Oliveira returns to change final ring impression
Note: This story was written and originally posted before a neurologist decided that Ray Oliveira would not be allowed to fight Joey Spina on Oct. 2.
Well-timed retirements are a rare and precious thing in this game so most of us applauded Ray Oliveira’s retirement in 2005 following consecutive stoppage losses to Ricky Hatton and Emanuel Augustus.
Oliveira had logged 60 fights over a 15-year career, got enough honest work done to get the respect of guys who know what the game is about, and even made a few bucks against some of the sport’s bigger names at 140 and 147.
He’d never been stopped before the losses to Hatton and Augustus.
Oliveira never was going to be a star. He’d gone as far as he was going to and it was time to get out. He got out. And we all said good for him.
In October, Oliveira will face New England club fighter Joey Spina in The Foxwoods in Connecticut at a contracted weight of 168 pounds. He is 41 years old. It will be his first fight since losing to Augustus.
“My girlfriend thinks I’m crazy. My family thinks I’m crazy. But I’ve been crazy my whole life,” Oliveira told RingTV.com. “I was always supposed to lose, was never supposed to accomplish nothing’, so what else is new for me? It’s the same old stuff everybody’s been sayin’ about me.”
Oliveira spent the better part of the last five years happily retired, he said, and training kids at the On-Point Boxing gym in New Bedford, Mass.
Then, six months ago, something changed.
“I was training pro fighters, amateur fighters, and I didn’t want to come back. I retired at a great time, I didn’t have anything left to prove, I’m happy with my life, and just six months ago I really started training and I sparred a couple times with a kid to get him ready for a fight,” Oliveira said.
“It went real good. We went about three rounds, probably. And everybody said, ‘You look good, you comin’ back?’ And I said ‘Hell no, three rounds is all I got in me, I am dead tired. I don’t want to do this.”
He probably knew then he was lying, as all retired fighters know. They’re all just waiting for that one external voice to tell them what they’ve been telling themselves in a voice that gets louder and more convincing as more time passes since that last terrible loss, and the memory of the shame, pain and humiliation of it fades:
You look good. You can still do it. These young guys got nothin’ on you.
Joe Louis said after he retired that he always knew that some day he wouldn’t be any good in the ring anymore, and the day would come sooner or later, but like all fighters, he fooled himself, thinking, “Not tonight, not against this guy.”
Oliveira didn’t really have the itch to come back until that day he sparred when he turned back the clock in the gym, where clocks are easier to manipulate.
“I went home and kept training, kept working out, and I was running,” he said. “I never ran in my whole life. Guys were saying, ‘I thought you were retired; why you running?’ I said ‘Hey, I don’t want to look old, I want to look good for my age.
“Finally one day I said, ‘I want three more wins. I want to make it to 50 wins.’ I believe I’m in the shape to do it. I believe I have the skills to do it,” Oliveira said.
“I’m not looking for prestige, I’m not looking for money, I’m looking for three wins. I believe I can beat Joey. It’s something I want to do. Before I get any older, when I really can’t do this, I’m doin’ it. Plain and simple. Joey Spina is nothing special. He’s a good friend of mine but he’s nothing special. “
One resists the temptation to remind Oliveira that Trevor Berbick was nothing special, and neither was Jumbo Cummings or Grover Wiley or Jorge Rodriguez or Scott Walker. They all were run-of-the-mill pugs who ended things for older guys who forgot that this is largely a young man’s game.
But there’s something else that is calling Oliveira back to the ring, and it’s got nothing to do with getting 50 wins. It’s about how one is remembered, and no fighter wants to be remembered his last time out looking the way Oliveira looked against Augustus.
He has a reason that fight turned out the way it did, and that’s all any fighter needs to justify a comeback. It’s never just because the time came for it to end, or that the other guy was better on that night. A fighter will always look for a reason and once he finds it the comeback is all but guaranteed.
“Everyone’s lookin’ at the last fight,” Oliveira said. “They don’t know what happened in the last fight. I didn’t train at all. My kids mother and me were goin’ through some things, she was leavin’ me.
“Right before the fight I looked at my trainer and broke down and cried and told him I don’t want to fight again. And he goes, ‘All right, after this fight you’re out of here,’ and I said, ‘I want to leave right now, I don’t want to fight.’
