Student of the Game- an interview with Jimmie Rivera
June 27, 2012
Redemption can be a fantastic motivator. Jimmie Rivera's (9-1) latest turning point came on June 7, 2011when he walked out of the famous Ultimate Fighter cage with his hand not raised. A highly touted 135 pound prospect the New Jersey native was upset by eventual 145 pound finalist Dennis Bermudez (8-3) and instead of moving into the house Rivera was sent back on a six hour plane flight home.
Days from his 23rd birthday and at his natural weight class Rivera is one of the best bantamweight prospects in MMA. 373 days after his Ultimate Fighter setback Rivera added another championship belt to his collection by capturing the renowned Ring of Combat 135 pound title. As the Team Tiger Schulmann fighter continues to refine his game, the new question for Rivera is how many more belts can he win on the local scene before he gets signed by the UFC.
ULTMMA.com spoke with Rivera after a recent practice about his fighting style, time on TUF and MMA fight politics.
Rivera is ranked at the number 29 spot in the 2012 edition of the ULTMMA50; a pound for pound listing of the top 50 prospects in MMA.
ULTMMA.com: Explain the 12 month layoff between fights. Was that tough?
Jimmie Rivera: The layoff was tough because I tried to get fights in November and April and they both fell through. November the guy backed out the day before weigh-ins and in April they just kept changing opponents until a week out, I just said let's just push it back to June. The layoff was a little hard because I went over a year without fighting and it was tough.
I wish I had a fight sooner but there was nothing you could do about it, it was all political.
ULTMMA: You think it's a double edge sword now that your 9-1, people see that and don't want to take fights with you?
Rivera: It could be that, it could be lots of things. When it comes to a mangers job they want to get a fight that is a definite "W" for their fighter's record. As you get up there the competition just gets better and better. A guy like Justin Hickey record is 6-3 but let me tell you that guy is very tough and he didn't come into to lose. I hit him with some good shots and he kept coming.
ULTMMA: After the Ultimate Fighter what did you do when you got home? What was that time period like?
Rivera: I was depressed with all the mistakes I made training wise and getting ready for the fight. I just worked on getting better with my jiu-jitsu and everything. I just kept focused on all the aspects; boxing kickboxing, MMA, ground n' pound, everything. So, in the next fight I would be comfortable in every position.
ULTMMA: You were 8-1 heading into TUF, whose idea was it to tryout?
Rivera: Actually one of my friends Louis Gaudinot was trying out, so I was like I might as well try out to. I know they were looking for 135 but I'm a big 135 so I said let me go for 145. There was no flyweight yet so Louis had to fight at 135.
I wasn't sure if I was going to make it. I had no expectations. Then I got the call to come to Vegas and get your physical done. When they called me for a second interview I was shocked.
ULTMMA: Was there any regrets of doing 145 and not trying to do 135?
Rivera: I wanted to be professional and not miss weight. The one thing I would probably take back was at 145 I tried to get bigger instead of leaning out and doing what Frankie Edgar does and get in crazy cardio shape. I was in really good shape but I was trying to get too big.
That was a mistake I made and you learn from it. Every fight you learn something. If, you don't finish everyone with a knockout or a tap out there are mistakes made.
ULTMMA: Assume you win your next one or two fights how many fights are you away from the UFC or Bellator?
Rivera: I don't know at all to be honest. The UFC will take you but they might have too many people, you don't know. The other day I tweeted Sean Shelby, joking with him of course, how many more belts do I need to win before I can get in there? I was King of the Cage champ, Ring of Combat champ, maybe I'll go get the CFFC champ, I don't know. Its whatever happens and I just take it day by day. If, I get in September from Ring of Combat I'll defend my title.
I'm just playing it by ear and always training. I fought on Friday and I was back in the gym. I don't like taking breaks unless I'm hurt. I just like to work on my game, do grappling tournaments, wrestle with some All Americans. I had a pro Muay Thai fight last September. Maybe I'll do another Muay Thai fight or just work on everything.
There is not enough to do to get ready. There is always so much to do.
ULTMMA: Some people have compared your style to Frankie Edgar. If, people haven't seen you who would you compare yourself to?
Rivera: I guess I could compare myself to Frankie Edgar because I'm been in two five round fights. The whole wrestling and having good cardio. I don't know how Frankie Edgar's jiu-jitsu is but I've been really working on my jiu-jitsu. I feel like the power in my hands is improving.
I don't really every compare myself to anyone. I compare myself to myself and I'm like a perfectionist.
ULTMMA: What part of your game do you think people overlook?
Rivera: People think I can't grapple at all. I have good jiu-jitsu and I know that. People think I'm just a wrestler with good boxing skills but I can go to the ground to.
I've done grappling tournaments, like grapplers quest, and I've won the expert division. I've beaten jiu-jitsu black belts.
ULTMMA: When do you think you started gaining more notoriety as a fighter?
Rivera: In my career with people politically in MMA it turned after the Abel Cullum fight. I came into at 6-1 and going against a guy who was like 18-3, been to Japan, been King of the Cage champion for so many years. Nobody thought I could beat him. I just proved everyone wrong.
Then I fought Jared Papazian and he was a really tough opponent to. I came out with the W. When people started to recognize me more was when I was on the Ultimate Fighter. When I came back everyone was asking what happened and I couldn't say.
Then the fight happened and everyone was like dude you had the guy in the first round. After the Bermudez fight I really started to get noticed.
ULTMMA: When did you start martial arts?
Rivera: I actually started training when I was a kid. When I was nine years old I started to get into training. From there I went to a lot of competitions and tournaments. I did a couple of Junior Fighters where fighters that are under 18 fight. I honestly thought it was really cool and I wanted to take it a step further.
Right around when I turned 18 is when they started doing amateur MMA. I was actually one of the first people to try amateur MMA from Tiger Schulmann. From there it going one after another and it was addicting. I took off Sunday and I was back in on Tuesday. I can't miss too much. I'm addicted to it (training) and the same thing with fighting.
ULTMMA: Any people you have to thank? Where can people find you online?
Rivera: Just want to thank all my friends, family, coaches and my teammates. You can follow me on twitter at @JimmieRivera135