Jorge Rivera looks forward and back
This is number seventy-nine in Jack’s series of interviews with MMA fighters and personalities, and for this particular interview, we’re pleased to feature retired UFC middleweight veteran, Jorge Rivera. Rivera is a fan favorite who most UFC fan’s really got to know on season 4 of The Ultimate Fighter, “The Comeback.” In general, however, Rivera is the rare veteran who fought most of the greats in his division over the course of his career. Please enjoy the conversation below.
Jack Brown: What was your first experience with martial arts/combat sports, and how did it become more than just a hobby for you?
Jorge Rivera: My first experience with MMA was with Keith Rockel and Jason DeLucia. Keith beat me up in front of Jason. That was my introduction. It only became more than a hobby once I got in the UFC.
JB: How did your time in the U.S. Army help you mature as an individual, and how did basic training compare with later being in a training camp for a fight?
JR: My time in the Army taught me many valuable lessons. Basic training was mentally tougher than training for a fight. In the Army, you’re isolated and away from all things familiar to you.
JB: What do you recall about your first professional MMA fight, a TKO loss back in 2001, and how prepared do you feel you were at the time?
JR: I remember getting beat up. Din Thomas was the ref, Branden Lee Hinkle distributed the punishment, and Mark Coleman was his cornerman. It was a hell of a night! It was in Creighton, West Virginia, and it was really my first MMA fight. I had never really fought in an MMA fight with guys using Jiu-Jitsu before. I had no idea what was going on. We’re going way back!
JB: After that loss in your first fight, you had a seven fight win-streak that included your UFC debut. What did that decision win over David Loiseau, at UFC 44 in 2003, mean to you at the time, and how had you evolved as a fighter over those early years?
JR: Those days were cool. I never thought I’d be there, but there I was. It was awesome! I went from knowing nothing to five years later I was living the dream. You know what I remember? I didn’t feel a lot of pressure. My first time, I just felt relaxed. It was just a fight.
JB: During the three years between your UFC debut and your season on The Ultimate Fighter 4, you fought some of the greatest fighters of all time. You took on Rich Franklin and Anderson Silva, and you also faced Dennis Hallman, Chris Leben, and the infamous, Lee Murray. What do you remember about that second fight in the UFC, a loss against Murray?
JR: That fight was a lot more difficult for me. I actually felt a lot of pressure. I never had experienced anything like that before in my life. He had a lot of hype coming in. I kept hearing about his explosive hands and everything. It was just a completely different fight.
JB: How about when you fought Anderson Silva over in England? What did you think of the Cage Rage promotion, and what do you think of what Silva has gone on to do in the UFC?
JR: Cage Rage was cool to me. Those guys were always cool to me. As for my fight with Anderson, you can watch it on YouTube! I think that Anderson’s been great, but what happened with Chris, Anderson’s been fighting like that for a long time. Congratulations to Chris. It was a fight he was losing, and he came back and won.
JB: Some of those early UFC results didn’t go your way, but that enabled you to get a spot on TUF 4, “The Comeback.” How was the experience of doing the show for you after that stretch of your career and who do you still keep in touch with from the show?
JR: I learned a lot while I was there, and it changed the way I personally approached MMA after that. Being on the show made me realize how seriously others took their training. Occasionally I’ll talk to Travis Lutter. I see Rich Clementi from time to time at shows and I’ll talk to him on Facebook. Matt Serra is the same way. Whenever I see him, it’s always cool. Any of those guys, all those guys, whenever I see them, it’s always cool.
JB: After TUF 4, you remained in the UFC for the rest of your fighting career and went 6-4 during those last ten fights. What were the highlights for you of your post-TUF fighting career?
JR: Any fight that went my way. Honestly there isn’t one that really stands out. I liked the Kendall Grove fight because I had been hurt for a year and my jaw had been broken. But I appreciate them all the same way.
JB: It’s been a long time, but do you have any lingering feelings about the Michael Bisping fight?
JR: No. It was silly. I think he took it too far spitting on my cornerman. Even if he had just spit on me, I would have been cool with that. Whatever. F— it. I don’t care. He’s doing well. I’m doing well. It’s all just bulls—.
JB: After your last fight, a TKO win over Eric Schafer, in the UFC, in January, 2012, you announced your retirement. How hard was that decision for you, have you regretted it at all since then, and what have you been up to?
JR: I don’t regret it. It was not a hard decision at all. I’ve been running my gym, Rivera Athletic Center .
JB: What about your broadcasting career? I enjoyed watching you on ESPN.
JR: Thanks. The sponsor just gave up on it so they cancelled the show. It was a good show but I haven’t heard anything. The whole market for MMA is down right now. It’s a bigger issue. There are MMA gyms closing and all sorts of things.
JB: You are going to be in the corner of fellow local guy, John Howard, when he makes his UFC return at the next UFC Fight Night, on August 17th, at home in Boston. What are you predicting for his fight against Uriah Hall?
JR: I truly think that John will win this fight. I am looking forward to it!
JB: Last question, Jorge, and thanks for taking the time to do this. You are still a young man. What plans or goals do you have for the future?
JR: I just want to live a good life. I’m just enjoying being a father to my kids and watching my gym grow. I want my school to get so f—ing big that it’s busting at the seams.
Visit JackJohnBrownMMA on Facebook for links to all of Jack’s past interviews. Previous interviews include: Dan Hardy, Rose Namajunas, Joe Lauzon, War Machine, Tom Lawlor, Bas Rutten, Chris Leben, Phil Baroni, Julie Kedzie, Michael Bisping, Duane Ludwig, Sara McMann, Matt Lindland, Duke Roufus, Pat Miletich, Jens Pulver, Dan Severn, Nate Quarry, Ken Shamrock, Matt Serra, Jeremy Horn, Ray Longo, and dozens more.