Growing up in Palmer Park, Maryland, a suburb of Washington D.C., in the 1970s, youngsters had an option to play Boys Club football, basketball, jam to the go-go lyrics of the late Chuck Brown at “The Squad Room,” or box.
Palmer Park’s 1972 amateur boxing team was notorious. They produced champions in each weight class, including Sugar Ray Leonard, Roger Leonard, Henry Bunch, Derrik Holmes, Kevin Rivers, Sr, Robert and Darrell Foster. Some became champions in more than one weight division.
Kevin Rivers, Jr. has picked up where his grandfather, a street knockout artist, father and three uncles left off. He realized early that he wanted to be world champion someday. At age 6, Kevin studied boxing sitting on the edge of the bed watching TV with his father.
When he told his father, a former pro boxer, that he would become champion of the world, “My father thought I was joking,” Rivers said.
Before ever setting foot in the gym, Rivers’ father taught him the proper way to throw a jab and proper nutrition. The early lessons paid off. In his first 15 amateur bouts, Kevin Jr. established a 12-3 record with powerful body shots that annihilated his foes.
Head Trainer Bernard Roach, owner of No Xcuse Boxing, described Kevin as a puncher- boxer, who was taught how to eat right. “I had to peel a lot of stuff off of Kevin in his first year. Nobody told him that he was a good body puncher,” Roach said.
With an impressive 150-15 amateur record, Rivers won six titles, fought in Mexico, and Italy, was nominated as a U.S. Future Star, earned a Ringside World Champion belt and was ranked the No. 1 U.S. featherweight national champion in 2009, defeating four opponents, including Ernesto Garza, a former National Golden Gloves champion.
“I love the sport of boxing, training, the sacrifices, the game plan, it humbles me,” Rivers told BlackAmericaWeb.com.
In 2012, Kevin lost in the Olympic trials to Cincinnati’s Raynell Williams in the 132-pound weight division in Colorado Springs.
Roach said that Rivers “lost mentally,” but now understands that he must know his opponents. Losing in amateur competition made Rivers hungrier to get better.
Rivers said he decided not to train for the 2016 Olympics because he felt he had nothing else to learn as an amateur. At the end of the summer, he approached his manager Curtis Malone and said he was ready to turn pro.
So far, his pro record is 4-0, with three knockouts.
In his last fight, Nov. 3, at the Washington Convention Center, fighting as a junior lightweight, Rivers scored a first round knockout against Bobby “The Prodigy” Wooten of Wilson, North Carolina, in just 31 seconds with a single punch.
“I trained hard for the fight, but Kevin caught me with a body shot, I underestimated Kevin, he’s a good power counter puncher,” Wooten told Skip Crumpler, a trainer from Wilson, North Carolina, after the fight.
Monday through Friday, Kevin runs, trains, spars, does sit-ups and jumps rope. He’s only been knocked down once. He said using steroids is not an option and that he has no weaknesses. “I know a lot about boxing and I keep a good mindset,” he said.
He said he appreciates his trainers, Bernard Roach, Roach’s brother and Dale Savoy, and he routinely studies tapes of Sugar Ray Leonard and Floyd Mayweather.
On March 2, Rivers will fight Antonio Sanchez. Rivers said that right now he knows little about Sanchez, whose record is 1-0-1, but “I want to make sure I’m ready.”
Aggressive in the ring, outside Rivers is a cool, but very ambitious guy. While his father was well-known in the streets, the younger Rivers prefers a lower profile and has developed a career plan. In two to three years, he anticipates being a top contender and, ultimately, a Hall of Fame inductee. After he retires from the game, Rivers said he wants to open a business and give back to the community.
He regularly hangs out with relatives and supports their efforts, recently attending a high school fashion show in which a family member participated.
He said his parents Cheryl Wallace and Kevin Rivers, Sr., are supportive of his efforts and he has sought to stay on the right path, becoming and remaining an honor roll student throughout school and he continues to focus on his Bible studies.
“Kevin knows right from wrong, I do not bother him, I give advice when needed, and I thank God for giving me the strength to be present,” said Kevin Sr., now a driver for Metro Access, the transit system’s service for the elderly and disabled.
The younger Rivers said he is honored to be a part of the Palmer Park tradition.
“It’s a great feeling to carry on the torch from Palmer Park and sign autographs.”