Jose Nino Ribalta Interview: Tyson, Morrison and HIV, Cuba, Charity Comeback
Jose Nino Ribalta Interview: Tyson, Morrison and HIV, Cuba, Charity Comeback
By Robert Brizel, Real Combat Media Correspondent
In an exclusive interview with Real Combat Media, former top rated Cuban heavyweight contender Jose Nino Ribalta talked about sparring with Tommy ‘The Duke’ Morrison without being told Morrison had the HIV virus, his televised fight with Iron Mike Tyson, his flight from Cuba as a child and desire to one day go home, and his ‘ maybe’ intention to return to the ring in four rounder bouts for charity to benefit the Police Athletic League boxing club in North Miami Beach where he also wishes to train fighters again, which is near his Miami home.
The late night telephone call from Ribalta follows the spectacular story posted and tweeted on the Real Combat Media in which the tragic diagnosis of Thailand former world super bantamweight champion Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym with HIV/AIDS on the eve of his bout with champion Guillermo Rigondeaux was highlighted, as well as the plight of ten other boxers past and present who contract the HIV /AIDS virus, some who died of it. Of particular interest was the lengthy section in the Real Combat Media story about former WBO World Heavyweight champion Tommy ‘The Duke’ Morrison, whose comeback fizzled but who satill continues to deny he has the HIV /AIDS virus, and who may be close death today due to medical neglect.
Ribalta has a special interest in the Real Combat Media HIV / AIDS and boxing story. Ribalta was the principal sparring partner for Tommy Morrison just before it was revealed Morrison had contracted the HIV virus, blowing Morrison’s 38 million dollar contract, and heavyweight bouts with Arthur Weathers and Mike Tyson.
Ribalta, who left the ring with his faculties, is today a successful specialist in Florida in two areas unrelated to the boxing world he left behind. Ribalta works as a Florida public school middle school security guard, and is a Florida group home worker caring for and working with autistic adults.
Ribalta’s boxing resume is a who’s who of the heavyweight division. He once knocked out former heavyweight champion Leon Spinks in the first round. Other opponents Ribalta has faced in the ring include Iron Mike Tyson, Dr. Vitali Klitschko, Donavan Ruddock, Chris Byrd, Larry Donald, Axel Schultz, Larry Holmes, Joe Hipp, Tony Tubbs, Frank Bruno, Bruce Seldon, Pierre Coetzer, Michael Dynamite Dokes, James Smith, Tom Prater, Marvis Frazier, James Bonecrusher Smith, Juan Antonio Figueroa, and Cecil Coffee. The list is endless, and ‘Nino’ fought them all in his time-for better or for worse. He believes this gives him the right to assess the dangers faced by fighters in the ring from other fighters who have contracted HIV.
Ribalta contacted Real Combat Media in a follow up to the HIV /AIDS story section on Tommy Morrison to explain what happened in the days leading up to him in the days leading up to Morrison’s HIV diagnosis and the aftermath that followed, and the dangers of alcohol and drugs which destroy many an athlete’s career. A deeply religious man, he credits Jesus Christ with keeping him healthy and clean and away from the traps many fighters fall into. Ribalta admitted taking the last several fights in his career strictly for the money-a contrast from his current charitable goals.
Real Combat Media: “How are you doing today, Jose?”
Jose Nino Ribalta: “I’m 6’6″, 270 pounds, living in Miami, and doing just fine.”
Real Combat Media: “You heard about my Real Combat Media story on the tragedy of Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym and other professional boxers like Tommy Morrison who have contracted HIV /AIDS, some who died of it.”
Robert Brizel’s Story on The Tragedy of Boxers With HIV /AIDS
Jose Nino Ribalta: “I wanted to tell you I was the last sparring partner of Tommy ‘The Duke’ Morrison in Oklahoma before he tested positive for the HIV / AIDS virus. This was never discussed with anyone, before your Real Combat Media story. I have much to tell about that and other things in my life, enough time has passed.”
