seems only appropriate that undefeated cruiserweight Richie “Popeye The Sailor Man” Rivera (18-0, 13 KOs) has found a new home in Orlando (FL), although his heart remains in his native Hartford (CT), since he followed his partner/head trainer Tony Blanco there nearly six months ago.
“I recently went to Universal Studios and it’s definitely Popeye-friendly,” the charismatic Rivera reported. “They had Popeye rides, souvenirs and novelties. I felt like it’s my part of town.”
Due to financial strains associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Hartford Boxing Center (HBC) was closed by the state March 15 and it never reopened. Blanco and his family traveled south to the Sunshine State, where he opened the Orlando Boxing Club (OBC at 7335 Lake Underhill Road in Orlando, Florida). Soon after “Popeye” packed his bags and joined Blanco.
“The business was bleeding, and I have a family to support,” Blanco explained. “We’ve more or less brought Hartford Boxing Center to Orlando, where there are so many opportunities for us. It is what it is, there was no other way to survive. We’ve turning a negative into a positive.
“It was a cool ride alongside the Hartford community. We were sad to announce the Hartford Boxing Center had closed its doors. We are deeply indebted to Hartford for giving us the opportunity to meet such a loving community that made us feel like family. We will miss each and every one there and, hopefully, we left our legacy there in good standing with everyone. We hope everybody stays safe, healthy and continues their goals and dreams The fight continues!”
Florida’s weather alone has advantages over Connecticut, in addition to no state tax, and “Popeye” has taken full advantage as he marches towards the top of the cruiserweight division.
“I’ve taken it all in,” he commented. “Down here I’m able to run in weather when it isn’t freezing or in the snow, although that did make me more of an animal. But it was harder training in Hartford and there are so many reasons not to run and train there. Not in Orlando where I have nothing but quality runs and workouts. I get solid sparring here in Orlando with partners who have different styles and I EVEN went over to the gym owned by my idol, Roy Jones, Jr., in Pensacola.
“It’s especially difficult being here during the pandemic with so many of my family and friends back in Hartford. I’m still showed a lot of love back there where I have my roots. Florida is awesome, but I still have a lot of living left, so we’ll need to wait to see what’s ahead for me in the future.”
Meanwhile, Rivera and Blanco found a strong ally and friend in Hall of Famer Christy Martin, who is now a boxing promoter in Florida and North Carolina. Rivera’s last fight was this past August 15th in Daytona Beach (FL) on a Martin-promoted card, in which he knocked out Ryan Soft in the opening round.
“Popeye” is scheduled to fight on her February 12th show in Orlando against veteran Mexican fighter Ulises “El Cirillo” Jimenez (24-26-1, 18 KOs) in an 8-round featured bout.
“This will be the fifth time I’ve fought on one of her cards,” Rivera noted. “She’s awesome. Boxing is a little cutthroat, but I felt comfortable with Christy right away. She doesn’t need to have me fighting on her cards. I’m blessed to have her continue to watch after me. I’m also blessed to have a promoter like Joe DeGuardia (Star Boxing), especially during this pandemic, because he doesn’t have to let me fight on cards that he doesn’t promote like on February 12th.”
The feeling between Martin and Team Popeye is mutual. “I really like Popeye and Tony,” Martin offered. “He understands that this isn’t all about fighting. Fighters need to market themselves. and everybody here loves Popeye. After each fight he goes to talk to fans, especially kids, sign autographs for them and pose for pictures. There’s nothing like being here in Florida. It’s the best for training. Good weather all around and coming from the north like him, no excuses to work-out because of the cold. He’s improved the basic stuff since I first watched him. He’s keeping his head up, improved his power, and is more relaxed in the ring. He’s certainly headed in the right direction. He hasn’t been in any battles and I think he’s getting ready to take a big leap into a title fight.”
Rivera has benefitted from being promoted by DeGuardia in several ways, including his role as a regular sparring partner for Star Boxing light heavyweight Joe Smith, Jr. (26-3, 21 KOs), who is preparing for a Feb. 13th showdown with Maxim Vlasov (45-3 (26 KOs) airing on ESPN live from The Bubble in Las Vegas. They will fight for the vacant World Boxing Organization Light Heavyweight Championship of the World.
“‘Popeye’ is a colorful character and an exciting fighter who has a very entertaining style,” DeGuardia remarked. “He has a great way about him.”
When asked about putting “Popeye” on Christy’s show, DeGuardia stated: “Every decision is unique and made with a view towards what’s best for both the promoter and fighter. Does it make sense? Is it good for Star Boxing and our fighters? If it fits, I have no problem having our fighter on somebody else’s card. This makes sense for everybody. Christy gets a good, featured fighter on her card, hopefully ‘Popeye’ gets a win, and our fighter stays busy. While in this COVID-19 pandemic a few good wins for your fighter is a good thing,”
His heart may always be in Hartford, but ‘Popeye” Rivera has found a new home in Orlando, and his boxing career continues to rise.