In this special “On The Ropes” Boxing Radio interview, I catch up with former heavyweight boxer, Jose Ribalta. Jose was one of the tougher heavyweight trial horses for many of the top fighters and champions of the 80’s and 90’s. Ribalta amassed a career record of 38-17-1 with (27 KO’s) and fought the likes of Mike Tyson, Larry Holmes, Tim Witherspoon, and Vitali Klitschko just to name a few, and had some controversial defeats against some of his better competition. Jose speaks in detail about some of the moments from his career and talks about his book “Courage in the ring” that chronicles his life both in and outside the ring. Here are some excerpts from the interview. (Press play on the player to hear the interview in it’s entirety)
On his book “Courage in the ring”
Jose Ribalta: The book is called “Courage in the Ring” it’s on amazon.com. The book is pretty much about my career. I talk about me and the world champions that I boxed in my book. I fought “Razor” Ruddock, Tony Tubbs, Michael Dokes, Larry Holmes and Mike Tyson. The fight with Mike Tyson was a very brutal fight and I explain it to people, pretty much round for round, what took place in these rounds.
People are gonna get the struggles that I’ve been through, coming from Cuba and also a lot of bad decision I got here. Even when I fought Axel Schulz, I fought him and I got a real bad decision and even against Pierre Coetzer, James “Bonecrusher” Smith and Tim Witherspoon. I beat a lot of these guys and got real bad decisions in these past fights that I had.
Dealing with bad decisions
Jose Ribalta: When I fought Tim Witherspoon, it was so sad because they scored the fight a draw, I was so upset because I really felt I won that fight. Then 15-20 minutes later, they changed the decision and gave Tim Witherspoon the fight. I was really upset by that fight.
The only fight I really shed tears was when I fought James “Bonecrusher” Smith, because this was my beginning, my first experience of being in a fight and clearly winning the fight and not getting the decision. I really started crying after that fight.
Experiences with Muhammad Ali
Jose Ribalta: I sparred Muhammad Ali in 1984, towards the end of 1984. I sparred with him when he had a gym in Miami, Florida. He really had a quick jab, I said to myself, “Man, this guy still has decent speed in his jab.” We sparred 3 rounds, it was real good sparring.
Then eventually I fought “Bonecrusher” Smith in 1985 and Ali came to my fight, he told me pretty much how to fight Smith because I’m pretty sure he had seen him fight before in the past, therefore he told me, “Listen you go out there and stick and move, he’s a big strong guy but you have good speed, so you should be able to beat him.”
After the fight, after the bad decision that was given, Ali just looked at me and he said to me, “Man I’m sorry, you really won this fight but these things happen, continue being strong, you’re a good boxer.” That’s that he told me, I said, “Thanks Ali, I really do appreciate that.” After he spoke to me, that’s when I really started crying, I really felt bad about that.
On fighting Mike Tyson
Jose Ribalta: I remember on channel 7 on TV, my mother was alive at that time, and channel 7 had said, “Ribalta is not expected to go past 2 or 3 rounds against this up and coming fighter named Mike Tyson.” Then I looked at my mother and I said to her, “You know mom, no way he’s gonna knock me out or beat me,” and she threw a kiss at me and said, “I know that.”
When I fought Tyson, one of the reasons I was really confident against Tyson was because he was really similar to guys that I had boxed before in the past. I was just amazed at the speed that he had once I had encountered him in the boxing ring. I was amazed at his hand speed, his punching power was obviously great also, but I didn’t really think he hit as hard as people expected.
On the heavyweight fighters of today, and facing Vitali Klitschko
Jose Ribalta: The heavyweight champions of today, I really don’t think too much of them. When I fought Klitschko, I really thought that Klitschko really couldn’t punch that hard. He was a decent puncher, but in that fight, I fought Klitschko with a fever, and the doctors knew that and the commission knew that. They told me I had to fight because there were too many tickets sol and I couldn’t pull out.
I went ahead and I fought Klitschko, and when he hit me in the first round, I went down and I got back up but I felt so depleted, I really had no power for that fight. Taking nothing away from the Klitschko’s, they are good boxers, both of them. I wish I had been in better conditions as far as not having a fever when I fought Klitschko.
How he feels about boxing and the stars of today
Jose Ribalta: Pacquiao is not a bad fighter, but the only fighters I really respect are Floyd Mayweather and Bernard Hopkins because these are the only two guys I see that continue doing old school boxing. The old school boxing is still what Mayweather has, that’s maintaining him beating these guys, same thing with Hopkins.
Old school boxing is really what’s winning these fights for them. These young guys today are the one’s that do the same thing, they come out with this new type of boxing, hands down, the technique is completely different.