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Rivera frets, but contract is `in the mail'.

COLUMN: BUD BARTH'S BOXING NOTES

Nerves are natural before a big fight, but 2-1/2 months before it takes place?

Worcester's Jose Antonio Rivera, despite already having signed a contract on his end for $45,000, admitted he's "a little nervous" about his WBA title eliminator against Daniel Santos coming off as scheduled Sept. 8 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

"As of right now, I am training and waiting to hear back from (Don King Productions) about confirmation (of the fight)," Rivera said in an e-mail last week. "I know I signed the contract. I have not heard of Santos signing the contract, and my attorney has not received the signed contract back to confirm the fight.

"I still have not received my training expenses, so I am a little nervous about this fight coming to fruition. I know they (King's people) are busy, so I will give them some time to contact us to let us know what is going on."

Not to worry, said Alan Hopper, director of public relations for DKP.

"There's not going to be a problem," Hopper said on Wednesday. "We're told that it (Santos' contract) is signed and it's in the mail. To our knowledge, everything is fine. We're not expecting any problems."

The Rivera-Santos bout is part of a card headlined by Fernando Vargas (26-4-0, 22 KOs) against Ricardo Mayorga (28-6-1, 23), a couple of fossils who will do battle in a non-title feature, plus former WBA welterweight champ Luis Collazo (27-3-0, 13) taking on Sharmba Mitchell (57-6-0, 30) in an IBF junior middleweight title eliminator.

Rivera has been itching to get back in the ring and erase the memory of his bloody ninth-round TKO at the hands of Travis Simms in January in Hollywood, Fla. The defeat cost Rivera, a three-time world champion, his WBA super welterweight title belt. A win over Santos would boost him from No. 4 to No. 1 in the rankings and give him another shot at Simms.

Simms, incidentally, defends his crown against top-ranked Joachim Alcine of Montreal on Saturday night at the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Conn., a matchup of two unbeaten fighters - Simms is 25-0 with 19 knockouts, Alcine 28-0 with 18 KOs - that will be televised live on "Showtime Championship Boxing." The telecast starts at 9 p.m.

King and his people have their hands full promoting that show, which also includes undefeated IBF and IBO flyweight champion Vic Darchinyan (28-0-0, 22) against once-beaten Nonito Donaire (17-1-0, 10) in the other televised bout.

Still, with only 10 weeks between now and Sept. 8, Rivera (38-5-1, 24) would like a little certainty in his training. The 34-year-old took six weeks off from his full-time court officer's job to prepare for the Alejandro Garcia fight in May 2006, and it showed when he destroyed the then-WBA super welterweight champion, who came in with 24 KOs in 26 fights (25-1-0).

Rivera took off only four weeks to prepare for Simms, yet from all accounts was in the best shape of his life. Yet he came out like he was in a trance, got his nose bloodied early, and never recovered.

"(Trance is a) very good word, seeing I felt like I was in a trance," Rivera said last week. "I am going to train for this fight like I trained for the Alejandro Garcia fight - nothing more and nothing less. I have a tendency to overdo it sometimes with my training, but I have to trust my trainers with what we are doing."

There was speculation that Rivera might have left his best fighting in the training ring against both Simms and Collazo, who took Rivera's WBA welterweight title in April 2005. But there was also the issue of Rivera dehydrating himself while he struggled to make the 147-pound limit for Collazo, which is why he abandoned the welterweight ranks after that loss.

But Rivera said last week: "I have no plans to take a leave (from my court job) right now with no confirmation on the fight." That doesn't mean he won't take a leave, only that he can't decide how long until he gets the date confirmed.

"Right now, I started running, training, and doing my workout with (personal trainer) Radovan (Serbula) in Brookline," said Rivera, who ballooned to 180 pounds after the loss to Simms but is now down to 174 and said: "I expect to make the weight (154) with no problems."

As for the issue of overtraining, head trainer John Scully said it's something a handler can't always prevent.

"Sometimes," Scully said, "fighters overdo it because when they go home, they find themselves sitting around not doing anything and they convince themselves they are being lazy, so they go out and run extra miles, stuff like that. Your body needs rest as much as it needs work.

"I will advise Jose the best way that I can, but I cannot go home with him, you know? I think he is learning more and more about his body as he goes along."

