Interview: Jesus “The Spaniard” Rivera

“I want to be the best of the best. Of course my days are numbered, but I want to see how far I can get.”

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Jesus “The Spaniard” Rivera

Interview and Photos by: Richard Burmaster

Special Introduction by: Bobby “The General” Perez – 4oz Fight Club

Standing 5ft. 9 in. and weighing 155 lbs., Jesus Rivera is un-imposing.  Clean cut, well dressed, and soft spoken, he looks like he could be your company’s I.T. guy.  In fact, Jesus works as a program designer for a local drilling firm.  By all accounts, Jesus Rivera appears to be your average, middle class, family man.

Now look closer.

A brief inspection of Jesus’ face will yield some unexpected finds.  You will see that his nose is slightly crooked, there is a quarter-inch scar under his left eye, and both of his ears show the beginnings of becoming cauliflowered.

Look at his hands.  Callused knuckles and broken fingers are not what you would expect to find on the hands of a program designer.  That is because Jesus Rivera is a man of contrast .

Jesus Rivera was born and raised in Haro, Spain where he began studying martial arts at the age of sixteen.  Rivera studied a form of Karate known as Kyokushinkia.  This particular style of full contact Karate focuses on brutal body and leg attacks, while using no form of protective gear.  After only four years of training, Jesus earned his brown belt and decided to broaden his skills.  Jesus began studying Muay Thai under Spanish Coach Juan Carlos Lopez Cerezo, and quickly began to excel.  Because of his previous training, Jesus’ transition into Muay Thai seemed effortless.  After fighting in several Thai matches, Rivera came to the realization that he genuinely liked to fight.  However, Jesus’ fight career came to an end as quickly as it began when family obligations pulled him away from the fight game.

At the age of twenty, Jesus made the long journey from Haro, Spain to Houston, Texas, where he came to work for his father’s company.  Thirteen and a half years later, Rivera began studying MMA at local Houston gym.  Several months after he began his training, he heard of a gym that was closer to his home.  This is where I come in.

When Jesus first stopped by 4oz. Fight Club to try it out, I was not there.  That night I received a phone call from my partner Jeremy Mahon.  Jeremy rambled on and on about this crazy Spanish guy with great Muay Thai.  Needless to say, I was excited.  The next day I met Jesus and immediately liked him.  In somewhat of a “mock interview” I asked Jesus why he was here.  In a very thick Spanish accent he replied, “I want to fight.”  At that moment he was dubbed “The Spaniard”, and the rest is history.

As a coach, I could not ask for a better fighter than Jesus.  He works hard.  He does not complain.   He is respectful. He does what is asked of him.  The thing I really love about Jesus is that he is a self starter.  He gets to the gym, changes, stretches, and begins to work.  The unmistakable sound of his exhaling with every strike thrown during his shadowboxing echoes through the gym every single day.  It is when I hear this sound that I know something violent is about to happen.

Come watch Jesus spar.  It’s impressive.  He constantly moves forward and pushes the pace.  His devastating kicks and knees drop some of our toughest fighters on a daily basis.  His technique is almost perfect, and his stamina is second to none.  Outside of his striking, his take downs defense is incredible, and his ground is at a very high level.  In Jesus’ most recent victory over Jace Pitre, Jesus demonstrated that he is one of the best 55ers in the state.  In his fight against Pitre, Jesus out struck the Lewis Wood protege, and nullified Pitre’s take downs and BJJ. Jace Pitre is no slouch, and for this reason, Jesus earned a title shot.

On March 20, 2010, at the Arena Theater, Jesus “The Spaniard” Rivera will be facing Ray Trujillo for the Legacy Lightweight Championship.  This fight promises to be great, and has the potential to be “fight of the night.”  It is the culmination of all of Jesus’ hard work, and Jesus realizes the importance of winning the fight.

Jesus Rivera should be, and is a role model.  At 35 years old he has a good career, a beautiful wife (Elsa), two great kids (Chris and Ashley), and is persuing his dream to fight.  Jesus’ goal as a fighter is simple…to go as far as he can as long as his body will let him.

We are currently working on some big things for Jesus, and with his heart, talent, and toughness, I am sure he will go far.

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TCD.net: How did you get started in MMA?

Jesus: I always liked fighting. When I lived in Spain I participated in kickboxing and full contact karate. I came here when I was 20, but I wasn’t training. I talked to my Dad, and he told me to come here. Then with work and trying to start a career, I was working 12 hours a day, and I just didn’t have time to train. I sat out till two years ago when I got with Sam Hoger. I wasn’t thinking about fighting. I just wanted to see what shape I was in. If my technique was still there. From there, I realized the technique was still there, and my cardio was getting better. So I figured why not, let’s see what happens. To me fighting is the best of the best. So I wanted to give it that shot and see what I can do.

