The pro career of Oscar Rivas has been one beset with as many frustrations and delays as it has enjoyed big wins and forward momentum. Thus, his victory last week over former world title challenger Bryant Jennings represented a number things for the powerful fighter who has called Montreal home after representing Colombia at the 2008 Olympics. It was a high-pressured audition for genuine contender status; a chance to jolt to life an injury-plagued career with a win over a world-ranked foe; a chance to finally get some major momentum for his career, and, realistically, the first and last shot he might ever get on U.S. television. In stopping Jennings in dramatic fashion in the final round of a match that was up for grabs, “Kaboom” Rivas finally blasted open the door leading to the rest of his boxing career and made himself matter.
Now that Rivas has finally beaten an established heavyweight — not for a lack of trying to secure a meaningful fight, mind you — the more pressing issue is what’s next and how far can he go in boxing’s glamour division. Although he’s built like a suit of customized armor, Rivas’ physical shortcomings are obvious in a division ruled by veritable giants; he stands a shade over six feet tall and boasts a 76.5-inch reach. And that’s not to mention the myriad injury woes that have slowed him down over the last few years. These are realities that have to be taken into consideration when assessing Kaboom’s potential, but the flip side of this is that the Columbian has been dealing — expertly, it must be said — with these physical deficiencies his entire career. If setbacks and struggles only make you stronger, then Rivas is a fighter of Herculean might.
This is a logical segue into the positives of Rivas’ performance against Jennings who, if not a top contender, represented a legitimate challenge and Rivas’ best opponent by far. Jennings also possesses a freakish 84-inch reach, longer than Deontay Wilder’s and only an inch shorter than Tyson Fury’s. Why mention this? Because against Jennings, Rivas was able to work the jab and get close enough to land punches, all while forcing the Philadelphian onto his back foot.
Make no mistake, Rivas vs Jennings was no barnburner; in fact it was probably a good cure for insomnia. But what matters is the end result, keeping in mind that Rivas’ lead on two of the three scorecards at the time of the stoppage was warranted. He dictated pace and ring geography for most of the fight, and his defense was sound. Jennings may have touched him a little more, but Rivas’ work carried greater purpose, as if he was consciously building towards something dramatic. But let’s not skirt around a larger issue: that allegedly purposeful building almost amounted to a whole lot of nothing, because after a tactically sound first half of the fight, Rivas failed to get out of third gear — until, of course, the final three minutes.
There are two ways to look at this: first, Rivas had to consciously pace himself for the championship distance, which could be an issue against better heavyweights given that he needs to be active and on the inside to do damage against bigger men. Second, Rivas silenced any doubts about stamina issues by carrying his power into the final round of a major fight and scoring his first ever stoppage past six rounds. In other words, the glass is half full and Canuck boxing fans, who know Rivas is the best heavyweight north of the border, are choosing to hope this victory represents not only the biggest win of Oscar’s career, but also a legit breakthrough going forward.
That said, it must be noted that it took Marc Ramsay — who is climbing the ranks of the world’s best trainers — doing his best Emanuel Steward impression before the bell for round twelve to finally light a fire under Kaboom’s ass, but credit Rivas for coming through. Much like Ramsay-trained best bud Eleider Alvarez, Rivas had been a fighter who teased with his undeniable natural ability but seemed to lack urgency and that je ne sais quoi needed to break through and fulfill his potential.
Alvarez, obviously, got over that hump when he blasted Lucian Bute, and he’s been on an absolute tear ever since. There’s reason to believe this win for Rivas could be the equivalent of Alvarez’s triumph over Bute in terms of that necessary career turning point. You’ve got to like Rivas’ chances of building on this and being even better and more dynamic in his next fight.
That said, much will depend on matchmaking. Rivas clearly belongs in the ring with any top ten heavyweight, but a path to a title shot needs to be carefully plotted. Names like Kubrat Pulev, who Rivas beat in the Olympics, and Robert Helenius, have been floated, but for this writer one name really jumps off the page as an intriguing opponent that could help Rivas further bolster his credentials: Carlos Takam.
Whether this is possible factoring in network allegiances and such is another matter entirely, and Takam has made it clear he wants to get revenge against recently stretched Dereck Chisora, but there’s a lot to like about matching Rivas against the man who went ten hard rounds with Anthony Joshua. Takam, like Rivas, is a short, bullish heavyweight who isn’t hard to find in the ring and will make Rivas fight, which could play into the Columbian’s hands. Takam, while certainly tough, can be knocked out, and he’s also 38-years-old, but he’s a proven top contender. In other words, a victory over Takam would almost certainly lead to a title shot.
There’s also the fact that Takam speaks French and fought in Montreal in 2014. If Eleider Alvarez successfully defends his title against Sergey Kovalev in February, an Alvarez-headlined defense in Montreal or Quebec City in the summer with Rivas vs Takam as the co-feature would be a mouthwatering prospect. Toss in another Groupe Yvon Michel prospect, Christian Mbilli, on the undercard and you’ve got a real French connection going. And seriously, don’t overlook language in all this; Takam, a Frenchman and road warrior to begin with, might be more amenable than other opponents to compete in Rivas’ adopted backyard, a metropolis we like to call The Fight City.
At minimum, Rivas is two fights away from realistically positioning himself for a title shot. Those two bouts must happen in 2019, as he’s had too many protracted layoffs and false starts already. The fact that he fought in January is perfect, making another pair of 2019 ring appearances more than realistic. With the heavyweight contender heap the deepest and most intriguing its been in years, Rivas fits in perfectly, but now is the time to make the big move.
It should also be noted that Oscar skyrocketed to fourth in the latest WBO rankings, and two marquee contenders are ahead of him: Jarrell Miller and Dillian Whyte. Both have been mentioned as possible Anthony Joshua foes for the big Brit’s next fight, so Rivas and his team might target the odd man out. This would be a bold and admirable play, and Rivas is live in either match-up. Of course whether Whyte or Miller, loudmouths with profiles that currently dwarf Rivas’, would want to take that risk and jeopardize their current standings is uncertain.
Oscar Rivas can certainly go all the way to a heavyweight title shot. He’s skilled, powerful, and well-schooled. If he ever makes it there, he’ll likely be a significant underdog, but so be it. Most are against the likes of Joshua, Wilder, and Tyson Fury. But toss Rivas in against top contenders like Whyte, Miller, Chisora, Takam, Dominic Breazeale, Luis Ortiz, or Joseph Parker, and Rivas, at his best and firing on all cylinders, can beat any of them. And what should scare potential foes about what Rivas showed in his breakout win is that he clearly possesses, deep down, the will to do it.
— Zachary Alapi