Featherweight Kevin Rivers Jr. Looks to the Future After Winning His Weight Class at USA Boxing National Championships

By Bill Oram
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Little more than a week after his win in Denver, Kevin Rivers Jr. is back to his old routine in the gym in Southwest Washington. In shorts emblazoned with "USA" and red, white and blue shoes, he dances and spars and sweats. In a room crowded with other fighters, all chasing similar dreams -- the Olympics, world titles, glory -- the nation's No. 1 amateur featherweight blends in. Strange, because in the realm of amateur boxing, he is such a standout.

The Headbangers Boxing Club, located in a back room of the Bald Eagle Recreation Center just off of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, has a reputation for turning out great fighters.

Lamont and Anthony Peterson. Ty Barnett. They're pros. And on this day, as is frequently the case, Rivers works out alongside them, the latest to fight his way to national prominence. On June 13 at Denver Coliseum, Rivers, 18, knocked off Texan Jerren Cochran in a 21-11 decision to win the USA Boxing national championship at 125 pounds.

"He's number one. The number one guy in the USA," says Patrick Harris, Rivers's trainer and a former amateur super heavyweight.

Now, Rivers is elevated to a new sphere of boxing. He's a member of the national team. His focus is on September's world championships in Milan. Later this summer, he will train at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. He gets a monthly stipend of $1,000. All perks of winning the national title.

At 5 feet 7, Rivers doesn't impose fear until he starts swinging. His eyes focus relentlessly on his target, his sinewy arms like topographical maps for all their lines and ridges. A tattoo, "Killa," surfs on his convulsing left biceps.

Suddenly, the proclamation of a former professional boxer's toddler son doesn't seem so far-fetched.

"When he was, like, 3 years old, he'd seen my trophies lying around and my posters and he said, 'One day I'm going to be champ of the world,' " says Kevin Rivers Sr., who trained with Sugar Ray Leonard but never could match the Palmer Park native's success.

So the father took the son to a gym as soon as he was old enough to wear gloves, even if it was more like the gloves wore him.

"Do you like it?" the father asked.

The son: "Dad, I love it."

Kevin Rivers Sr. and Cheryl Wallace never married. So their son, young Kevin, was first raised by his mother, who then lived in Bell Haven and is now in Cheverly. When Kevin was about 8, he moved in with his father, who helped his son occupy his time with boxing. Then, at 14, Rivers moved to Brandywine to live with his half-sister Kevina Rivers, 31, a single mother of two who works two bartending jobs.

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