El Gallo’s motto: Live by Faith, Not by Fear
His motto? “Live by faith, not by fear.”
Known to family and friends as José Antonio Rivera, and to the boxing world as “El Gallo” or “The Rooster” in Spanish, the 31-year-old fulfilled his lifelong dream against Michel Trabant in 2003, when he secured the WBA Welterweight Championship.
It was a dream nurtured inside the Philadelphia-native since the age of eight, when he watched boxing with his cousins and uncles. Yet only two years later, his dream of becoming Champion nearly died — along with his mother.
“I grew up without a dad,” explains Rivera, “and when my mom passed away when I was 10, that crushed me. I gave up on life. I hated the world — and I let people know it.”
Rivera and his four siblings, along with their meagre belongings, were shipped among relatives between Puerto Rico and the States. As a result, Rivera slipped out of school and into the world of drugs and alcohol.
“Little by little I realized that lifestyle leads to nowhere; there’s a dead-end there.” Hitting rock-bottom at 14, Rivera says he dropped to his knees and cried out to Jesus whom he’d learned of in church. That was the first time in four years he’d asked God for help. “I thought He was responsible for all the bad things that happened in my life,” the boxer admits.
Rivera says God answered his cry through an aunt who took him in and helped him get back on his feet. That was when he decided to open his heart to Jesus, inviting Him into his life.
“After I finally started thinking about God and praying and having a relationship with God … I started realizing how all the time He’s been there, watching and helping me, even when I hadn’t asked Him to help me.
“It’s totally a father-son relationship,” Rivera adds.
Not only did the teenager return to school in Massachusetts; he returned to the pursuit of his dreams. For El Gallo, it was always about fighting professionally. Having trained under the highly-regarded coach Carlos Garcia of the Worcester Boys and Girls Club, Rivera endured a 35-10 amateur record and usually boxed older and more experienced opponents.
This led to him becoming a bronze medalist at the National P.A.L. Championships, and a member of the New England Boxing Team, which competed against Team Ireland in 1991.
Turning professional in October 1992, he soon signed with his current manager, Steven ‘Tank’ Tankanow. Rivera marked the ring as his own, earning both the IBO and the NABA championships. Then, following a period of inactivity due to a hand injury, he stepped out on Sept. 13, 2003 at the Estrel Convention Centre in Berlin, Germany, to capture the WBA belt.
When asked how it felt to secure the prestigious championship, Rivera — with a record of 37-3-1-0 — responds, “Winning the World is a self-satisfaction for me — a goal, an accomplishment; the [title], cars, money — those are material things. Having a relationship with God is much more satisfactory because that is real; having a relationship with God is as real as it gets.”
Nevertheless, El Gallo is determined to defend what he fought so hard to get. Having been out of the ring since that memorable day in 2003, Rivera will finally fight again in April against the undefeated No. 1 contender Thomas “Lionheart” Damgaard, of Denmark.
“There’s been a combination of finding someone to fight and injuries that have kept me from fighting … those things happen, I can’t control them. I leave them in God’s hands and He’ll take care of everything for me.
“I don’t know what God’s reason was for allowing this year of bad things to happen,” Rivera continues, “but I sure know that when I find out, it’s going to be a beautiful thing.”
El Gallo has chosen to turn to God in hardships; “that’s when you have to trust God even more because that’s when He’s able to bless you more. Those are the things that people don’t see.”
The boxer’s actions match his words. Husband to Daisy, and father of 11-year-old Anthonee José, Rivera’s faith shines in his devotion to family and to his community.
In January 2004, he received the Telegram and Gazette’s 2003 Visions Young Leader Award for his youth leadership in Worcester, MA.
“Mr. Rivera overcame numerous challenges growing up in the inner city and demonstrated what hard work and determination can translate into when he captured the WBA championship belt,” commented Visions Awards panel member Thomas Cole.
Tankanow added of his pupil, “I have watched José grow from a child into an adult. Through the ups and downs of life, he always manages to stay in the sunshine, and he inspires those around him to do the same. He lives by faith and not by fear.”