Rivera said he'll divvy up his workouts among the Boys & Girls Club of Worcester with trainer emeritus Carlos Garcia, Camp Fitzy's Gym in Worcester with training assistant Sean Fitzgerald, and some sessions at Scully's gym in Glastonbury, Conn., or the Police Athletic League Gym in Manchester, Conn., which is a little closer to Worcester. Scully also will come up this way more, too, to cut down on Rivera's road trips.

Sparring will begin this month, most of it against left-handers like Santos (30-3-1, 21), whom Rivera plans to attack in close to take away the two-time WBO champ's considerable height and reach advantage.

"We will have to bring in some good southpaw sparring that mirrors Santos' style," Rivera said. "I have my people working on that right now. I will also use some of the good sparring I had for the Simms fight."

Simms also was a southpaw, as was Collazo. Rivera insists it wasn't the left-handed stances that gave him problems in those bouts, but rather the fighters.

"Jose actually followed the plan against Simms well," Scully said, "which was to force Travis to go the way that is considered the wrong way for southpaws to go, the most uncomfortable. To his credit, though, Simms moved very well in that direction, much better than I could have ever anticipated."

Rivera still doesn't know quite what happened against Simms, other than the fact that he obviously ran into a stronger, faster athlete.

"I'm still trying to figure it out," he recently told Peter Heintzelman of fightnews.com. "I just don't know how I went from fighting the best fight of my life to fighting one of the worst. Travis Simms fought a great fight ... but anyone who knows me, or has seen me fight, knows that just wasn't me. ... I just wasn't able to get off."

By the way, Rivera continues to waffle on his declaration of a couple of years ago that he wouldn't fight after he turns 35, which happens in April.

"I think I've got a year or two (left), maybe three," he said in that fightnews.com interview. "It all depends on the level I'm fighting at. If I'm fighting at a world championship level and it gives me something to be motivated about, something to shoot for, then I'm happy with that.

"I have to be realistic, though. I'm going to have to retire someday, and people don't understand what I have to put in to sacrifice and train. Also, I have a full-time job, and it actually costs me money to get ready, to take time off from work to prepare and train."

Simms talking trash...

Travis Simms talked like Muhammad Ali even before he had a title belt. Now that he actually wears one, the guy has become the Norwalk Know-It-All.

Simms was awfully impressive in beating up Jose Antonio Rivera in January, and now he might actually be taking a step down in class on Saturday night against Montreal's Joachim Alcine, who is undefeated but against competition that couldn't break a bubble.

"He is going to be shocked to be in the ring with the best pound-for-pound fighter in the 154-pound division," Simms crowed at a pre-fight press conference in Bridgeport, Conn., site of the bout and just a couple of jabs from his hometown of Norwalk.

"Alcine wanted me to fight him in Canada," said the WBA super welterweight champion, "but I said if this man wants to challenge me for my title, he's going to have to do it in my backyard. He can try to win it, but this is his first world championship fight and I am a seasoned veteran. He better be hungry after he saw what I did to the great champion, Jose Antonio Rivera."

That was generous praise from Simms considering the bloodbath he gave Rivera before stopping him in the ninth round. Simms said he fought "the perfect fight" that night against Rivera, who will get another shot at Simms if he wins Sept. 8.

"I am a two-time, undefeated world champion," Simms told Alcine. "I fought some of the best in the business. You fought nobody. Nobody!"

"I fought nobody?" Alcine responded. "I do not know what to say. You do not know about (my) sparring partners."

He's got to be kidding, right?

"I want to unify the 154-pound division," Simms crowed. "I want to become the undisputed champion. I have dreamed of this all of my life.

"I'll fight anyone. I'll fight Floyd Mayweather or Cory Spinks. I'm willing to fight the best out there."

Alcine, apparently, is not one of them.

What could have been...

It's interesting that Jose Antonio Rivera earlier in his career had a chance to fight both Fernando Vargas and Ricardo Mayorga, who head the billing for the Sept. 8 card - decisions he has to be second-guessing privately to this day, though he still insists that both fights failed to come off "because of things beyond my control."

Had he fought even one of them, his career - not that it's shabby right now - could have been downright spectacular.

At least Rivera would have earned that seven-figure payday that has eluded him, and probably will forever.

