by Gautham Nagesh
WASHINGTON, D.C.—We’ve experienced a golden age of amateur boxing in D.C., Maryland and Virginia in recent years, and the youngsters’ success has created a buzz around the professional fight game locally for the first time in recent memory.
Few if any local boxers engender more hope than featherweight Kevin Rivers Jr., who won his long-awaited professional debut Saturday night against David Warren Huffman by unanimous decision at the Convention Center.
"He did very well in his first fight. Went four rounds, showed a lot of skill in the fight," said trainer Lamont Roach. ”He had a tough competitor that wasn’t trying to go out, but I was pleased with his performance.”
"It was wonderful. I loved it," Rivers told Stiff Jab afterward. “I took my time, started out using my jab.”
On paper it looked like a cakewalk, as Huffman came into the bout with a record of 1-7 and had been stopped five times in his first six bouts. However, the Milwaukee native has shown some improvement of late, winning his last bout here against Renaldo Gaines in August and demonstrating better resilience in each of his last three fights.
Rivers has been in the gym, but it has been a while since his last amateur fight. Some rust was apparent early. He jabbed early and went downstairs on Huffman, who was still too slow to catch speedy Rivers. But Huffman was able to avoid the overhand right that Rivers used to stop foes in the unpaid ranks. Even so, Kevin’s advantages in quickness and technique were obvious even in the cheap seats.
Rivers continued to control the action in the second, throwing more body shots and letting up a bit with the jab. He got a little too comfortable in the third and began slinging bombs from the outside, looking particularly casual with his hands down while winging the right hand. Clearly in control at that point, it appeared Rivers was pressing to match the knockouts scored by the other young fighters on the card.
He paid for the momentary lapse late in the round, as Huffman appeared to land a solid right hand that left a mark on his forehead.
"I took it well. If it looked like I got caught, I didn’t feel it," Rivers said. "I feel great."
Kevin came out for the 4th looking fine, scoring with a left hook to the body that was available the whole fight. He continued to out-box and out-work Huffman to the final bell, where he was awarded a clean sweep on all four cards.
While Rivers might not have scored a highlight-reel stoppage in his first bout, Huffman looked far sturdier than the average first scalp for such a touted prospect. I strongly believe the education Kevin received during the four-rounder will serve him far better than rolling over some hapless chump, as many of his peers will do repeatedly.
"He was a good opponent. It’s not about the record," Rivers said. "He was a good fighter, he gave me a good fight."
"He handled everything very well for his first fight. He wasn’t nervous. He was so eager to fight, maybe a little too anxious if anything," Roach said. "I was very pleased. He showed a lot of composure, threw good body shots, kept his hands up, didn’t get hit that much. So it was good, very good overall."
Rivers hails from Palmer Park, Md., which means invoking the name of Sugar Ray Leonard is simultaneously inevitable and sacrilege. Rivers’ ceiling might not be quite that high, but his natural gifts and amateur pedigree offer plenty of reason for hope. His large cheering section on Saturday night indicates the local fight fans are already believers.
Huffman has fought at lightweight and weighed in on Friday at 130 lbs.; Rivers is a natural featherweight and weighed only 127 lbs. In other words, this first bout is probably not evidence of Rivers’ punching power, which should be solid if not spectacular at featherweight. Combine his skills with excellent speed, and you have a prospect with the tools to be world-class.
Rivers is part of an increasingly impressive stable at NoXcuse Boxing and should fight twice more before the end of the year, giving him time to build his already sizable fanbase. He is on the shortlist of fighters we are following closely as their careers develop, who promise to be the future of boxing in the DMV and beyond. One fight isn’t enough to anoint anyone a future contender, but Rivers has a good a chance as anyone. Once he scores a few knockouts, those Sugar Ray comparison may start rolling in.