Catching Up With “El Nino” - Jose Ribalta Interview

By James Slater: Remember Cuban heavyweight contender Jose Ribalta? The tall and powerful fighter who was never short on guts fought so many big names in the 1980s and ‘90s - including Tyson, Klitschko, Ruddock and Holmes. I had the good fortune of speaking with the now long retired warrior recently, from his home in Florida.

Speaking on all manner of things, Jose first spoke about his fights against British opposition (he fought Derek Williams and Frank Bruno - Williams in the U.S, Bruno over in the U.K. He beat “Sweet D” but was stopped quickly by Bruno.

If you remember Ribalta, you may also remember that “People’s Choice One-Night Heavyweight Tournament” that took place in Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi, in 2003. Ribalta took part and beat Williams over three-rounds, before losing to eventual winner Tony Tubbs.

“Derek Williams was a good fighter,” Ribalta told me over the phone, happy to be talking to someone from England.

“He knocked me down in the 1st-round, and I was like ‘whoah!’ I knew then I had to take him to school! I won on points, but I was still hurt from that fight when I fought [Tony] Tubbs 30 minutes later. Tubbs overheard me tell my corner [that I was still dazed] and he jumped right on me at the bell. He was no puncher - he was more skilled with good technique - but I was still stunned from that shot by Williams. Tubbs beat me on points.”

After this failed attempt at winning a cool $1 million (even tournament winner Tubbs collected way short of the promoter’s promised prize), the now 30-year-old Ribalta found himself losing more often than he found himself winning; with his once-promising career ending after Donovan “Razor” Ruddock halted him inside a single round in October of 1999. Before that, Ribalta was thrown in with the emerging Vitali Klitschko, then 19-0. The two met in June of 1998 and “Dr. Iron Fist” won in the 2nd-round.

“Not to make excuses, but I fought Klitschko with a fever. The German doctor basically told me, ‘you’re here now, the show must go on,” so I went ahead with fight. I shouldn’t have. But both [Wladimir and Vitali] are great fighters, no doubt.”

Ribalta comes up with a perhaps surprising name when asked who hit him the hardest. Forget Tyson, Bruno or Klitschko!

“I have to say, neither of those guys! Bonecrusher Smith - his right hand was really hard. And Larry Holmes’ left jab. I fought Holmes in [September of] 1993, and his left jab felt like a Tyson right hand! He hit me with it, and I thought I was cut! So, of all the punches I’ve ever been hit with, I’d say Holmes’ left jab was the hardest - it was so hard and so fast!”

Ribalta believes he deserved the decision that went against him when he fought “Bonecrusher” in May of ’85; and that he was “rewarded” with a Tyson fight seven fights later due to the obviously bad verdict he was the recipient of.

“The Bonecrusher fight was how I got the (1986) Tyson fight (L TKO by 10). They robbed me against Smith. One judge had me [winning] by 7-3, the other two both had him [winning] by one point each. Come on! Remember, he was a Don King fighter at the time. But I was rewarded with a fight with Tyson. And the Tim Witherspoon fight (in July of 1990) - they announced it as a draw, then 10 minutes later, they came back and changed it to a majority win for him!”

Ribalta never had, as he puts it, “a real promoter,” and he sure had it tough on many occasions. Indeed, before his final fight with Ruddock, Jose was given a last-minute change of opponent.

“My very last fight, against Razor Ruddock - I was told that fight would be me against someone else. I never knew I was fighting Razor. But then, the day of the weigh-in, I saw Razor Ruddock coming towards me! They changed it. They gave me some extra money, but I thought I’d be facing someone else - I can’t even remember the original guy’s name, but I thought I’d be going out with a win.”

Despite all the bad experiences he went through in his career, Ribalta still loves boxing. However, as is the case with a good number of retired fighters from a different era, the former heavyweight contender doesn’t think too much of today’s fighters.

“I love boxing, but I don’t follow it as much as I used to. I’m looking to train young pros now, I’m looking to get into coaching more. I have a guy called John Jackson, who is a 130-pounder, with a 15-1 record. A title shot could be coming for him soon maybe. But today, most of the fighters, they are a bunch of cry babies if you ask me! Today, whichever fighter trains the hardest, he will win. It’s that simple. In my day, we had to train hard AND have skills and technique.”

And Jose wants a movie of his interesting life story made. His father was a top aide to President Bautista in Cuba, his brother fought the legendary Teofilio Stevenson, and Jose wants to tell everyone about his time in Cuba, about his time spent in the ring and about his personal life.

“Anything is possible - maybe someone will even make a movie of my life story. I hope to get people interested in what I have to say. My mother would have loved me to have a movie made of what we all went through. She passed [away] in 1992, I was sparring with Lennox Lewis at the time - I was supposed to fight Riddick Bowe. But his camp saw how well I was doing with Lennox, and suddenly they said Bowe was ill. But he fought like 3 weeks later!”

Jose Ribalta, 39-17-1(28): seemingly a guy who never had a break.

Article posted on 22.04.2011

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