He might not have won a world title, especially fighting in an era first ruled by Larry Holmes and later Mike Tyson, but Jose Ribalta still built a solid career that made him one of the top heavyweight contenders from the mid-1980s through the early 1990s.
Ribalta’s accomplishments will be recognized Sunday afternoon in Tampa. Ribalta, a Miami resident for nearly 40 years, heads the class that will be inducted into the 2014 Florida Boxing Hall of Fame.
“I was definitely excited when I heard the news,” Ribalta said of his Hall of Fame recognition. “It shows that I am being complimented for the fights I had and the hard work I put in my career.”
Ribalta, 51, fought 12 former and eventual world champions during a career that spanned 18 years. The titleholders in Ribalta’s fight resume included Tyson and Holmes.
When Ribalta faced Tyson in 1985, Tyson was on his blitzkrieg-like rampage of knockout victories. Tyson had stopped 22 of his first 25 opponents, including 16 in the first round.
Ribalta withstood the best of Tyson’s shots and lasted until midway through the 10th round, when Tyson was declared the winner by technical knockout. After his win against Ribalta, Tyson became the youngest heavyweight champion, stopping defending champion Trevor Berbick in two rounds.
“When I fought Tyson, I stepped into the ring confident that I was going to beat him,” Ribalta said. “What surprised me was how quick he was. He had fast hands.
“I didn’t feel the fight should have been stopped but I knew certain people wanted to maintain Tyson’s impressive knockout streak.”
Among Ribalta’s professional accomplishments was his first-round TKO win over former champion Leon Spinks at the Coconut Grove Exhibition Center in 1987.
Ribalta also was on the short end of disputed decisions against ex-champions James “Bonecrusher” Smith, Michael Dokes and Tim Witherspoon. And Ribalta’s link to 21st century heavyweights was a fight against eventual champion Vitali Klitschko in 1998, when Klitschko stopped Ribalta in two rounds.
“The heavyweight division was very tough when I fought,” Ribalta said. “The competition was deep. Many of the guys that weren’t champions then would be champions today.”
Ribalta retired after a loss against former contender Donovan “Razor” Ruddock in 1999. His final career record was 38-17-1 with 27 knockouts.
A native of Cuba, Ribalta moved to Miami when he was 12. Soon thereafter, Ribalta joined the amateur boxing program at Moore Park Gym. Ribalta credits his first trainers, Eddie Ludlow and Bobby Allen, for teaching him to appreciate boxing and Dave Clark, the trainer who led him to a successful amateur career, for developing his skills.
Under Clark’s guidance, Ribalta won two state Golden Gloves championships and was a national Golden Gloves runner-up. Ribalta compiled a 65-8 amateur record before turning professional in 1982.
A Jackson High graduate, Ribalta was a starting defensive lineman with the Generals football team in the early 1980s.
“I was being looked at by several universities so football was an option I considered,” said Ribalta, who currently works in the security staff at Feinberg-Fisher School on Miami Beach. “But I got into a dispute with my position coach during my senior year, quit football and dedicated myself completely to boxing.
“Despite all my setbacks, my career was awesome and I thank God for the opportunity. Going into the Hall of Fame is quite an honor. I am happy and blessed that I am recognized for being a good fighter.”
In addition to Ribalta, the 2014 Florida Boxing Hall of Fame class includes promoters Felix “Tutico” Zabala Jr. and Walter Alvarez and promoter-manager Luis DeCubas.
Zabala followed his father, Felix “Tuto” Zabala, into the profession and has become one of the sport’s busiest and successful promoters. Alvarez was part of the promotional team that presented the epic Aaron Pryor- Alexis Arguello fight at the Orange Bowl in 1982, while DeCubas has helped guide the careers of champions, such as Roberto Duran, Hector “Macho” Camacho and Joel Casamayor.
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