Photo by Gomez PhotoWorks
The last time Jerome Rivera competed was at LFA 39. The fight was over in under a minute and Rivera had suffered a nasty arm injury. Fast forward nine months, “The Renegade” has had his first child and will be heading into his first home town main event on February 23.
The headliner of Jackson’s MMA Series XXVII at Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino will see the Santa Fe, NM, native squaring off with Gene “The Kid” Perez. Perez from Belen, NM, has nearly 40 fights under his belt, competing in both boxing and MMA.
Rivera, 23, like most young men, has felt an internal change by the joy and responsibility of fatherhood.
“It’s definitely life changing. I know it sounds like a real cliché thing to say. But yeah, I’m seeing things from a different point of view. It’s awesome being a dad. New motivation to train more. Everything is different.”
“I was talking with my coach Josh (Montoya) the other day and he’s like ‘you know the biggest thing this camp is you’re a man now.’ I’m not just going and collecting paychecks to go spend on clothes or whatever I want. I go and get that paycheck because it’s for my family. I have to put food on the table.”
Going back to how the injury occurred at LFA 39, Jerome stated, “Brandon (Royval) did a good job, catching my kick and running me to the fence. It was a bad series of events. I had a few little lingering elbows injuries going into that fight. My elbows were bothering me. It was just a freak accident. Brandon caught my kick. I tripped and as we’re going back, my fingers got caught in the fence. Immediately I knew my arm was broken.”
Not one to ever sit still, the injury was just an obstacle for the former LFA title challenger to get around so he could still train.
“I hopped back into training a month and a half after my surgery. I was training a lot with one arm for a while. I would get my Jiu Jitsu gi and I’d wrap my belt around my arm and go to roll. Everyone was freaking out, like cut it out, don’t roll with me. I was like no this is going to help me. Rolling with one arm did help me. When I came back, and I was able to use my second arm it felt a lot better. When I was rolling with one arm, I had to change my game a little bit. I had to be more opportunistic as to where before I was putting a lot of pressure. Being an athletic specimen trying to make people tired. Now I really had to think and be technical. it fixed a lot of holes in my game.”
The fight is in Rivera’s backyard.
“It’s a dream come true. When you’re a kid and you play basketball, you picture yourself hitting the buzzer beater in front of everybody. Well this is my thing. Going and walking out in front of a crowd of all my friends around all my family. All the people I went to school with growing up and being the main event. Getting to show everybody what I do. Why I work so hard. All these techniques I’ve learned. This is truly a dream come true. I’m very blessed to be back so soon after the injury. I’m taking this as the biggest fight of my career. Getting to go show everybody what I can do in my home town.”
Rivera is one of two fighters on the card directly from Santa Fe, NM, and being in the main event has put a good amount of pressure to promote the show on his shoulders.
“It can definitely be a lot of pressure. I feel like I’ve evolved a lot as a martial artist. Like I’m a lot more mature now.”
“Mentally I’m a lot calmer as to where if I would have done this two year ago or so I would have been really worried. Like ok, don’t let this moment overwhelm you, but right now it’s a big event. I know there’s going to be a lot of pressure, I’m in the main event. But, at the same time I don’t really feel that pressure. I almost feel even though I’m going in with a better record that I’m the underdog. I’m coming off two losses. I’m coming off an injury. We’re in my hometown there is a lot of pressure on me. I know Gene Perez is coming in there to ruin my night. He has no pressure on him. He wants to come put a beating on me. Gene has more experience than me as a man, as a martial artist, and he’s older than I am. I’m taking this like I’m the underdog and ready to go show everybody I’m the old renegade and get back to my old winning ways.”
“I know Gene is a striker and I expect him to come out with that good Boxing. A lot of people think that Gene is just going to run out at you and throw over hands and hooks. Anyone is going to do that if you engage them. I feel like he’s more composed than everybody thinks. I look at it as if I was Gene how I would beat me. I think Gene’s strong point is going to be making me back up, landing overhands, landing body shots, and so I’m preparing for all that stuff. I’m planning to fight long and be a technical striker.”
Coming off back to back losses Rivera says, “This is huge. It’s almost a make or break point for me. If I was to take another loss right now that would be something hard to come back from and it would take a lot to buckle down and get back in the grind. At the same time anyone could have a bad night. I could go in there and lose again, you never know. I’m ready to roll with the situation. I’m ready to get back in the win column. I’m treating this like it’s the last fight I’m ever going to have in Santa Fe. I’m fighting Gene, then we’re going straight for the top. Anywhere I’m at, I want their belt. Losing isn’t an option I want my fight style to show that.”
Pro Main Event
125: Jerome Rivera (7-2) vs. Gene Perez (8-10)
137: Dominic Yara (6-2) vs. Calob Ramirez (5-6)
145: Dan Argueta (4-1) vs. Richard Jennings (4-2)
145: Alex Cardenas (1-0) vs. Quintin Carmichael (1-3)
130: Richard Villegas (1-1) vs. John Calderon (1-1)
135: Andre Mitchell (3-3) vs. Mario Suaze (4-4)
145: Chris Rojas (7-2) vs. Dakota Munro (4-5)
125: Charles Gellipsee (0-2) vs. Jacobo Martos (0-0)
155: James Pleasant (4-3) vs. Swagath Pillai
135: Luis Rivera Santiago (1-1) vs. Randy Ramos (2-1)
170: CJ Boston (2-1) vs. Jonathan Green (0-0)
*Card Subject to change