Twenty-five years ago, CES Boxing president Jimmy Burchfield Sr. promoted his first event at the Rocky Point Palladium in Warwick, R.I., headlined by then rising prospect “Sucra” Ray Oliveira of New Bedford.
On Saturday night, Oliveira’s son, Ray Oliveira Jr., fights for the seventh time as a pro at Twin River Casino in CES’ first show of 2017, kicking off the promotions’ 25th year anniversary celebration. Fate?
“My son decided he wants to box as well and starts his training this year,” said Oliveira Jr., who faces Connecticut’s Jose Rivera in a six-round battle of unbeaten junior middleweights.
“This year also marks 10 years since my grandfather, the man who pushed my dad to box, passed away. It sounds like destiny to me.”
The symmetry is undeniable. CES has always been regarded as a family promotion, and Burchfield Sr., who’s been promoting fights for a quarter of a century in both boxing and, most recently, mixed martials arts, prides himself on providing fighters with the tender loving care missing from some of the more recognizable names in the business.
While most fighters are just a number elsewhere, CES fighters remain part of the family long after they throw their final punch. New England ring legends such as Oliveira, Gary Balletto, Scott Pemberton, Peter Manfredo Jr., Jason Estrada and five-time world champion Vinny Paz, the subject of the recent biopic film Bleed For This, are all members of CES’ prestigious Ring of Honor for their contributions to the sport both in and out of the ring.
Burchfield is considered a father figure to fighters past and present, so it’s only fitting Oliveira returns 25 years later, still heavy involved in the sport, with his own son fighting on CES’ landmark anniversary show looking to keep his perfect record intact.
Saturday’s fight against Rivera, a 2-0 prospect from Hartford with two knockout wins on his resume, could be the toughest of Oliveira Jr.’s career. The younger Oliveira is 6-0 following a unanimous decision win over the tough Matt Probin in December.
“I hope you took enough notes,” Rivera warned Oliveira Jr., “because I’m not your typical test.”
Fights like this one, featuring two rising stars willing to put their undefeated records on the line, are part of what has kept CES Boxing relevant for nearly three decades in a sport where success is fleeting and up-and-coming promoters fade faster than old photographers.
In recent years, its brand has expanded to include mixed martial arts, which has become a booming business due to the worldwide exposure of AXS TV, but boxing remains the cornerstone of Burchfield’s staunch empire, a franchise he’s often likened to the Providence Bruins and Pawtucket Red Sox to properly assert its place in Rhode Island folklore.
Saturday’s card features nine bouts, all of them competitive, some of which feature CES’ top prospects stepping up to face the toughest test of their career on one of the region’s biggest stages at the Twin River Event Center. It’s what separates CES from the competition, the willingness to challenge young fighters and provide fans with a memorable experience.
“This is what our sport needs and it’s what our fan base demands. Solid, competitive fights. This is what drives the market,” Burchfield said. “Fans don’t want to show up knowing who’s going to win before the first bell rings.
“We pride ourselves on bringing you the best entertainment for your dollar and it’s an honor to be celebrating our 25th anniversary this year with a dynamite season opener at Twin River Casino.
“Without our fans, we would have never survived more than two and a half decades, so everything we do is designed to provide you with the most enjoyable, interactive experience possible to ensure our one-time fans become lifetime consumers.”
The Oliveira Jr.-Rivera bout, scheduled for six rounds, is one of several headline-worthy matches on CES’ Feb. 4th season opener. The eight-round main event features Worcester, Mass., junior middleweight and reigning Universal Boxing Federation (UBF) Northeast and International Champion Khiary Gray (14-1, 11 KOs) defending both titles against Brooklyn’s Courtney Pennington (9-4-1, 5 KOs), who promises a repeat performance of their 2012 amateur bout in New York, won by Pennington.
“This stage gives me the opportunity to show that I belong in the conversion. I’m from Brooklyn and have never had anything handed to me,” Pennington said. “Maybe that’s why I don’t mind what they call a challenge in the ring.
“I plan on my hands being raised, just like the last time we fought, only with more pain. Come February 4th, it’s bump time.”