Happy Birthday Jose Ribalta Interview: Memories of Castro’s Cuba, Calls Out Mike Tyson for Gentleman’s Rematch

By Robert Brizel, Head Real Combat Media Boxing Correspondent

In an international Real Combat Media boxing exclusive former heavyweight contender Jose ‘El Nino’ Ribalta, on the occasion of his 54th birthday on March 31, 2017, has become the first fighter to call out the retired Iron Mike Tyson to fight him. Ribalta, now working and living in North Miami Beach, Florida, left his native Rodrigo, Cuba in 1967 to immigrate to the United States, and lived in Washington D.C. until 1972. Ribalta moved to Florida in 1972.

Ribalta compiled a professional record of 38-17-1 with 27 knockouts between 1982 and 1999. Ribalta fought 10 rounds with Tyson at the Trump Plaza Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Ribalta was knocked down in the second, eighth and tenth rounds before referee Rudy Battle stopped the bout at 1:37 of the tenth round. Ribalta came back   title, but the opponent was changed by Don King to Buster Douglas instead. Douglas knocked out Tyson and won the world heavyweight title. Ribalta still feels that should have been his moment instead, and hopes Tyson will come out of retirement to fight him again.

Jose Ribalta: “Some people still say Iron Mike Tyson versus Jose Ribalta was the best heavyweight bout ever! I would like to fight Tyson again!”

Robert Brizel: You fled Fidel Castro’s Cuba with your family when you were four years old.”

Jose Ribalta: “I would like to go back to visit Cuba. The Ribaltas could not go back to Cuba. Of course I would like to go back (home to Cuba) one day. I would like to, though it’s unlikely it will happen. Fidel Castro was a dictator. He was a leader, of course. He was the boss, the one who called the shots. He and his soldiers were in control and had the good things. Everyone else in Cuba (the people he ruled) was not on his level.”

Robert Brizel: “What happened to your family in Cuba?”

Jose Ribalta: My father was a (cabinet) adviser to President Fulgencio Batista. He fled to exile into Spain, and died there. My father was never in prison. They did not kill him. My father sent my mother and ten of the eleven children to Washington D.C. My father knew Castro was taking over, so he got everyone (in our family) ready to leave. My oldest brother was 16 years old, and at 16 you had to serve in Castro’s army. He could not leave. My brother was an amateur boxer who fought Teofilo Stevenson in Cuba three times. Castro’s soldiers were looking to kill my dad, so he went into hiding.. My father could not leave until 1978, 11 years later. Things (the political climate) eventually calmed down. My oldest brother followed my father to America one year after that. They were eventually allowed to leave because the rest of the family was gone. I was one of three boxing bothers. I had another brother who was 8-1-1 as a professional welterweight.”

Reader’s Note: Fulgencio Batista Zaldívar (1901-1973) was the elected President of Cuba from 1940 to 1944, and U.S.-backed dictator from 1952 to 1959, before being overthrown during the Cuban Revolution. 

Robert Brizel: “You fought Mike Tyson in 1986. Your reflections on Tyson, then and now.”

Jose Ribalta: I fought Tyson at 211 pounds. I had a stomach virus before I fought him. I ain’t scared of him. Then or now. I’ll fight Tyson again. The judges had it 9-0, 8-1, and 7-2. I believe I won more than two rounds. The commentators would only say something when Tyson punched, not when I punched. When I fought 10 rounds with Larry Holmes, Holmes knocked me down. Two judges told me if not for the knockdown, they would have scored the fight for me. Holmes told me he hit me with the hardest right hand he ever threw, and could not believe I got up. Tim Witherspoon and Larry Holmes were afraid of me when they fought me. They did not want to fight me.”

Robert Brizel: “Why on your 54th birthday do you want a rematch with Iron Mike Tyson, 30 years after you first fought him? Is it for the money?”

Jose Ribalta: “Ten years after we fought in Atlantic City, we sparred in the gym. I did real good with him in the gym. I feel more confident (today) I can beat Mike Tyson if I get the opportunity to fight him again.  I have not seen Mike since we sparred in the gym in 1996.”

Robert Brizel: “Where would you fight your rematch with Tyson? Las Vegas?”

Jose Ribalta: “Of course (in) Las Vegas. I want everyone to see me beat Mike Tyson.”

Robert Brizel: “Why should Mike Tyson return to the ring and grant you a gentleman’s rematch?”

Jose Ribalta: “I was the original guy Don King had for Mike Tyson’s title defense against James Buster Douglas. He knew the king of fighter I am. I was the original guy supposed to fight Tyson, which was supposed to be for the world title, my rematch. I got knocked down by Jeff Simms, who I beat over 10 rounds. Buster Douglas beat Oliver McCall, and he got the opportunity to challenge for Tyson’s heavyweight title instead.”

Robert Brizel: “Can you beat Tyson the second time around?”

Jose Ribalta: “I know I’ll beat Tyson if we fight again! Iron Mike might be afraid of what I’ll do to him this time? I still spar occasionally with the young kids in the gym. I should have been fighting my rematch with Tyson in Japan. So many people who saw me and Mike Tyson fight are still talking about it in Facebook today.”

Robert Brizel: “Nino, what do you want to say to Iron Mike Tyson?”

Jose Ribalta: “Mike, let’s do what we were supposed to do in 1990. It should have been me in the ring in Japan, not Buster Douglas. What’s interesting is so many people still love to watch our 1986 fight. There was no quitting on my behalf or Tyson’s behalf. See the results. People would love to pay to watch us fight again on pay-per-view. Mike and I could be the co-main event on Deontay Wilder’s next card. I know our fight would still draw. It’s a great idea. A lot of people of Facebook say do it, they reminisce about how we felt after each round (which we fought).”






Robert Brizel - Head Boxing Correspondent
Robert Brizel - Head Boxing Correspondent
Robert is the Head Boxing Correspondent for Real Combat Media Boxing since 2013. Robert is also a photographer and ringside reporter for the RCM Tri State region which includes NJ, NY and PA. Robert conducts exclusive interviews, provides historical boxing articles and provides editorial ringside coverage of major boxing events. You can contact or follow Robert on Facebook and by email at robertbrizel@realcombatmedia.com.