Real Combat Media: ” Are you still involved in boxing, Nino?”
Jose Nino Ribalta: “I have been out of boxing for a year and a half. I had a three year contract as a trainer and it expired. Right now, I am planning a comeback at age 49 (after 14 years out of the ring) to fight four rounders in Florida for charity, to raise money for the Police Athletic League Boxing Club run by Ian Ford in North Miami Beach, where I will also volunteer my time working with kids as a trainer.”
Real Combat Media: “Nino, what can you offer boxing at this stage in your life?”
Jose Nino Ribalta: “I love God. I am a religious man. Jesus Christ has taught me all things are possible. The streets of Miami are really bad. A lot of killing. The young people are getting destroyed and getting killed. There’s a lot of drug killings in Miami. As a boxing trainer, I get the kids minds to do something else, to do something positive with their life through boxing. While I teach them, they will see how successful I am at my age when I return to the ring, and in the other things I do, and they will say if he can do it at his age I can succeed too.”
Real Combat Media: “Do you think a lot about sports and America’s youth today?”
Jose Ribalta: “Definitely. My son is a football player at Miami High school. He’s 6’4″, 233 pounds, and he’s being recruited now. The top football colleges who are looking at him. He’s very quick for his weight. He play’s guard. I’m proud of my son’s accomplishments and that I’ve been a god role model to him. I want to go back to training youth in the boxing gym. What set me back was I have two jobs at which I am very successful, security guard in the middle schools, and care worker of autistic adults in group homes, so my time is limited. To make a boxing comeback as a fighter and a trainer, I’ll try to make the time, and I intend to get relicensed and fight four rounders in 2013. I’ve already approached my contacts at the Florida State Boxing commission and I can get relicensed, whatever I want to do, so long as it makes sense (the opponents if he fights again).”
Real Combat Media: “Florida security guard and heavyweight boxer Levi Forte, who first boxed in 1961 and went the ten round distance with George Foreman in 1969, made a comeback at age 58 in 1999 in Florida and fought a four rounder with 1-14 Miami heavyweight Isaac Poole, age 39. Do you remember that Florida bout?”
Jose Nino Ribalta: “I know the guy who was in that bout with Forte, who lost.”
Real Combat Media: Nino, what’s your physical condition right now?”
Jose Nino Ribalta: “I’m in decent shape right now. Not in the shape I would need to be in to win a world title like I was in my prime, but I still go out there and run five miles everyday.”
Real Combat Media: “In your last fight in 1999, was the opponent were switched?”
Jose Nino Ribalta: “The night before my lat fight Donavan Razor Ruddock was a last minute opponent the night before. I was not really ready for the fight. I believe my agent set me up because I saw him in Ruddock’s corner after the fight.”
Real Combat Media: “You intend to comeback and fight charity four rounders?”
Jose Nino Ribalta:“Maybe, yes, to raise money for the Police Athletic League. Six rounder bouts are better. I am still a big draw to the floor to sell tickets in the Miami Cuban community, and my face too. Everybody knows me. If not for charity, I’ll remain retired.”
Real Combat Media: “You kept silent on what happened between you and Tommy Morrison for over 16 years, and now you have chosen to break your silence on Real Combat Media. Tell the real story. What happened between you and Morrison?”
Jose Nino Ribalta: “I heard Rumors Tommy Morrison had gotten mixed up with drugs and crack cocaine. He was acting kind of weird after our sparring sessions. he looked at me kind of strange. He was making facial expressions like a woman which I did not understand. I believed it was drug abuse. Something was wrong with him. He just seemed weird, the way he behaved. He was always too himself. He didn’t talk much, even if you said hello or how you doing. He was withdrawn, as if he had something to hide. Evidently, besides drugs, Morrison did have something to hide.”
Real Combat Media: “Nino, how did you feel in 2007 when Morrison said he did never had HIV /AIDS in the first place?”
