When you enter Apex MMA in Tucson, AZ, immediately your met by Joey "Boom Boom" Rivera. He greets you with a smile, a hand shake, and welcomes you into his gym. It's as if you've known him for years.
The atmosphere in the gym is live, students are rolling, working out, even coaching. It's another world once you walk through these doors.
There is a very distinct sound that echoes throughout the gym. That sound is the heartbeat of this sport, and the beat is getting stronger.
Joey is a coach, a fighter, a trainer, and very well spoken about his aspirations. His background is in Judo, but his experiences with many talented fighters have helped him become a mixed martial artist.
When asked about his roots, Joey had this to say. "I started training in Judo in 1997 with Ray Marquez in New Jersey. I moved to Tucson AZ in 2001 and started doing Judo with Steve Owens, the greatest coach of all time. Steve has coached a lot of world class fighters, everybody knows Don Frye. I can't say a bad thing about him, I'm blessed that he is around me."
Joey fights on Oct. 3 for the World Fighting Federation. This is their inaugural event and the WFF is looking to make their mark. They picked an exciting fighter to get the job done in Rivera.
For an example of his slick fighting style, look no further than Rivera vs. Roufus. Joey (2-0) will square of with the seasoned Jeff Horlacher (7-21) at 170lbs.
When asked about his opponent Rivera was nothing but respectful. "Jeff Horlacher's strength I believe is his experience. Hes got a couple good knockouts on his record. He knocked out Eddie Arizmendi Jr. who is one of my best friends and one the best fighters in AZ."
Even with the history, Rivera remains a professional. Does any bad blood exist? "Not necessarily, I'm a professional, I'm doing this because I love it. I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to fight for the the WFF. They said Jeff Horlacher wants to fight you so I jumped on the opportunity. I think I have what it takes to be victorious.
"I think that my style is going to be able to deal with Jeff even though he's a little bit bigger than me. From what I hear he's not great at any one thing but he definitely hits hard.
"I'll take whatever he's gonna give me, whether its a choke or an arm, or if I could punch him into submission I would like to do that. More than anything else, I just want to come out with the W. My strength would probably be the transition, positioning, and control."
On this evening I caught Joey after a "shark tank" training session. He stays in the cage and one of five fresh fighters rotates in constantly pushing him. It boosted his confidence and he showed the signs of a man who had endured a hard day at the office. With the guys roaming Apex, Rivera definitely had to earn it.
Rivera wears many hats. To be a fighter is a lifestyle, to be a coach is to lead and mold fighters, to train is to gain and share valuable knowledge. Some might struggle to aspire to one of these goals. Joey has found a way to incorporate them all and excel in each facet.
His priorities don't lie in the individual tasks more so than they are inspired by his potential of greatness in all areas.
"I have a couple more years left and a small window of opportunity, I'm still young, I have like four or five years left to be able to fight and still be real strong. My goal overall is not to be just a good coach, a lot of people call me a good coach but you know good is not good enough. I would like to be great someday. And I also would like to be a great fighter.
"Being good is just not enough. There are a handful of good guys, and there is an even smaller handful of great guys." With an outlook like that the sky is the limit for Rivera and those he works so hard to train.
It is the people we surround ourselves with that help inspire greatness in us. For Joey it is obvious in his appreciation for those close to him. It was crystal clear watching him talk to fighters leaving the gym. "Get those grades right, don't stay gone so long, see you Monday" This is a leader, and it shows.
He had this to say before closing the interview. "I've been blessed with the graces of god. I'm fortunate to have a great girlfriend, I love my girlfriend she's awesome. I love god and pray every day. And like I said I've been blessed with all the people around me and a lot of great talent, you know really good talent.
"Most of our guys here are from the streets. Some of them are at the U of A but for the most part they are from the streets and this is the way they get out. I've done the same thing, I grew up fairly poor and I'm living my dreams, Ive been blessed."
Sounds a lot like the American dream Joey. Hats off to you for accomplishing not only your goals thus far but for reaching further, and also elevating those around you in the process. You set a great example in this community locally and in the MMA community.
Good luck in your fight with Horlacher at the WFF's Battle For The Desert. For more information about this fight and 11 others going on in Tucson, AZ, check out the World Fighting Federation.