TCD.net: How long had you sat out from training?

Jesus: From 20 to 34, and I was smoking. I just quit 3 years ago. I quit smoking for about a year.  Then, I started working with Sam for about 6 months.  Then, I came over here to 4oz.

TCD.net: What’s made you stay here at 4oz?

Jesus: I love it here. They are like family. From my first day here, the way everyone talks to you, they greet you. It’s real nice. I could tell when we would spar that they want to take care of you.  They want to help you out. We go hard, train hard, spar hard, but we are always taking care of our family. We are all fighters here.

TCD.net: Have you had a chance to see footage of your opponent Ray Trujillio?

Jesus: Actually we have been on the same card twice before. One was on the Bully Bash and Brawl and on the Legacy card. I watched his entire fight on the Bully card.

TCD.net: Where will you have the advantage in this fight?

Jesus: I think my technique is better. My setups and my kicks are better. He has a lot of power, to me that’s his advantage. I have heard he hits hard.

TCD.net: Speaking of kicks, you are well known by your opponents and your training partners for having some of the best and hardest kicks around. How did you develop this?

Jesus: When I was in Spain training karate, I had three really good coaches, and they showed me the right form for kicking. By using all your hips, all of your body, and being able to control it. The karate style I trained uses a lot of low kicks and punches, so I worked endlessly on them.

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TCD.net: You have a very aggressive, technical fighting style. How would you explain to a young newcomer how to develop a style similar to that?

Jesus: I would say first learn your proper technique. A lot of guys try to go fast, and they lose their technique. Take your time, and the speed will come. Get in front of a mirror and do a lot of shadowboxing. If you try to go straight to speed and power you will leave your technique lacking.

TCD.net: What fuels your desire to fight in the cage?

Jesus: To prove myself and my technique. To see how far I can go. I want to be the best of the best. Of course my days are numbered, but I want to see how far I can get.

TCD.net: Your fight with Jace Pitre was one of the best fights in Houston in the last few years. After a slow start it seemed you found your timing and started to be the aggressor.

Jesus: I like to start slow to feel my opponent out. I like to see his technique, his speed, and his defense. At the same time, I didn’t want to get too close to him because I know he is a brown belt, and he is very good on the ground. So I tried to stay back and just use punches and low kicks because I knew he was going to try to take me down. Had I tried a push kick or a body kick he would have tried to catch and take me down, and I didn’t want that.

TCD.net: Your takedown defense was dramatically better from the last time we had seen you. How much have you been working on it?

Jesus: A lot. Daniel Pineda is here, and you have no choice. He is so fast and so explosive. I had no choice, but to improve. If he takes me down, he is hard to get off of you. When he takes you down, you use a lot of energy trying to get to your feet. So I try to stay on my feet.

TCD.net: Who are your favorite fighters to watch?

Jesus: Thiago Alves, Jose Aldo has great crisp technique., and GSP. I like that he is so complete.

TCD.net: You have mentioned that you are on a time clock and only have so much linger to fight. If you when the title what’s next? Do you defend it a few times or is it over?

Jesus: I’m planning to maybe fight once or twice more. Then, retire and spend time with my son. Of course if a fight comes with good pay then I would probably do it.( Laughs) Other than that I will probably stop fighting this year.

TCD.net: Everyone who knows you knows that you are a real family man. Many times throughout the years we have all seen your son running around the gym here with Dad. Seeing how much time away from home it takes to train is that a big factor in your decision to retire?

Jesus: Yes. If it was up to me, I would keep going. I love the gym. I love fighting. I love training.  I love fighting.  Even my mom told my wife that unless she wants to see me get stressed and crazy that I need to be in the gym. I can’t make my son pay for me not doing this when I was younger. He needs to be playing soccer.  He needs to be playing and having fun, and I need to be there with him.

TCD.net: If your son wanted to become a fighter how would you feel about that?

Jesus: I would love it. I would be behind him all the way.

TCD.net: How does this fight against Trujillio end?

Jesus: Same thing as before, I will wait for him to come out and see what he does. I am pretty sure he will come out wild with punches and try to knock me out. Once I have my defenses set, I will start working my combinations with punches and kicks.  I will go for the knockout.

TCD.net: Any motto’s you live by?

Jesus: Be real, try to help people, and don’t talk behind people’s backs. Be yourself at all times.

TCD.net: Any one you would like to thank?

Jesus: Bobby, Jeremy, Daniel Pineda, Steve Garcia, all the guys at the gym. Everyone who has helped me get ready for this.

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