MMA: Rivera eager to show that he has learned from recent defeats

February 23, 2019

Santa Fe MMA fighter Jerome Rivera, shown landing a kick during a fight with Saul Elizondo in 2017, returns home to fight Gene Perez Saturday.

Pain and defeat, Santa Fe MMA fighter Jerome Rivera acknowledges, have changed him.

Those changes, he believes and intends to prove, are for the better.

Saturday, Rivera (7-2) is scheduled to face Belen’s Gene Perez (5-9) in the flyweight main event of Jackson’s MMA Series XXVII at Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino in Pojoaque.

Some 20 months ago, Rivera was undefeated in 11 fights (four amateur, seven professional).

“I was unbeatable in my head, like, ?nothing can happen to me, there’s no such thing as losing a fight, I’m never going to lose to anybody,’” he said in a recent phone interview.

Then, in Houston on a Legacy Fighting Alliance card in June 2017 ? in a fight he believes he’d been winning ? Rivera fell victim to a Roberto Sanchez arm bar in the third round.

Last May, on an LFA card in Vail, Colo., Rivera dislocated his elbow within the first minute of a fight against Brandon Royval.

“That was some of the worst pain in my life, for sure,” he said. “I’ve broken my left ankle before and, yeah, (the dislocation) was pain like no other.”

Painful as well was the resultant loss to Royval by TKO.

Those losses, he said, could have sent him into a professional and personal tailspin.

They have not, he said.

“Both of those losses taught me a lot about myself,” he said. “I grew as a martial artist. I grew as a man.

“I feel like stuff like that can really break somebody, and sometimes people don’t come out (the other side). Sometimes people even retire, or stop fighting, or let it tumble them into depression.”

Rivera vowed to take the opposite approach.

“I told myself, ?I’m not gonna let this beat me. I’m gonna come back stronger than before.’”

Yet, Rivera said, his mindset entering a fight is one thing that hasn’t changed.

“I still feel (unbeatable),” he said. “I still want my fight style to display that; I want to fight like losing is not an option.”

Rivera remains under contract to the LFA, but he’s on loan to the Jackson’s Series for Saturday’s fight.

“We thought it would be a good idea to be able to fight close to home, do my weight cut at home and fight in New Mexico for once,” he said, “because it’s been a while.”

Rivera last fought in his home state two years ago, when he defeated Saul Elizondo by second-round submission (rear naked choke) on Jackson-Wink Fight Night 1 at Isleta Resort & Casino.

Rivera’s nickname is “The Renegade,” which he admits giving to himself. It’s reflected principally in his choice not to train principally at any one place.

“I’m still with Luttrell-Yee (MMA in Albuquerque,” he said. “But I call myself that because I train everywhere.”

Rivera spends time at Gracie Barra Brazilian Jiujitsu, Jesse Jacquez BJJ and Santa Fe Muay Thai. He gets boxing instruction from fellow Santa Fean Joaquin Zamora, a 16-year pro boxing veteran.

He’ll be a heavy favorite on Saturday, but he sees Perez’s record as deceiving.

“I think one thing that’s really dangerous about Gene is that he has so much experience,” Rivera said. ”... He fights with nothing to lose. He goes out there and takes it to everybody.

“He’s not afraid to get into a dirty fight; that’s what he wants. He wants to drag you into a brawl and make it ugly, and I’m sure he’s highly motivated right now.”

Nor is motivation a problem for Rivera, who’s fighting in the Santa Fe area for the first time since 2014.

More motivation still: he’s fighting for three now. His girlfriend, Gabriella Fischer, gave birth to their daughter, Emilia, in September.

“Between those fights (against Sanchez and Royval) and fatherhood, I’m a completely different person than I was two years ago,” Rivera said.

“I’ve just grown so much.”