Jorge Rivera returns to the cage, takes life day by day after family tragedy

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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Jorge (El Conquistador) Rivera came back from a badly broken jaw. But a broken heart?
The 37-year-old mixed martial arts middleweight lost his 17-year-old daughter last August and is still dealing with the pain.
"Right now I'm fine, I can speak fine about it," he says. "But two minutes from now I might not be able to take another breath."
Rivera, who has three other children, returns to the cage April 1 to meet Nissen Osterneck (5-1) on the undercard of a televised UFC card in Nashville, Tenn. It's his first fight since a submission loss to Martin (The Hitman) Kampmann at UFC 85 last June in London. And the first since Janessa Rivera died Aug. 5 "after being stricken."
That's the way the death notice in the Milford (Mass.) Daily News read. Three small words, followed by a world of pain.
"It is very difficult. I really don't know what to do or to say about that," Rivera said in an interview fresh from running the steps at Harvard Stadium. "It was very unexpected. It literally broke my heart. My heart's still broken."
"She was on birth control pills and the birth control pills gave her blood clots which led to a stroke," he added.
Seven months later, Rivera says he takes things day by day. He had planned to fight in December but realized he wasn't mentally ready.
Now he says it's time.
"I just tell myself I've got to start moving forward and moving on with my life. And honour her properly. Do the right things, not only by her but by my children, my family that I still have. I still have to persevere and live. That's why I'm trying to do . . . I'm excited to be back in the cage, and just get back to do what I do, get back to life."
Rivera (15-7) will have a lot of people rooting for him when he returns to fighting.
"Coming back after what he's had to go through, he has his good days and his bad," said welterweight Marcus (The Irish Hand Grenade) Davis, who trains with Rivera under Mark DellaGrotte at the Sityodtong gym in suburban Boston.
"Some days at the gym, he'll be a little off. Then other days, he comes in and he's just unstoppable. He's just walking through guys."
Dating back to September 2003, Rivera's UFC career has been much the same, with four wins and five losses.
Terry Martin disposed of him in 14 seconds at UFC 67 in February 2007. Rivera opened with two kicks, only to have Martin catch the second with one hand and tag him on the temple with the other. Rivera went down and Martin hit him three times, smashing his jaw.
He was out for almost a year, his jaw wired and two plates and four screws inserted.
While he recovered, Rivera opened his own gym - United States Mixed Martial Arts in Bellingham, Mass. - along with partner/manager Tom Hafers. He also visited U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
His comeback fight showed the best of Rivera - a big, aggressive fighter with real power.
He punished Kendall Grove at UFC 80 in January 2008, taking "The Ultimate Fighter" winner down early and connecting again and again. Grove finally got to his feet, after having absorbed dozens of blows, only to finally crumple from a vicious left hook after 80 seconds. The six-foot-six Grove sagged to the canvas like a rag doll, beaten and broken.
"I knew that that fight was a do-or-die fight so I got in great shape," said Rivera. "In all honesty with you, I just feel that the mental aspect of the game is the most important part of this game. And for that fight I didn't feel that much pressure and that allowed me to perform at a better level. Where the fight right after that (the loss to Kampmann), I felt the pressure to win.
"My career's in the UFC's been so inconsistent, it's been a win or a loss, a win or a loss. And it's put pressure on myself to win, win, win. And then the fear of failure causes me to fail. That's how I feel about that."
Rivera came to fighting late, at least in the cage. He was 25 when he first walked into a gym to train.
Always athletic, he played football, basketball and baseball. But growing up Puerto Rican in New England, he fought. A lot.
He admits to running with the wrong crowd and spent time in jail. He credits mixed martial arts for rescuing him.
While never a fan of the martial arts - "I thought it was all garbage" - he became fascinated with MMA after watching Royce Gracie beat all-comers.
"The mixed martial arts scene totally, I mean totally, changed my view on everything," he said. "And it took me from a place where I was at in my life where I wasn't very happy at all, and introduced me to a lot of good people, and just a different way of thinking and living.
"It totally changed my life.
He's not sure where he would have ended up if he hadn't found it. "I'm not a soothsayer, I can't say," he said.

Organizations: Daily News

Geographic location: Nashville, Tenn., London, Milford (Mass.) Harvard Stadium Boston Bellingham, Mass. U.S. Afghanistan Kendall Grove New England

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