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Ray Oliveira Jr. makes pro debut this weekend, with father in his corner

Credit: CES Boxing

Father-son relationships in boxing are often as unpredictable as the sport itself. In the case of Ray Oliveira Jr., and his father, “Sucra” Ray Oliveira, a highly successful fighter from New Bedford, Mass., who starred during the sport’s mainstream boom in the 1990s, boxing actually brought them closer together, establishing a relationship that didn’t exist during Oliveira Jr.’s teenage years.

“If it wasn’t for boxing, we’d be distant. There wouldn’t be much of anything,” said Oliveira Jr., the newest member of the CES Boxing team who makes his professional debut Friday, Sept. 12, 2014 on the undercard of CES’ “Title For Title” card at Twin River Casino.

“That’s where his focus is. The gym. Boxing. At times, when I turned away from boxing and had too much going on in my life, whether it was my own kids or work, we didn’t have much of a relationship.

“But I love my dad,” he continued. “He’s awesome. That’s why, for me, boxing is more than just a sport.”

Himself a father of two — a 4-year-old son, Tyson, who he insists wasn’t named after the legendary Mike Tyson, and a 3-year-old daughter Myah — Oliveira Jr. is now ready to enter the family business, making his debut Friday following a brief, but productive, amateur career against Angel Valdez of Providence.

His father will be in his corner, a textbook ending to a story with its fair share of stormy chapters. Oliveira Jr., who’ll turn 24 on Thursday, grew up in and out of foster homes until he was 17. He was born just two months after his father’s professional debut, so while Oliveira Sr. was wrapped up in his own career and taking care of his other children (Oliveira Jr. is one of nine children fathered by Oliveira Sr.), Oliveira Jr. spent most of his childhood living with his mother, but that household wasn’t steady either as she constantly batted drug addictions, forcing Social Services to intervene.

“He had a lot of children to keep up with,” Oliveira Jr. said of his father, “but that’s no excuse.”

Oliveira Jr.’s aunt, who lived in nearby Springfield, adopted him when he was nine, but he also found solace with the Livramentos, Joann and Nathan, a local family from New Bedford with strong boxing roots. The late Nathan Livramento, who himself boxed and once trained Oliveira Sr. at his local gym before relocating to Atlanta, was a major influence for Oliveira Jr. He spent many years in that household while in and out of foster care and couldn’t help being drawn into the sport, which was a lifestyle for the Livramentos.

“Boxing was always in the house. It was always on TV. Their sons boxed. Their dad was a trainer,” he said. “Because I was always in the gym, it was a part of my life. It was just there for me. I didn’t have any real plans for it back then. I just knew it was what I wanted to do.

“I guess you could say there was always that ambition to be something great.”

The relationship between father and son remained icy until Oliveira Sr.’s father died seven years ago.

“Until he passed away, I didn’t realize how much I missed him,” Oliveira Sr. said. “I didn’t want the same for my son.”

At 17, Oliveira Jr. moved back to New Bedford and began reconnecting with his father, a process that included forgetting the past and focusing on the present.

“By that point, I considered myself an adult,” Oliveira Jr. “I had been taking care of myself for so many years, even when I was living with my aunt. I was used to it. I had a lot to learn, but I was still an adult, so for me it was like, ‘I’m grown now. I don’t need a dad.’ Having someone try to be a father to me would’ve been hard for me to accept. I probably would’ve pushed him away and been distant. I like the way we built it back up.”

“It was definitely tough not being a part of his life all those years,” Oliveira Sr. said. “I told him, ‘There will be a lot of sacrifices you won’t like.’ Christmases. Thanksgivings. Birthdays. I would miss a lot of those. I said to him, ‘You’ll hate me now, but when you grow up you’ll understand why I did it.’

“I think he understands now.”

In some ways, the Oliveiras are more like friends than father and son, but Oliveira Sr. knows when to intervene like any father would, especially when it comes to guiding his son’s career.

“The way I was raised by my aunt, and the morals I have within myself, I still respect him as a father,” Oliveira Jr. said. “When he wants something done, you’d assume I was raised by him. That’s just how it is.

“But our relationship is very friendly. He gives me a lot of advice. We do a lot of things together, but he does step back and play the father role when I may be entering a certain situation or not making the right decision. He’ll say, ‘No, that’s not the way you do it.’ He does help in those ways.”

“I’m really, really proud of him,” added Oliveira Sr. “I tell him that all the time. You want your child to be better than you. I tell him, ‘You’re a better father than I was. You’re a better man than I ever was. Now it’s up to you to be a better fight than I was.'”

Whether or not Oliveira Jr. gets to that level remains to be seen. Either way, boxing is, and always will be, a part of his life. It brought him and his father together after more than 15 years apart, and it introduced him to his best friend, Scott Sullivan, another CES Boxing protégé who will also make his debut on Friday’s card.

“For me, it’s just there. I’m not sure how to describe it,” he said. “So much of my life was based on boxing. My son loves it, and it helps us connect. My daughter loves to watch boxing. If I didn’t box 100 percent, I don’t know what I’d do with myself.”

“It’s still a learning process for him,” Oliveira Sr. said. “I remember his first week of training. He said, ‘Dad, I hate this,’ and I told him, ‘It’s going to get even harder.’ When I had a fight, I was in that gym and I was dedicated. The real champions are built in that gym. That’s where I want him to be like me, dedicating himself in the gym.”

He’s in the right hands, back with his father after more than a decade apart, proving some father-son relationships in boxing are about more than just wins and losses.