'Chino', Jason and Tevin. It's a Family Affair.
There may have been a nod of mutual appreciation or support as their hands were wrapped. They might have shared the odd joke as they waited for the knock on the door telling them that it was their turn to make the walk. Their ears will have undoubtedly pricked up and they will have cast a glance - consciously or unconsciously - when they heard the crack of the other beginning to warm up on the pads.
Whatever moments of camaraderie Jason Sosa and Tevin Farmer shared during a tense few hours in the away fighters quarters at The National Guard Armory in Philadelphia in January 2012, it’s almost certain that during the hours they spent prowling the same square of lino, neither fighter envisioned just how big an impact they would eventually have on one another’s lives.
That night, Sosa, then 4-1-1, battled to a draw with Angel Luis Ocasio and Farmer, 3-2-1 at the time, outpointed Tim Witherspoon Jnr. The pair collected their wages and went their separate ways. Both certain they had talent, neither with any idea how to harness it.
In New Jersey, Raul ‘Chino’ Rivas immersed himself fully in his training career when his cousin and mentor Oscar Suarez [renowned for his work with Acelino Freitas and Prince Naseem Hamed] suddenly and sadly passed away at just 47 years old. Rivas was proud to continue Suarez’s legacy but every trainer longs for the opportunity to forge their own path and mould their own champions. Rivas went about devising his system. He just needed the right characters to debug and implement it.
“I had the privilege of being under Oscar. I was with him for over 20 years until he passed away around ten years ago. I had to take the responsibility of training the rest of the guys because my cousin was no longer there,” Rivas told Livefight. “Then Jason came into my life and I started building. When I got Jason he was 4-1-2. I took him on a run of 13 knockouts and people started wondering who this guy ‘Chino’ was.
“When I [started with] Jason Sosa. He had nothing. And I mean nothing. We got him a place and a car. We got him a job. He came from Camden, New Jersey. His mother was an ex-drug addict and he never met his father. At the end of the day, I gave him a father figure. That kid loves me. It’s me over anybody. He came from nothing and he came into my life with nothing and I’ve given him love. Plus I’m building him a career. All we’ve done is go knockout, knockout, knockout.
“My motto is “Family Structure” I’m Puerto Rican and my father always raised us with so much love in my household. I knew that if that worked at home, then combined with what I know, that’s going to work for me and my fighters.”
“‘Chino’ means the world to me,” says Sosa, who is something of a poster boy for Rivas’ system. “He’s my father. I was born and raised without a dad in my life. I’ve always known ‘Chino’ here and there but we actually got together about four or five years ago. We clicked then and we have a special relationship. I trust him with my life and whatever he says goes. It’s not just me, it’s about all of us in this team and that’s why were getting as far as we want. We listen and have a big family structure. There’s a lot of love in the gym.
“We’re accomplishing things together. We started out rough but we got it together and little by little we’re accomplishing it.”
That family structure plays a major part in the success Rivas and his team are currently enjoying. Sosa - who has agreed to take on WBO title holder Vasyl Lomachenko in a title unification fight on April 8th - is the WBA junior lightweight world champion. A title he won by walking down the heavily favoured Javier Fortuna in China. A solid routine was also a big factor in attracting the extremely talented Farmer to make the move down the I-676 from Philadelphia
“We all help each other. We got to where we’ve got by helping each other,” Farmer told Livefight. “I was from Philadelphia and I would come over here to spar Sosa. He was here a year or two before I joined up. I always liked the way they worked and the relationships they had. I split up with my trainer and these were the first people I thought about.
“It was like a family right away. We’re all good people so there was a connection there instantly.
I think ‘Chino’ is one of the best trainers in the world and I’ve also gotta mention Rashiem Jefferson. ‘Chino’ takes what we’ve got and gets the most out of it. He don’t switch nothing up or change nothing. He doesn’t have just one style, he can work with any style. It isn’t just me and Sosa either, he has a lot of other top quality fighters.
“Let’s put it like this. Without ‘Chino’ and Raishem I wouldn’t be where I am today. No way. They both bring something different to the table and they put in a tonne of hard work. ‘Chino’ is the mastermind behind it all. Raishem is the lever guy. He does the work. ‘Chino’ thinks about things and masters it and then ‘Raishem’ is the guy that goes out and puts it together.”
On the face of it, Sosa, now 20-1-4 (15 KO’s), and Farmer, 24-4-1 (5KO’s), look to have little in common but the fact that they both compete in the super featherweight division. To categorise the two based purely on their boxing styles and personalities would be to overlook the core beliefs which have been central to their eventual success.
Quietly spoken and unassuming, Sosa’s work ethic was forged by his upbringing in Camden where determination and an uncompromising will were crucial factors in avoiding the trappings of the notorious locality. Farmer is a livewire. His enthusiasm for the sport is infectious but he is fuelled by an unshakeable self-belief that if he keeps working hard, the opportunities will come. The line between self-confidence and impatience became blurred early in his career but rather than instilling doubt, the setbacks simply reinforced his inner steel.
