Heavyweight journeyman Jose Ribalta was given "no chance" against an undefeated up and coming Mike Tyson when they faced off in an HBO-televised fight in Atlantic City on August 17, 1986. Although he did not get the victory that night, Ribalta was victorious in earning respect in becoming only the third man to reach the tenth round against the ferocious Tyson, giving the future heavyweight champion all he could handle in what was the toughest fight of his career to that point. Ribalta's recently released auto-biography, "Courage In The Ring", provides some insight into how this was achieved, along with several other moments in a 17-year career that involved fighting the best heavyweights of his era.
The book details Ribalta's exile from Cuba in 1967 with his mother and nine of his 10 siblings. Meanwhile, his father, a sugar cane inspector from the town of Rodrigo in Las Villas Province, and oldest brother stayed behind until they were able to make their way to the United States eleven years later. Ribalta describes the struggles he and his family faced while trying to integrate into a different world, including learning how to defend his dignity early on in life.
"I had convinced myself that any pain arising from a beating was better than losing my dignity," Ribalta writes as he prepared to defend himself against a childhood bully who had threatened to steal his lunch money.
Ribalta began boxing at the age of 13 and turned pro six years later in 1982 after having had a good amateur career, winning the Florida Golden Gloves among other local tournaments while living in Miami. As a professional, he faced ten men who were at one time the owner of a version of the heavyweight championship, including Frank Bruno, Michael Dokes, Larry Holmes, Vitali Klitschko, Bruce Seldon, James “Bonecrusher” Smith, Leon Spinks, Tony Tubbs and Tim Witherspoon.
Saving the best for last in his book, Ribalta shares his experience against a 25-0 (23 KO) Tyson – a contest for which the 6’5” Cuban will always be remembered. Rising from a vicious right hook body/uppercut combination that knocked him down in Round 2, a shot that virtually stopped almost all of Tyson's previous opponents in the early rounds, Ribalta maintained his poise and stayed in the fight. He continued to come right back while absorbing everything Tyson threw at him, using his physical advantages and experience to neutralize his aggressive and dangerous opponent.
Even a second knockdown in the latter stages of Round 8 when he slid against the ropes did not deter his gutsy and gritty determination.
A massive left hook dropped Ribalta again in the tenth and final round but he immediately got up and was ready to continue. Referee Rudy Battle jumped in to stop the fight during the ensuing attack, a decision that some observers believed was premature given how well Ribalta had responded to Tyson's punches up to that point.
"The book is also meant to show how strong we are as a family. We can't really be beaten," Ribalta told Boxing 101, pointing to bitter decision losses both he and his brother, Jose Felipe (who fought Teofilo Stevenson three times in Cuba), suffered during their respective careers.
In addition to the heavyweight kings he fought, Ribalta also sparred with Muhammad Ali, Gerry Cooney, Tommy Morrison, Lennox Lewis and Tony Tucker.
Ribalta, now 50 years old, still resides in North Miami Beach, Florida where he trains young local fighters and attempts to steer them in the right direction both in and out of the ring. He also has been a caretaker for autistic adults for the past eight years.
The Kindle edition of "Courage In The Ring" is now available on Amazon.
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