AJ Guillen: Hey Jerome, how’s it going dog?
Jerome Rivera: I’m doing good AJ, how about yourself?
AJ Guillen: I’m doing good man, thank you so much for joining me. As a New Mexican I feel almost obligated to ask you: Red or green?
Jerome Rivera: (Smiles) Aw, bro. I go Christmas, you already know.
AJ Guillen: (laughs) Christmas, hey I can’t deny it man. Best of both worlds, I got you.
Jerome Rivera: Aw, that’s a tough one bro. Honestly, Tomasita’s growing up, but right now it’s The Pantry.
AJ Guillen: Oh, okay, okay, I feel you. I’ve been Pantry since day one man, so I like it (laughs).
Jerome Rivera: I’m on this diet right now and you have me thinking about all this good food.
AJ Guillen: Right? I’m sorry, I hope you’re not in camp. Even if you are in camp, maybe you can sneak a little bit of Pantry from the side.
Jerome Rivera: Right? Nah I just had [The Pantry] last week so I gotta get it in. One more weekend, then it’s on the grind.
AJ Guillen: That’s good bro, that’s good. So for the viewers that don’t really know you – You turned pro in 2014, but tell me a little bit. How did it all start?
Jerome Rivera: I was always super competitive growing up. I used to wrestle from about kindergarten to about eighth grade and I was always intrigued by fighting. I used to watch Dragon Ball Z growing up and I remember my mom used to work at a hotel and she would rent me a room to go hand out in. And I remember I used to go play fight and act like I was the [Dragon Ball Z] characters scrapping it out.
And then I started watching UFC when I was in about fifth grade and I was just addicted to it. [I was] this young kid, like ten years old, and I’d be asked by my grandma, ‘what do you want for your birthday?’ Im like, ‘can you buy me the UFC Pay-Per-View?’
There used to only be a few [UFC PPV’s] back then, so yeah, I was just really intrigued by it when I first saw it. I always used to tell people that I was going to get involved in it, and I would say that for years and years. Finally when I was sixteen I got introduced to a jiu-jitsu school and the moment I walked in there it kind of just changed my life and I never looked back.
AJ Guillen: That’s dope man. As a kid who grew up scrapping in the streets and watching the UFC, that’s like my ultimate dream. That’s epic man, I’m super jealous (laughs).
If I had to ask you – Would you rather be a three-division champion in the future or get a million dollars a fight, which one would you take?
Jerome Rivera: I gotta go with that three-division champ, bro. That’s a big legacy to do something like that. So if I had to, I think the warrior in me would have to take the three-division champ over the money.
AJ Guillen: That’s respect, because it’s exactly like you said, that’s a real heart of a warrior.
After you had your Dana White’s Contender Series victory, you took a short-notice fight at Bantamweight (135 bs) and then fought at Flyweight (125 lbs) and then took a short-notice fight at Featherweight (145 lbs), correct?
Jerome Rivera: Yeah, yup. Exactly.
AJ Guillen: To me, that speaks to that warrior mentality that you were already talking about. Is that what it was? Or was this more of a calculated approach that you and your team were taking?
Jerome Rivera: Yeah, nah that’s just the warrior in me, bro. [The UFC] called us up a month after [my] Contender Series fight like, ‘Hey, do you want to fight? Do you want to be in the UFC?’ So, I’m like you can’t turn that down no matter what weight I was at the time. I told [The UFC] I can only fight at 135 lbs.
So, alright cool. Second fight in, I got to go back to my natural weight class at Flyweight. That’s where my career is going to be, at Flyweight for right now. I’m not planning on moving up [weight classes] or anything anytime soon.
That being said, after the [Francisco] Figueiredo fight in Abu Dhabi I had a week off, I got to relax a little bit and started getting back in the groove working out a bit. [The UFC] called me up that Tuesday before February 6th.
My manager called me up like, ‘Hey, how’s your body feeling?’
I was like, ‘Uhh, I feel pretty good. Why?’
He was like ‘What’s your weight at?’
I was like ‘I honestly don’t want to check, how come?’
He’s like ‘Yo, you want to fight this weekend?’