“Sosa had about three amateur fights and I had around 16. We’re definitely both short on amateur careers,” Farmer said. “We had to take those [early] fights. We had no guidance. We didn’t have ‘Chino’ or Raishem in those days. We had jobs and we had to learn. We would hope that somebody would see us and maybe decide that we had enough talent to get behind. Eventually, it happened.
“Those early experiences are definitely helping Sosa and it’s helping me purely by watching [him do] it. I know that he’s from the same gym as me and that if he can do it, I can do it. It’s definitely motivating me mentally to know that I can do the same thing.
“A lot of my work comes from sparring Sosa and him getting me to work on the inside. Now, I think I’m one of the best inside fighters out there. In Sosa’s last fight, he boxed a lot more. That’s come from me helping him. He already had a way of coming forward, I had the boxing skills, footwork and head movement and he’s helping me out on the inside and helping me come forward. Now we’ve got the best of both worlds.”
It’s perfectly natural for an offspring to feel jealousy when somebody else begins to compete for their parents affection. Sosa remembers the day a familiar face bounced into his gym and, as it turns out, into his life. Rather than feeling threatened by Farmer’s presence, Sosa welcomed it.
“I was with ‘Chino’ first and I saw Tevin Farmer walk through the gym doors. My first impression was that he’s a very smart kid. I already know exactly what I’ve got on my hands with ‘Chino’ and for somebody who is looking for a new trainer and a new beginning to come looking for ‘Chino’, I straight away thought that this kid was smart.
“I respected him from day one. The first time we shared a ring is was just perfect, man. It was him and me, me and him and now, [look at] the growth that we’re accomplishing together. He’s getting better, I’m getting better. It’s beautiful to see. I’m surprised they haven’t made a movie about me and Tevin Farmer yet.
“We push each other to the max. He’s my brother and I love him to death but for this Lomachenko fight - just like every other fight - Tevin is going to be there and he’s going to push me to the max. I want that from him. He’s going to make sure that when I get in that ring, that I’m at my best.
“It’s fate. It was meant to be.”
Whereas Rivas knew Sosa from the streets of New Jersey, he had no such connection with Farmer. The brash, self confident fighter was a entirely different pupil to this laid back classmate and Rivas has worked hard to create a bond. The fact that he has had to work hard to earn his own recognition enabled him to understand Farmer’s mindset.
“One of the most difficult things with Tevin was teaching him how to be patient. He knows that he’s better than a lot of these guys at 130lbs but he isn’t getting his shot. I tell him that politics plays a huge part in what he’s going through.
“If I’d had him since the beginning he’d be undefeated. No manager or promoter who has an elite fighter or an undefeated guy who had a great amateur record is going to fight him. In order for us to get Tevin a title shot, we’re going to have to earn it. Just like we’ve been earning our stripes for the past five years he’s been with me. He’s 26 years old. When we do get a shot we’ll take it and we’ll be world champions for a long, long time.”
For Rivas, putting together a team who share the same values as he does was the difficult part. He had no doubts about his ability to successfully impart his methods on two fighters who are constructed of such different raw materials. Sosa will happily walk into the teeth of a gale in order to impose himself but whilst Farmer ha grown comfortable operating in the eye of the storm, he is more inclined to dodge the raindrops.
“The first thing I do is teach them the value of love and respect, “ Rivas says. “I tell them that everybody is equal. We have to love each other and support each other. We go out together and go to the movies. I cook dinner and the team all comes to my house and I’ll do BBQ’s. That’s the structure we have. You can’t come to my place and think you’re better than anybody else. That’s not how it works.
“I take the good in a fighter and keep it. I don’t try to change him. For example, I looked at Tevin and decided what I thought he needed. We had to make him a little more exciting but I did that by improving his defence and adding in more angles. We could stand and exchange but still be that elusive, quick fighter. Jason is a power fighter so I took some of Tevin’s boxing skill and implemented that into Jason’s style. I’ll take the strength of one fighter and add it to another one.
“In my house right now I have four fighters. I cook for them all. I’m not their manager but this is how I do things. If I’m going to the store, they come. If I’m going to my mothers house, they come. They embrace that. They all call me ‘Pops’ andI know that whatever I teach, they believe in because it is no longer a coach - student relationship, it’s father-son and they don’t want to let me down. They will tell you, they’ll say, “I cant let ‘Pops’ down.”
Sosa and Farmer were totally focused on their own interests that night in Philadelpjhia. Now, the two have developed into inseparable allies and integral figures in each others development. Rivas has created a real team in New Jersey. In fact, scratch that. For the fighters and trainers in ‘Chino’s’ household, win or lose, boxing is a family affair.