Day by Day. Itís what Jorge Rivera tells himself to get out of bed in the morning, to go to the gym and train for his April 1st fight against Nissen Osterneck, and to simply function in a world that was irrevocably
changed for him on August 5, 2008, the day his 17-year old daughter Janessa passed away.
Itís something all the well wishes in the world canít cure, and a tragedy that time canít even soothe. You donít forget - you manage, you fight, and you live for those left behind. The 37-year old Rivera knows all about the fighting part. Itís the managing thatís tougher.
ďItís something I struggle with every single day,Ē he said. ďSome days are better than others. Some days it tears me down, and other days I use it to fuel me. But itís not something Iíll ever get over, and itís something I deal with on a daily basis.Ē
He pauses, a tough man trying his best to be what he always has been, a professional. Dealing with tragedy is bad enough. Having to re-live it a couple of times a week with every reporter that calls up before a fight can be something worse than torture. Is it cathartic to talk about it? Absolutely not. But Rivera carries on.
ďTo be further honest with you, itís something I deal with on an hourly basis. The wounds are still very fresh, and it hurts. It hurts just talking to you about it.Ē
Almost eight months after Janessa died following a bad reaction to medication that produced blood clots, and then a stroke, Rivera has resumed living as normal a life as he can. Heís still a husband and father of three children, he goes to the gym to train and teach, and heís going to be stepping back into the Octagon for the first time since a submission loss to Martin Kampmann last June. From the outside, itís as business as usual as you can get, but itís not for Rivera.
ďBefore this happened to me, I lost family members, I lost a brother when I was older, and I see what it does to parents,Ē said Rivera, who also saw close friend Kru Eric Armington die in a motorcycle crash in April of last year. ďYou try to put yourself in a parentís shoes, and Iím telling you from the heart, when you lose a child, itís so devastating. I can go on forever telling you about these things, and honestly, it hurts Ė so many emotions go through you. You look at your child and you have so many things that you want for them, so many hopes and dreams, and theyíre all gone in a momentís notice. Itís devastating. And itís not just me, itís her mother, itís my own parents, my other kids.Ē
Rivera must go on though, and for him, that means resuming an almost eight year career that has seen him take on more top level fighters than practically anyone in the game today. Just run down the list: Anderson Silva, Rich Franklin, Kampmann, Travis Lutter, David Loiseau, Dennis Hallman, Chris Leben, Edwin Dewees, Terry Martin, and Kendall Grove. Rivera has been in with all of them, and while heís had mixed results, heís never backed down from anyone.
ďI fought Anderson, I fought Rich, I fought Lutter, Loiseau, Leben Ė you name them, I fought them, and I never turned down a fight,Ē he said. ďWhen I first started fighting, thatís what I wanted to do. I wanted to say at the end of the day that I fought all these people. I can say that now, and I feel privileged and honored to say that. Iíve won some and Iíve lost some, but just to be able to say that I was good enough to compete with these guys at this level makes my day.Ē
His opponent next Wednesday in Nashville, Nissen Osterneck, doesnít have that type of resume, but with a 5-1 record and undeniable potential, the 28-year old is undoubtedly looking at Rivera as the type of opponent that can immediately put him on the map should he be victorious. Rivera knows this, knows practically all the ins and outs of this game, and he accepts next weekís role as the grizzled gatekeeper. But he also expects to keep the gate to the UFC locked shut as well.
ďIíve been through a lot in my life Ė a lot Ė and Iím finally realizing how to approach this game a lot better from the mental aspect,Ē he said. ďBefore I was a lot more fragile, and I look at the things that have happened to me in my life, and this is just a game to me now, and thatís how I approach it. Itís not the end of the world to me anymore, and just my experiences in life alone have helped me get to places and do things that I know he canít. He doesnít have the same things to fall back on that I do. We have two different lifestyles, two different experiences and I donít think at 28 years of age heís gone through a third of the stuff that Iíve gone through in my life. And thatís not knocking him; thatís just a fact.Ē
Heís right, and even though that type of experience may not help you when youíre on the wrong end of a flush left hook or a quick armbar, in a dogfight, toughness and experience under fire means a helluva lot. Rivera has that, and itís unfortunate that his resume and willingness to fight anyone and everyone has gotten overshadowed by his losses in the Octagon. Thatís not a concern to him though, and thatís no surprise.
ďI donít care about all that to be honest with you,Ē he said. ďAt the end of day, you have to look in the mirror, and the race is always with yourself. If I were to allow myself to define my happiness in what other people think and what other people value, then how I could I possibly ever be happy with myself? These people donít know me. And as long as I touch the people who do know me, thatís what matters more to me. If they donít know me, then theyíre going by what they see on TV or what I may lack in talent, or whatever. But to get to know me and then make a judgment on me means more to me than superficial things.Ē
Thatís a man with some scars talking, both on the outside and the inside. And having scars like that isnít necessarily a bad thing. In Riveraís case, itís allowed him to get past the negatives of his early adult years and move to a place where he can be at peace with who he is and with whatís truly important. Thatís not to say he doesnít think about how life would have been if he hadnít made certain decisions over the years.
ďIíve got three other children, and one of my biggest Ė I donít know if itís a regret, but I took a lot of time from my family to do what I do,Ē he admits. ďAnd I think back and say I could have done this with her (Janessa), I could have done that with her. But at the same time I did what I did to put food on the table, so itís a catch-22. But I donít want to make the same mistakes with my other children that I made with my oldest one, and itís a real, real war in my head. How do I balance the two? Iím getting older right now, and how do I be the best father that I can be? And thatís whatís most important to me in my life Ė to be a good husband, a good father to my children, and a good son to my parents. Everything else just falls in line.Ē
Far from what you would expect from whatever stereotype youíve attached to a professional prizefighter. And frankly, Riveraís been down the hell-raising, out with the boys path before. That was then; this is now. Heís grown up, and for the first time since the conversation started, he laughs and sounds like the old Rivera again, the diehard baseball fan who can wax poetic on his beloved Red Sox for as long as you let him Ė or at least until the ďYĒ word Ė Yankees Ė comes up. Itís good to hear.
ďIf you would have asked me these things when I was 21, I wouldnít have been able to tell you the same answer because I had different values,Ē he said. ďAnd as you grow and see what life is about, you change. They say at an early age weíre all liberal, and as we get older we become conservative. (Laughs) And thatís the way it is.Ē
When you hear him laugh, you know that Jorge Rivera is going to be all right. Heís going to show up in Nashville next Wednesday night and try to hit Nissen Osterneck as hard as he can. Just like old times.
ďI still want people to know that I come to fight and that I fight with my heart,Ē he said. ďI lay it on the line for the things I value most in my life, and hopefully Iíll be able to pull out a victory and speak from the heart and let these people know what I think and what I feel.Ē
And win or lose, heís going to wake up the next day, and the day after, and think of Janessa. Sheíll always be in his mind and in his heart, and though it hurts him to not have her around anymore, it would have hurt even more to have never known her. Thatís what keeps him going.