Jose Nino Ribalta: “”I was in shock when Tommy Morrison went public and claimed he didn’t have AIDS. In 1996, after Morrison’s potential bout with mike Tyson got cancelled, I received a doctor’s note stating Tommy Morrison had AIDS, and for me, I should go and get tested for AIDS.”
Real Combat Media: “Nino, what did you do next?”
Jose Nino Ribalta: “For the first time I will tell the boxing world what happened, and how a boxing in this situation feels. I got tested for AIDS because of my exposure to Tommy Morrison as his sparring partner. I was very frightened. I was scared because we were sparring at that time. In one of our sparring sessions, I had punched Tommy in the nose and he was bleeding. Tommy’s blood got all over my gloves and me. Morrison never said anything to me about AIDS. No, no, no, he never told me. Fortunately I tested negative for the HIV virus. Very very scary.”
Real Combat Media: “Were other boxers in the camp also exposed to Morrison?”
Jose Nino Ribalta: “Unfortunately yes. Florida heavyweight Lee Gilbert was also in training camp with me, and was Tommy Morrison’s other sparring partner in Oklahoma. Gilbert was in far greater danger because he had been exposed by Morrison to HIV for a longer period of time. Gilbert had been in camp training by his fight with ‘The White Buffalo’ Francois Botha. (Gilbert lost the 12 round decision to Botha for the NABF Heavyweight title in Tampa, Florida in 1997, his only professional loss in 22 fights). I’m not sure when Lee got tested for HIV, but I called him immediately when Morrison’s HIV status became known, and talked to Lee about Morrison’s HIV situation. I was as concerned for my friend Lee’s life as I was for my own. Thankfully Lee Gilbert is alive and doing fine now in Florida. He works today as a schoolteacher.”
Real Combat Media: “Nino, did you realize big paydays in your boxing career?”
Jose Nino Ribalta: “In boxing I did not make that much money in my time. I wish I had made millions, as much as Larry Holmes (who Ribalta lost a ten round decision to in Mississippi in 1993). I didn’t.”
WATCH Jose Nino Ribalta versus Cecil ‘Country Boy’ Coffee on YouTube
Real Combat Media: “When did you and your family immigrate from Cuba?”
Jose Nino Ribalta: “In Cuba, my father, Jose Ribalta Sr., worked for Cuban President Fulgencio Batista as his top man. My father was the supervisor of all the sugar cane fields in Cuba before Batista went into office. He became real close with Batista. My father got shot twice in the stomach during the Fidel Castro Communist Revolution in 1958. He survived and went into hiding with the Batista people. Batista left the country. I am a casualty of the revolution myself. my older brother, Jose Felipe, is still living in Cuba. In Castro’s Cuba at age 16, you had to go into the army and he went in.”
Real Combat Media: “Nino, when did you come to the United States from Cuba?”
Jose Nino Ribalta: “Eventually, ten of my family members came to the United States from Cuba. I came over with three of my sisters and three of my brothers. I was four years old. At that time, the United States did not want too many Cubans to come in. So my family members left Cuba at different times in separate trips.”
Real Combat Media: “Nino, do you ever want to go home.”
Jose Nino Ribalta: “I have never been back to Cuba. I would like to go back and visit some of my uncles, aunties and cousins.”
Real Combat Media: “Tell me about the Mike Tyson fight in 1986. You were down three times but got up.”
Jose Nino Ribalta: “I felt I could win the Mike Tyson fight. My intentions were to hit Tyson with an elbow, and then take him out with a big shot, taking him out of his game plan. What happened? When Tyson knocked me down in the second round, I got confused. I wish I had told my intentions to my trainer Dave Clark at the time, because he didn’t know my game plan and could have reminded me. I did not think I was ahead on points when Tyson stopped me late in the tenth round, but the bout was closer than people said it was at the time. I won at least three or four rounds.”
WATCH Mike Tyson versus Jose Nino Ribalta on YouTube
Real Combat Media: “In 1992 you lost a split decision to Michael Dynamite Dokes.”