I’m like ‘This weekend, this Saturday you want me to fight?’
He said ‘Yeah.’
I was like ‘Hold on, let me check me weight really quick.’ And honestly, that’s the heaviest I’ve weighed in a long time. I got up to 157 lbs after that.
So I told him, ‘If I fight the only way I can make weight is if we fight at 145 lbs.’
He’s like, ‘Hold up, let me make a phone call.’
So I called up my coaches and talked to everybody. And at that point, looking back in hindsight, it may not have been the smartest decision. A lot of people, a lot of people starting off 0-2 in the UFC probably wouldn’t take a fight two-weight classes above their normal weight class on the third fight of their contract.
You know, I tried for greatness. I really, truly believed that I could win that fight. And I still believe if I fought Ode [Osbourne] again that I could beat Ode, but that night I went out and I made a mistake and that’s part of the game. It’s all just a learning process and I still have one more fight on my contract. Now it’s time for me to showcase what I truly believe that I can do and make it hard [The UFC] to not give me a contract extension.
AJ Guillen: As a fan of the sport, I respect that. I know a lot of us fans respect that warrior mentality where you’re actually able to say ‘Fuck it, whoever, whenever, I don’t give a shit. I’ll fight them and I’ll beat their ass.’
You already alluded to it, that you already found your home and weight class. Who’s next on the chopping block and why?
Jerome Rivera: Right now I’m just ready for anybody [The UFC] throws at me. I’m not in any position to be like, ‘Hey, I want this guy or that guy.’ Whoever they throw in front of me, it’s time to go and make a statement against that dude.
I have a couple guys in mind that I have a feeling [The UFC] might throw at me. One of those guys being Zhalgas Zhumagulov, I think he’s from Mongolia or kind of in that area. Mongolia, Russia. He started 0-2 and he’s a 125er also, so I kind of have that guy on my radar keeping an eye out.
As far as who do I care to fight? I just want anybody. I want anybody at 125 lbs with a full camp. They can have a number next to their name or not. I’m just ready to go and do what I keep saying that I’m going to do and do what I know I can do.
AJ Guillen: I love it, brotha. That’s awesome. That savage mentality gets me hyped.
You already said you’ll fight whoever in the [125 lb] weight class, whenever. But if you had to pick either current famous [MMA fighter] or a former famous [MMA fighter], who would you fight? Why? And how would you finish them?
Jerome Rivera: Aw man, that’s a tough one bro (smiles). If I could pick anybody…a famous pro at 125 lbs…I’d have to say Demetrious Johnson. Coming up that’s who I looked up to. [I was] always watching Demetrious Johnson, studying that guy. I’m like, this dude is so good.
To be able to share the octagon with him and have the chance to beat him, that would be something pretty special for me. That’s a challenge that, I mean…like I said, I’ve played fighting DJ in my head so many times. When he left the UFC I was bummed out, like aw shoot, I don’t get my chance at him. But yeah, I think that would be a pretty fun fantasy fight for me.
AJ Guillen: Went straight to the top of the mountain huh? DJ? That’s crazy brotha (laughs). That’s respect, so what’s you favorite DJ fight then? You going when he flying armbar’d [Ray Borg]? What’s your favorite DJ moment?
Jerome Rivera: That one actually isn’t my favorite moment because Ray Borg used to be my teammate, so seeing that kind of hurt me a little bit. I was really pulling for Ray Borg, that would have been something special to see.
My favorite DJ moment was probably when he fought John Dodson. Just to see the adversity [Johnson] had overcame. I think he was more technical than Dodson, but Dodson had more power and every single time Dodson would put his hands on him, Demetrious would kind of get dropped. Those first three-rounds, I don’t know how many times he got knocked down, but he would get up and get up and get up. I think it was really cool to see the championship mentality that he had.
AJ Guillen: That was a scrap bro. Like you were saying, it was good to see that dog in him come out because that was impressive. We’ll wrap back to DJ in just a second, but I gotta ask – Did you see [UFC 259’s] PPV card with Petr Yan‘s illegal knee [against Aljamain Sterling]?
Jerome Rivera: Oh yeah, that was very unfortunate for [Yan].
