An eighth round that was somehow permitted to run almost a full minute extra. One of the year’s most controversial decisions. This is what we got on the undercard of the August 20 Oleksandr Usyk-Anthony Joshua rematch.
Career light-heavyweight Richard Rivera went up to cruiserweight to face former two-time champ Badou Jack. After 10 exciting rounds (and one monstrously controversial round), “Popeye the Sailor Man,” as 31-year-old Rivera is known, looked to have won his breakthrough fight. Instead, after battling hard during those additional 58-seconds of the eighth round when he was hurt, Rivera went home from Saudi Arabia with a split decision loss. Wide condemnation of the decision followed.
Here, Rivera, 21-1, but really still unbeaten, and his promoter Joe De-Guardia, speak about what might be looked at as 2022’s worst decision.
Q: Richie, you were clearly robbed. I haven’t been able to find anyone who had you losing – with some respected fight people having Jack winning just two rounds. Have you watched the fight back yourself?
Richard Rivera: “It’s still one of the painful things of boxing. I don’t think things like that will ever go away, but that’s the sport. The odds were against me, no doubt. I watched it back, like 15 times (laughs). Every time I watch it, I’m like, man, I won the fight! What were those judges watching? I felt good, I felt like not only was I winning the fight, I was displaying a different style of boxing. I guess it wasn’t enough in their eyes [the judges].”
Joe DeGuardia joins the interview.
“Sorry to interrupt, but one of the things that’s important in the game – and as Richie says, it’s been like this, and it’s always going to be like this – you guys, in the press, you have the power to make some changes. And the way to do it is to write about it. This is a terrible decision, and Richie should’ve got that fight, and fighters should have the ability to go places that are other people’s hometowns – which, in effect, that’s his [Jack’s] hometown – and be treated fairly. If a fight is close, okay, I can see it going the other way, but Richie won that fight clear. That’s number-one. But beyond that, what happened in that eighth round! That’s just unacceptable – 2-seconds short of a full minute extra! The rules of the game are the rules of the game, no matter where you are.”
Q: Richie, did you know as a fighter that that round was going long?
R.R: “It felt a little off to me. But at the same time, we were in the heat of battle, so it’s not like I can stop the bout and say, ‘Wait a minute!’ I had to just continue on with the show, and when I went back to the corner, I did ask my corner – I was like, ‘Hey, that felt weird, what round is it! It felt like that round went too long.’ He told me, don’t worry about it; you’re doing great, just carry on doing what you’re doing.’ So I didn’t pay it too much mind. But those type of mistakes, they don’t end at the end of the round. You know, that definitely changed the rest of the fight, the outcome of the fight. Without a whole extra minute, I would probably have been able to perform a lot better in those last two rounds. It’s all over now, though. I can’t change the past.”
Q: Joe, are you going to appeal, as everyone has to agree you have every right to?
Joe DeGuardia: “My plan, certainly we plan to appeal. This cannot be something we just let go. And by the way, do you know who the timekeeper was in the fight?
(I did not and do not)
“Well, guess what, we’ve been trying to find it, and we can’t! How can we not know who the timekeeper is? How can anyone not know? It’s a mystery. I just don’t get it; we should know who the timekeeper is. Is this the first time that timekeeper had been working? Had he been told not to hit the bell? We don’t know anything. We need to find out. Was it just a mistake? If it was just a mistake, okay, let’s deal with the mistake. But there has to be some kind of follow-up here. You know, you’ve got one job when you’re the timekeeper – look at your stopwatch, and you’ve got three minutes to time! If you can’t do that job, you should not be timekeeping.
“Look, I don’t want to say that the timekeeper wanted Badou Jack to win. I don’t want to say that. I don’t want to say that the timekeeper saw that Richie got tagged at the end of the round, so let’s not ring the bell. I don’t want to say that. But it reeks of that, and when we have suggestions of impropriety, that’s not a good thing for our sport. So we can’t just let it go. It has to be corrected. We’re talking about an individual in Richie Rivera, who prepared for this moment to fight three minutes, rest a minute, and then go out and fight three minutes again. That’s what he’s supposed to do, and he gets on the plane, with all the odds against him, and he travels to Saudi Arabia, with two people with him, and you look across, and you’ve got like 18 people with Badou Jack!
“Again, that’s the way it is; I accept that. But when the bell rings, it’s supposed to be equal. We all know judges look at things differently, but the rules of the game are supposed to be the same for both contestants, and they were not. They made a four-minute round. So certainly, we are going to be protesting it. We tried to protest that night, and we were told to come back at the end of the night and they’d give us the form and they would review it, and they mentioned about looking at the [long] round. They basically said that night, ‘No, there’s no protest.’ And that’s not right. I’ve already been in touch here with the ABC, and we’re filing a formal with them. It’s time the commissions if they really had the interests of the sport in mind, they could step in and put this under advisory; they could say they advise that this fight be changed to a no-contest, or they could order an immediate rematch. We know that’s not going to happen. We know Badou Jack’s not going to get back in the ring with Richie. But that should happen, and we’re certainly going to try and do what we can to even the playing field for people in this position.”
Q: Richie, you still put on a great showing, and the fans know you won. What are your plans for the future, this soon after the disappointing, so-called loss? Will you stay at cruiserweight, or might you go back down to 175?
R.R: “I’m still Popeye the Sailor man, and I’ll fight anybody across the ring, whether they’re 201-minus or 168-plus. I’m not afraid of fighting; this is what I do. I don’t train to fight only people in my weight class; I train to fight anybody; I’m a fighter at heart. Anybody can get it. From the fight, I got probably a thousand-plus followers on Instagram, and my phone’s been buzzing ever since. People from all over the world have been hitting me up, telling me I won, that the decision was a disgrace to boxing. So that kind of a statement, there was some positive out of this negative outcome.”
Q: You still fully believe you can and will be a world champion?
R.R: “I must say, it was weird hearing the commentary saying stuff like my hands were low, so I must be tired. I was thinking, ‘No. I’m not – I’ve got another five rounds in me!’ Or they said I was keeping my chin high up in the air, or I was off-balance. That’s how I fight! These are things I could have told you myself. Those shots he hit me with and people think I’m hurt – look at the video, his big shots landed, and I’m still there, right in front of him, exchanging punches. If he hit me once, I was throwing four. I wasn’t hurt; I wasn’t tired. Will I be a world champion one day? A hundred percent.”
(Thanks to Tony Palmieri for setting up the above interview)