However, if Rivera had fought Vargas back in 1998 - he actually had two separate dates with Ferocious Fernando that year, in August and November, both on HBO's "Boxing After Dark," but withdrew both times with wrist problems - there's a good chance he might have lost. Vargas was undefeated at the time (12-0, all by knockout) and riding the crest of a spectacular wave to start his pro career after fighting in the 1996 Olympics.

He also hadn't yet suffered the back problems or other physical ailments that have haunted him lately.

Vargas, then just 21, wound up winning the IBF junior middleweight title that December when Yori Boy Campas - then only 27 years old but already with a 72-2-0 record - quit in his corner after the seventh round. Rivera, 26-1-1 at the time, was obviously not 100 percent, so he gets a pass on that one.

But now fast forward six years. If Rivera simply had shown up at ringside at Madison Square Garden on that infamous April 2004 night to meet an overweight Mayorga in their scheduled pay-per-view bout, it would have forever defined the Worcester fighter's career.

If Mayorga failed to show - he hadn't replied to the Rivera camp's questions about whether the renegotiated bout was on or off - it would have been such an embarrassment to "El Matador" that it would have made major headlines from New York to New Guinea, exposed him as a coward, and lifted Rivera to heroic heights.

And if Mayorga did show up, Rivera probably would have pounded his blubbery body all over the MSG ring - making a major name for himself, pocketing $250,000, and all without risking his WBA welterweight title because Mayorga had weighed in 6-1/2 pounds over the 147-pound limit, vacating the bout's title status. You talk about win-win situations...

The fact that Vargas, Mayorga and Luis Collazo - who takes on former IBF junior welterweight champ Sharmba Mitchell in an IBF junior middleweight title eliminator - all will be on the same Sept. 8 card in Los Angeles with Rivera and Daniel Santos is of no significance to Worcester's former three-time world champ. Collazo, of course, took Rivera's WBA welterweight title with a 2005 decision at the DCU Center.

"I do not need added incentive for this fight," Rivera said, denying that he'll be out to put on a show for any, or all, of those three. He also denies having any regrets about not fighting Vargas or Mayorga.

"If I had made the decision not to fight them because of money or whatever, then maybe yes," Rivera said, "but against Vargas, I was hurt, and against Mayorga - well, no need to dwell on that again."

Actually, Santos and Rivera have a past, too. Rivera, after his loss to Collazo, was supposed to fight Santos, then the WBO junior middleweight champion, on Sept. 3, 2005, in Cleveland, but pulled out to have elbow surgery.

Manzello stepping down...

A fixture on the local boxing scene for nearly 40 years and on the state boxing landscape for parts of the last two decades, Worcester's Nick Manzello is stepping down as chairman of the Massachusetts Boxing Commission, but will continue to hold one of the three seats on the board.

Nobody knows more about local boxing history than Manzello, who has served on the state commission for 11 years, the last nine as chairman.

"I brought more championship fights to this state than anyone else," Manzello said.

Over the last two years, he helped bring two highly entertaining Jose Antonio Rivera WBA world title fights to Worcester's DCU Center in which Rivera, who was bred as a boxer in Worcester and now lives in Auburn, fought Luis Collazo and Alejandro "Terra" Garcia, both bouts promoted by the legendary Don King.

One of Manzello's proudest accomplishments was bringing two world title fights to the state in a span of six days last year.

First, Rivera destroyed Garcia to win the WBA super welterweight crown on Saturday, May 6, 2006, at the DCU Center, and on the following Friday, Collazo - who had taken Rivera's WBA welterweight title in Worcester in April 2005 - lost that belt to Ricky Hatton in a unanimous, but close, decision at the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston.

Manzello has been battling cancer recently, but said late last week he's feeling much better, is regaining weight, and is off his radiation treatments and chemotherapy.

"I met a lot of good people," Manzello said of his tenure as chairman. "I was going to retire, but I got a call from the lieutenant governor's office (now filled by ex-Worcester mayor Tim Murray) and they asked me not to retire, to stay on as a commissioner (stepping down only as chairman) and just try to make as many meetings and fights as I could."

So, that's what he did. He and Gary Litchfield are commissioners, while Daniel P. Fitzgerald was promoted as the new chairman.

"I don't think I'll stay much longer," Manzello said. "The whole boxing situation has changed so much. These new casinos make it kind of tough. But I enjoyed it very much."