AJ Guillen: Did you see DJ’s tweet about it?
Jerome Rivera: DJ? No, I didn’t.
AJ Guillen: Yeah, Mighty Mouse. So, Mighty Mouse tweets out that people shouldn’t be able to stall out the game and that knees to the head on a grounded opponent should be legal. What are your thoughts on that?
Jerome Rivera: (laughs) I think DJ is saying that because he fights in ONE Championship now. I think if DJ was still in the UFC, I don’t think he’d be saying that. In ONE they allow soccer kicks, right?
AJ Guillen: Yup, yeah man, you can kick them in the head while they’re down.
Jerome Rivera: Can you knee to the head when they’re down or no?
AJ Guillen: I’m not sure on that one, but I do know that you can kick them while they’re down.
Jerome Rivera: Yeah, I know that you can kick while downed. I mean, if you’re ready to be kicked in the face while being a downed opponent, I’m sure he doesn’t really mind a knee too much now.
As far as stalling it out though, I don’t think people should be able to stall it out there. Because that stuff they used to play back in the day, I’m glad the refs don’t let it happen no more. People would put a couple fingers [on the mat] and pull them off. It’s hard when you’re in the heat of the moment, you know, when you’re in there fighting you’re going off instinct a lot of the time. Sure you’re trying to revert back to your skill and your training, but you’re in a fight and it’s kind of hard to make those judgement calls sometimes.
AJ Guillen: I can understand that man. Cory Sandhagen was talking about it on the Joe Rogan Experience, I don’t know if you caught it, he was saying that once you’re locked in that cage he needed to bring that mentality of either you or me. We’re dying in that cage. What’s your mentality going in there?
Jerome Rivera: Yeah, I think that’s a really good mentality to have. It’s crazy, I think the addicting thing for fighters is that every time you go out there it’s an experiment. You can try something new every time, you can revert back to what works good for you.
I think a few years back I used to almost get a little bit too emotional. I’d flip the switch before I went out and it was kill or be killed. I was ready to fight, that dude [in front of me] was trying to take everything I had. I’d get a little too emotional. So over the years I’ve tried to dial it back a little bit and make it controlled chaos and control my emotions a little bit more. I’ve been finding that I do better when I let loose and I’m just me.
But yeah, I think it’s a good mentality to have, that kill or be killed. If you think about it, in the brutal honesty of it, you guys are trying to kill each other and the only person stopping you is the referee, so that’s definitely that mentality you have to have.
AJ Guillen: That’s a good point, man. It makes me think of that Kevin Holland vs Jacare Souza fight. If Herb Dean wasn’t in there [Souza] was dying.
Jerome Rivera: Yeah.
AJ Guillen: I don’t know if you caught that one, but [Holland] was over him and it’s crazy to see what you guys do and as a fan it’s impressive, I have to really respect it.
Is there something you can tell the fans for you moving forward?
Jerome Rivera: I just want to say to everybody, you know, don’t give up on me. I think my first three fights in the UFC, it sucks that they didn’t go my way. I really wish I would have won all three of those fights and I think I could have won all three of those fights, but I think the reason I didn’t win all those fights is because of inexperience. I think I kind of needed to face those tough…I didn’t need them, sure I would have been fine without [those losses]. Those losses that I’ve face have made me so much better. Mentally I feel so much stronger, physically I feel stronger. Everyday I’m doing everything I can to make myself the sharpest fighter I can be.
Everybody, Team Renegade, don’t give up on me. I’m coming strong. [I’ll] probably fight again maybe June or July. We’re getting back on the grind, we’re ready, feeling good. Let’s do it.
AJ Guillen: Hell yeah, brotha. They say you learn your biggest lessons from your losses, my man. I see big things coming from you especially because of that warrior mentality and that Santa [Fe], New Mexico heart brotha. I know that thing’s huge. I see big things and I know that Renegade family, we’re pumping for you. Thank you again for joining us here at the AFC camp, my man. It means a lot to us and we’ll be watching these fights.
Jerome Rivera: Appreciate that bro. Thank you guys for having me on, I appreciate the time.
Follow Jerome “The Renegade” Rivera on Instagram: @renegaderivera