Carleans Rivas: Beauty outside, beast inside
MARIKINA CITY, Philippines - Carleans Rivas doesn't fit your stereotypical image of a boxer: she has no visible scars on her face, and her nose hasn't been pushed in by repeated punching.
Despite her attractive looks and toned build, though, she is offended by remarks suggesting she is too beautiful to box. You wouldn't say that to Oscar de la Hoya or Sugar Ray Leonard, after all.
Boxing is usually a venture of necessity, entered in by those desperate to literally fight their way out of poverty. It's unusual then that Rivas, whose professional record stands at two wins against zero losses and 3 draws, has modeled and acted on the side. She is a product of private school education, having attended New Hope in Faith in Angono, Rizal.
Her father is a mechanical engineer while her mother is an actress and movie producer who has traveled around Asia as a singer. Rivas has dreamed of being an airline pilot since the first time she looked up at the sky and saw a jet pass by.
After high school, Rivas attended Central Escolar University before transferring to Informatics International College in Cainta, where she studied pharmaceuticals. If not for a lack of 5 credits, Rivas might be dishing out prescription medication at your local drugstore instead of punishment to her opponents.
The 23-year-old Rivas will look to punish Jessebelle Pagaduan (5-0, 3 KOs) this Saturday, July 27, when they face off at Barangay San Dionisio covered court in Paranaque City, in a 6-round bout with the vacant Philippines Games and Amusement Board (GAB) female minimumweight (105 pounds) title at stake.
Rivas-Pagaduan will be the first time that a female will ever be crowned Philippine champion in any weight. It will air at a later date on PTV4's "In This Corner" boxing program.
Rivas has always been inclined towards pugilism long before she ever put on a boxing glove. By 4th grade, Rivas was often in schoolyard fights, more often with boys than girls.
"When I was a child, my hobby was getting bullied by other children," explains Rivas to Rappler as she winds down a training session at Maic's Gym in Marikina City. "They said I'm a snobbish person, so I punched them."
Rivas remembers one incident when she was 8 years old, when some classmates showed up at her front door to challenge her to a fight. "I said 'No, I don't like to fight kids like you, you can't fight with me,'" proclaims Rivas, who says she proceeded to pummel two of the boys as the other two ran for safety.
The parents of the boys came to school the next day to complain about her, but her good looks became as viable a weapon as her fists. "They said I'm too beautiful to fight with the boys, so my strategy was to look pitiful. They didn't get mad at me at all."
It took a boy in high school to finally temper her fury. "He looked like Piolo Pascual," recalls Rivas, as she lets out a girlish giggle. To get his attention, Rivas followed him to the badminton team, where she eventually surpassed her crush in ability and made it to the varsity team. Rivas was also a varsity of the basketball team, and may have been an excellent collegiate athlete had matters been different.
After high school, her crush — the reason she settled down emotionally — went off to another school. That letdown brought out the defiant aggressiveness in her again.
Rivas put down the basketball and racket and began training in Muay Thai. Fighting other girls was a different experience for Rivas; and despite being a relative novice, she won a silver medal in a National Capitol Region tournament. Afterwards, Rivas looked for a bigger game to hunt, and that's when she walked into a boxing gym.
After 3 amateur fights, Rivas linked up with trainer Joselito Rivera — a pro during the '90s with a record of 19-6 (14 KOs) and who was an early stablemate of Manny Pacquiao — and turned professional in 2011, defeating Honey Mae Bermoy by a unanimous decision.
When she encountered return fire from her opponents, she reacted like a fighter should. "Whenever I got punched, I felt stronger," says Rivas. "I told myself not to be hit again."
But being tough in the streets and having the boxing experience to win fights over 4 rounds are two different things, and 3 of her next 4 bouts ended in draws.
"I need more experience," says Rivas. "I have to work on my footwork and my tactics. I think I'm slow in footwork."
But if Rivas is aware of where she needs to improve, she is also keenly aware of her strengths in the ring. "My right hand," says Rivas, holding it up like Lara Croft might hold up her finest weapon. "I'm a strong counterpuncher."
With Jessebelle Pagaduan, Rivas will have the ultimate acid test to figure out whether she has what it takes to be a serious fighter.
Pagaduan, 28, of Baguio City, has an unblemished record since turning pro last March. Pagaduan knocked out her first 3 opponents as a professional, and would've been the defending champion had she not failed to make the 105 pound weight limit in her last bout.
Pagaduan is strong, with a smothering assault style that makes for an uncomfortable night for any opponent. Like Rivas, she, too, was a Muay Thai fighter.
"She's a slugger fighter and [has a] strong left hand," analyzes Rivas, who says she sparred Pagaduan 3 times in 2011 and remembers getting the better of the action. "I've studied her moves; now I think I can beat her."
"The one who will win is the one who will fight more intelligently," says Anson Tiu Co, the event's promoter. "Both of them shouldn't think of a knockout. I believe it'll go the distance, and the one with the stamina will be champion." Manila native Tiu Co has long been a patron of female boxing, long before he founded Shape Up Boxing Promotions.
Tiu Co sponsored the 2004 Philippine Olympic Committee amateur boxing team from Baguio, bringing 4 female boxers and one male to Lanao del Norte. Alice Kate Aparri was awarded Best Female Boxer of the tournament, while the one male Marvin Somodio, who is now one of Pacquiao's assistant trainers, won Best [Male] Boxer.
Tiu Co also sponsored Aparri's trip to India in 2006, where she won a bronze at the World Women's Amateur Boxing Championship.
Filipinas have achieved a trace of success in professional boxing, most notably in Ana Julaton, a Filipina-American with roots in Pangasinan, who once held the WBO super bantamweight championship; and Gretchen Abaniel, a native of Palawan, who has fought competently all over the world.
Up until 8 years ago, female boxing was disallowed by GAB. That was until Salven Lagumbay, a Cebu-based boxing judge on the short list of the most respected officials in the Philippines, petitioned GAB at the behest of an American sanctioning body to lift the ban.
But with about a dozen female boxers active in the Philippines in any weight category, it was inevitable that Rivas and Pagaduan would meet. This is something Rivas says she has been waiting for.
"My plan is to knock her out, maybe before the 4th round," says Rivas.
Despite being a well-rounded individual for whom boxing is not a necessity, she has no interest in what detractors say to her. The idea that a female cannot engage in the same sport as men is absurd to her. When people say she is too beautiful to fight, she reminds them that looks are deceiving.
"I don't think [of] what people say about me; I do what I want," says Rivas. "My dream is to fight all over the world and be recognized as a legendary fighter." - Rappler.com
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to The Ring magazine. He can be reached at email@example.com. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.