“That’s been eating at me the last five years. No one saw the real me, that wasn’t me in there,” Oliveira said.
No one can blame a man for wanting to set the record straight if he believes it needs straightening. How many of us would give anything to go back in time and create a new last impression we think is more representative of the men we were? And of the men we are?
Fighters have the chance to do that but it comes with risk. There’s a fair chance that Oliveira will get in there and find out to his horror that it wasn’t anything other than the clock had run out on him against Augustus. It happens.
But by that time it’s too late to do anything about it. You’ve got to see it through to the end. That’s what Oliveira plans on doing. And if he comes through it all right he’ll have proved to the fans — and himself — that it wasn’t him in there against Augustus.
If it falls apart quickly, as it often does for 41-year-old athletes, he’ll know what that means too. He’ll find out the truth either way, a terrible business for which most of us don’t have the stomach.
“For 60 pro fights I did it for my parents; my father; my fans; my family; I never did it for me. I never liked boxing,” Oliveira said. “These three fights? I’m doing it for me. I’m not dedicatin’ these fights to nobody. I’m dedicatin’em to me.”
Good for him.
Some miscellaneous observations from last week:
I don’t understand gibberish all that well, but from what I could make out, Floyd Mayweather’s rant was no more racist than the ones Muhammad Ali used to go on when he was the most famous and adored athlete on the planet. Yes, times change. People don’tÔÇª
The last time everyone got so bent out of shape about a fighter saying “racist” things was when Bernard Hopkins told Joe Calzaghe he’d “never lose to a white boy,” which, on the Richter scale of racist invective, rates about a 1.3. From the backlash, you’d have thought Hopkins confessed to masterminding the World Trade Center attacks. Same thing here with MayweatherÔÇª
Hopkins might be an underdog to Jean Pascal in December, but you can bet on this: if he rocks Pascal he won’t stand there looking at him like he’s waiting for him to burst into flames or something. He’ll charge in and headbutt the bejesus out of himÔÇª
Boycott Pacquiao-Margarito on moral grounds if you want, but remember this is a prizefight. Morality has nothing to do with it. It’s not like they’re giving Margarito the Nobel Peace PrizeÔÇª
I’ve always liked Rafael Marquez, which is why I’m kind of dreading his fight with Juan Manuel Lopez in November. He’s always been chinny and Lopez is a dynamite puncherÔÇª
I’m sure I’m all alone on this, but would it be the end of the world if Sergio Mora picked up where Mayweather left off and sent Shane Mosley off to start the next phase of his life, which, presumably, will not be aired on pay-per-view?ÔÇª
Eddie Mustafa Muhammad is training Shannon Briggs, if you’ll pardon the expression, for Briggs’ upcoming fight against Vitali Klitschko. Say this for Briggs: he’ll throw punches until he absolutely cannot throw any more. If history is any indication that’ll be about 40 seconds into the first round, but hey, you can’t have everythingÔÇª
So who announces his comeback first — Oscar De La Hoya or Calzaghe?ÔÇª
It certainly will shake things up if Sam Peter is able to bomb out Wladimir Klitschko in Germany next weekend, but if you think Little Brother will give him a chance to, you’re crazy. Emanuel Steward shouldn’t even bother taping up Wlad’s right hand for all the use it will get. Expect a jab-and-clinch clinic, and the crowd, bless their pacifist hearts, will love every second of it. What’s with those Germans, anyway?ÔÇª
Given the state of the heavyweight division, it is downright remarkable that Lennox Lewis hasn’t said what the hell and gotten back into the mix. Things being what they are, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ron Lyle is in a gym somewhere right nowÔÇª
In case you missed it, Ricky Hatton was quoted as saying he almost certainly won’t fight again, which is a bummer for the game. Draws like Hatton don’t come around every dayÔÇª
Being able to recite the names of the WBC, WBA, WBO and IBF belt holders in all 217 weight divisions does not make you a fight fan. It makes you weird. And not “fun” weird; “uncomfortable and sad” weird.
Bill Dettloff, THE RING magazine’s Senior Writer, is the co-author, along with Joe Frazier, of “Box Like the Pros.” He is currently working on a biography of Ezzard Charles.
Bill can be contacted at [email protected]