Jimmie Rivera was once just a new kid in a different town who was tired of getting picked on.
On Friday, Rivera defends his bantamweight belt against Joel Roberts at Ring of Combat 42, at the Tropicana Resort and Casino in Atlantic City.
To say Rivera (9-1) is a product of Team Tiger Schulmann is to understate the effect of the establishment on him. Rivera is a Tiger Schulmann lifer, and it all began in the late 1990s, when he sought the self confidence to defend himself from bullying.
Rivera’s time inside the home was taken up watching Power Rangers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (he cited the White Ranger and Leonardo as his respective favorites). Outside, he was in search of a new activity.
“I tried out Tiger Schulmann’s and I loved my first class there,” Rivera told Punch Drunk Radio on the MMADieHards Radio Network. “Once I started up, I trained a lot. A couple of weeks went by and I would get there early to watch the other classes.”
In the ensuing years, Rivera began to obsessively train — as much as five hours per day, with a break for dinner. It led to action at NAGA and Grapplers Quest tournaments as he entered his teenage years.
The inevitable eventually happened.
“My first MMA fight was around when I was 18,” Rivera said. “It was a great experience after that. I loved it. I’ve been in love with it since I was 9.”
Mostly a veteran of Ring of Combat, Rivera has been with Bellator for a couple of fights and had a bit part on the 14th season of The Ultimate Fighter, as he lost a battle to get into the house.
For TUF, Rivera chose to compete at 145 pounds, although he is 8-0 at bantamweight. His close friend and teammate, Louis Gaudinot, made it into the house competing at 135 pounds and has since earned a spot in the UFC, competing now at flyweight (125 pounds).
“You have to make weight,” Rivera explained of the decision to stay at featherweight for TUF. “I did it at 145. I wanted to be in real good shape and cut a few pounds. It (the cut to 135 pounds) can be tough sometimes, but I have a lock on it. I’ve made a couple of mistakes and learned from them.”
When he takes on Roberts, Rivera is certain that the eyes of UFC matchmaker Joe Silva will be on him. That’s always the case at Ring of Combat, which perhaps is the most well-respected regional promotion that acts as a feeder to the UFC.
The goal for Rivera has always been to make it to the UFC; enough with the near-misses.
“I feel I am (on the cusp),” he said. “I think I’m projected right where I’m supposed to be. I’m hoping that the UFC notices this next fight and lets me get into it.
“They didn’t give me a number (of fights I had to win to make it). They told me to be ready to be an alternate (at TUF 14). I didn’t get a call back within the six weeks.”
Once tired of getting picked on, now all Jimmie Rivera wants is to get picked.