Just look at all these heavyweight names Jose Ribalta has boxed…Chris Byrd, Vitali Klitschko, Razor Ruddock, Larry Donald, Axel Schulz, Tony Tubbs, Larry Holmes, Michael Dokes, Frank Bruno, Bruce Seldon, Tim Witherspoon, Leon Spinks, Bonecrusher Smith, Marvis Frazier, Pierre Coetzer, and Mike Tyson.
Ribalta, 22-3-1, faced 25-0 Mike Tyson at the Trump Plaza hotel in Atlantic City on August 17, 1986. The Cuban-American actually gave the ferociously intimidating Tyson a memorable, tough battle, showing no fear and lasting until being stopped in the 10th round. Tyson, of course, was a terror back then, and just months away from capturing the WBC Heavyweight title from Trevor Berbick in Las Vegas by second-round KO.
Ribalta discusses his experience of competing against the prime version of perhaps the most explosive heavyweight champions in history…
BoxingInsider: What memories come to mind from your fight against Mike Tyson?
Jose Ribalta: "It was like, he was so powerful, like grounded to the ground. Just powerful, very, very powerful. Very strong man."
BoxingInsider: Before the fight, how did he treat you?
Jose Ribalta: "We really didn’t say too much. He looked at me, I looked at him. I was nervous but I didn’t fear him. After the fight, I saw him downstairs in the hotel and he gave me a hug and said I was a helluva fighter. We were supposed to fight a rematch, when Tyson fought Douglas I was supposed to be the opponent. But earlier that year I fought Jeff Sims and got knocked down and they turned me down. I was the original guy to face Tyson in Japan. I won against Jeff Sims but I got knocked down."
BoxingInsider: What was your strategy against Tyson?
Jose Ribalta: "I actually, it was more…one thing I did when I fought Tyson, I said to myself, when he came to me, I’m gonna hit him with my elbow. When he knocked me down in the second round with a left uppercut, I lost all my memory [laughs]. I wish I had told my trainer that."
BoxingInsider: You had some success in the fight with Tyson, giving him a competitive fight and lasting to the 10th round. What were you able to do to offset Tyson?
Jose Ribalta: "Jab, jab and hold. Was frustrating him. I exposed Tyson. He told me the same thing. If you look at the way Douglas and Holyfield fought Tyson and my fight with Tyson, I exposed him. And just I guess really, just not be afraid of him. So many opponents were intimidated by Tyson. For example, Bruce Seldon, I heard on the night of the fight he didn’t even want to go to the ring with him. I was shocked about that. I thought he would do well with Tyson, he was quick, strong but he got intimidated. If you got intimidated, you had no chance. That was one of his strategies – to intimidate."
BoxingInsider: Did Tyson try to intimidate you?
Jose Ribalta: "I guess. When he came into the ring, I guess so. He had respect for me. Two weeks before the fight in Miami on the news (TV) said that people thought I’d last two or three rounds with Tyson. My mother looked at me, I looked at her, and we just smiled. I said, ‘No way.’ Then in the second round he hit me with an uppercut. I was like, Wow. The uppercut he hit me with – 90% of the people on earth wouldn’t have got up from that."
BoxingInsider: Have you crossed paths with Tyson since?
Jose Ribalta: "We sparred in ’96 for his second fight with Bruno. I was there for seven weeks. They didn’t want to spar with me because I was looking too good on the heavy bag. They kept telling me, Not yet. I was there four weeks before I sparred with him. We sparred only three or four times in the seven weeks. Okay, no problem, I still got paid $1,850 a week. That included food and everything. Tyson was droppin’ em in the gym."
After losing to Tyson, Ribalta continued to box until 1999 when he lost his last fight by KO to Razor Ruddock in West Virginia. Ribalta says, he was set up by his manager Mike Acri, as Ruddock was a late replacement for his original opponent, though Ribalta did earn an extra $10,000 for accepting Ruddock on such late notice. His final ring record was 38-17-1 (27 KO’s). Today, now 49, Ribalta lives in Miami Gardens, FL and works with autistic people at a group home. He says he would like to train a heavyweight prospect boxer to the heavyweight title. Ribalta thinks the emphasis on searching and cultivating heavyweight talent from football is wrong and that basketball athletes, with their superior agility and elusiveness, would translate better to boxing than football players like Seth Mitchell, who Ribalta observes, "…can’t fight."
Jose also recently published his own biography "Courage In The Ring" By Jose Ribalta. It's available on amazon.com