Manzello said the casinos - Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, Twin River in Lincoln, R.I., and others threatening to pop up everywhere - can offer to pay more money than local venues for the four- and six-round fights, which are the meat and potatoes of club fighting. As a result, fewer and fewer of the smaller venues are hosting cards.

"Club boxing is slow throughout the entire country," Manzello said.

Manzello has a long history at the Telegram & Gazette. He started writing sports in 1968 and retired from full-time status in 1991, but continues writing his "Sports Street" column on a part-time basis.

He is a member of the Veterans Boxing Association Hall of Fame.

HBO-Showtime twinbill...

Next weekend's fare: Besides the "Showtime Championship Boxing" telecast at 9 p.m. Saturday featuring Travis Simms-Joachim Alcine, Wladimir Klitschko (48-3-0, 43 KOs) will defend his IBF and IBO heavyweight titles against former WBO champ Lamon Brewster (33-3-0, 29) in Koln, Germany, also on Saturday, but at 5 p.m. on HBO's "World Championship Boxing." Brewster scored a controversial TKO in their first meeting in April 2004 when the referee stopped the bout at the end of the fifth round. Klitschko later claimed his water bottle was spiked. ... Is there a faster man in boxing than Ricky "Hitman" Hatton, whose speed totally frustrated Jose Luis Castillo for three rounds before a devastating liver punch sent Castillo to his knee for a decisive 10-count in Round 4 two weekends ago on HBO? Hatton proved two things: He's a star at junior welterweight, which is where he should stay, and Castillo's career died along with his great archrival, Diego Corrales, who was killed in that tragic motorcycle crash in May in Las Vegas. The first Castillo-Corrales fight in May 2005 was one of the most entertaining and action-packed in history, and had one of the most astonishing finishes ever when a seemingly down-and-out Corrales - with both eyes swollen shut and having been knocked down twice in the 10th round - climbed off the mat to stop Castillo with 54 seconds left in the round. It still gives me chills. Castillo won the rematch, but the rubber match never happened because Castillo twice failed to make the weight. As for Hatton, he dissed the supposedly retired Floyd Mayweather Jr. after whipping Castillo, trying to goad Floyd into a fight, which Hatton would probably win at 140 or 147 pounds. Mayweather has proven he can avoid fighting at either weight. But what a megafight that would be - Hatton at 43-0-0 with 31 knockouts and Mayweather at 38-0-0 with 24 KOs.

Local show at Palladium

Not all local boxing is dead. Plans are still on for a show at The Palladium on Main Street in downtown Worcester by Jimbo Isperduli of Paxton Promotions. The date isn't finalized yet, but will be either Sept. 28 or Oct. 5, both Friday nights. Besides the long-awaited local debut of super middleweight Harry "The Terminator" Simon (24-0-0, 17), a native of Namibia who is moving to Worcester to fight under Isperduli, the card also will feature Worcester cruiserweight Adam Harris (9-0-0, 7), Worcester heavyweight John Rainwater (10-14-0, 3), an all-Worcester junior welterweight bout featuring Edwin Rosado (1-2-0, 1) against Jose "Flako" Velasquez, (0-1-0, 1) and super middleweight Jeff Johnson of Worcester, half-brother of former city boxing and football standout Rashad Minor. It will be Johnson's second fight if, as scheduled, he makes his pro debut on Aug. 10 at Twin River Casino in Lincoln, R.I., on a Jimmy Burchfield card. By the way, Isperduli, Leominster drug detective and former boxer Joe Siciliano - who can forget the man who took on Butterbean? - and Steve Carolis of Leominster are teaming up to open a boxing gym in Sterling near the Leominster line. More on that, and the Palladium show, in a future column. ... Look for a mixed martial arts cage match to be coming to the city soon featuring a return of 400-pound Eric "Butterbean" Esch, probably before the year is out.

Bud Barth can be reached by e-mail at hbarth@telegram.com.

ART: PHOTOS

CUTLINE: (1) Jose Antonio Rivera (2) Travis Simms celebrates his victory over Jose Antonio Rivera. (3) Ricky Hatton ... speed frustrated Jose Luis Castillo. (4) Nick Manzello

PHOTOG: (2) T&G Staff File Photo/STEVE LANAVA
COPYRIGHT 2007 Worcester Telegram & Gazette
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jul 1, 2007
Words:3280
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