Jose Nino Ribalta: “I won that fight and got robbed. After the fight, I was told Don King told Dokes, all you have to do is go 10 rounds and the decision is yours. But the ‘win’ did not help Doke. Michael had a reputation of being into alcohol and drugs. He was tested and clean when he fought me, every test, clean. His later addiction to cocaine destroyed him and cost him his WBA heavyweight title, and then he spent ten years in jail for beating up his girlfriend. He died over liver cancer in 2012.”
WATCH Jose Nino Ribalta versus Frank Bruno in England
Real Combat Media: “Did you see other fighters using drugs, HGH or steroids?”
Jose Nino Ribalta: ” Steroids and Human Growth Hormone? That I never saw. Fighters using drugs? Yes. Of course. I won’t say who, but the night before I fought a world famous fighter, he came to me and asked me to smoke marijuana with him the night before the fight. I told him I don’t do that stuff. I’ve never smoked or drank, never used drugs or alcohol, and I never drank beer. I’m absolutely clean.”
Real Combat Media: “Nino, you were friends with the Hector Macho Camacho.”
Jose Nino Ribalta: “I knew Hector very well. Macho Camacho was a friend of mine back in the day. Whenever he would see me he would give me a big hug. His death? Hector just got involved with the wrong people. In the past two or three years, I have heard rumors Puerto Rico is not a good place to be. A lot of drug dealing and killings there. Hector was such a lovable person. Once you step in with drugs, you live too dangerously a life. Macho’s car was shot up in Puerto Rico last year while he was driving. Macho just lived too dangerously.”
Real Combat Media: “Nino, when did you last spar in the ring?”
Jose Nino Ribalta: “Once and awhile I do sparring. Two years ago, I sparred with the number of ranked heavyweights in the world. I did real good, so I know I can come back for charity if I set my mind to it.”
Real Combat Media: “What is your life like today?”
Jose Nino Ribalta:” I currently work in a group home with autistic adults. I really do enjoy working with autistic people. I also work security at a middle school in Miami Beach. The kids in my middle school always ask me about my fights with Mike Tyson and Leon Spinks. I tell them, you weren’t born when I fought Mike Tyson! They say, my father showed me the video.”
Real Combat Media: “Nino, who are the best heavyweights today.”
Jose Nino Ribalta: “Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko are the best heavyweights out there now. I have not kept up with the heavyweights of today, because they aren’t like they used to be. I don’t know much about Robert Helenius. David Haye is alright, he’s a physical fighter but I don’t think he’ll beat the Klitschkos.”
Real Combat Media: “You have several comeback offers. Against who?”
Jose Nino Ribalta: “Eight or nine months ago, I wanted to fight Samuel Peter. Samuel has been out of the ring since 2011, when Robert Helenius and Wladimir Klitschko both knocked him out. More recently I was offered a fight with Golden Boy’s 26-0 26 knockouts WBC Continental Americas titleholder Deontay Wilder of Alabama, a 2008 Olympic Bronze medalist who knocked out 14-0 Damon McCrery and 13-0 Kelvin Price this year. They offered me ten thousand dollars, and I told them for that I should stay retired. I would have to take a lot of tune up fights before I could be ready to fight on a world title level. A lot of people don’t realize when I fought Vitali Klitschko in 1998 in Germany, I had a fever. If not for the fever I could have won that fight at that time. When I fought Axel Schultz in Austria in 1996, I had him bleeding and beaten and got robbed of the ten round decision.”
WATCH Vitali Klitschko versus Jose Ribalta on YouTube
Real Combat Media: “Nino, why do you want to return as a fighter and a trainer?”
Jose Nino Ribalta: “Besides having little money, today’s youth have a poor lifestyle, it’s the way they live. When I train kids in boxing, it gives them encouragement, and helps them to see all things are possible if you believe in yourself. Have faith that all things are possible. I love God. With Jesus Christ all things are possible.”
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