LOS ANGELES – The worst way to get rich is to walk into a convenience store and buy a lottery ticket. The odds are so overwhelmingly against purchasing a winning ticket that one would almost need an advanced mathematics degree to calculate them.
The second worst way is to become a fighter.
For every Chuck Liddell and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, who win championships, become household names and earn millions of dollars, there are tens of thousands of others who wind up with post-concussion syndrome, smashed-in faces, broken bones and next to nothing in the bank account.
Jorge Rivera is set to face Rob Kimmons on the preliminary card of UFC 104 on Saturday.
Like playing the lottery, the lure of hitting it big and winning that one fight that will lead to fame, fortune and stardom is too powerful to resist. The fighters frequently continue to fight long after it's advisable, literally battering their bodies past the breaking point.
Jorge Rivera doesn't want to become the fighter who stays around far too long seeking a shot at glory. But the affable middleweight, who fights Rob Kimmons on Saturday at Staples Center on the preliminary card of UFC 104, is like many fighters who can't walk away from the sport because it's the only way to support a family.
The 37-year-old Rivera is lucky because, fighting in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, he makes more than most. He earned $14,000 to show and $14,000 to win in his last bout, an April 1 victory in Nashville, Tenn., over Nissen Osterneck. He'll make $18,000 to show and $18,000 to win for his fight with Kimmons.
By no means will that kind of pay make him rich. He's not being asked to appear on "Dancing With the Stars." He was never considered for the lead role in "The A-Team" movie. Driving a Ferrari is but a dream.
He's a father of three and runs the Rivera Mixed Martial Arts Academy in Framingham, Mass., in order to help meet his responsibilities. Fighting is what he knows. He "grew up rough" in Massachusetts and his family struggled to make it day to day.
His ability to fight and his willingness to stand and trade hard punches with some of the most dangerous men alive has helped him give his children a better life than he had as a child.
But Rivera knows he lives on the edge. A bad performance or, worse, a serious injury, could spell doom.
"If you're a journeyman or a below-average guy, it's like in boxing or in any other combat sport. It's tough to get by," Rivera said. "If you're a gifted athlete, you can make a great living at this, and it opens a lot of opportunities elsewhere – acting, commercials, endorsements, all that sort of thing. You're seeing what's taking place with some of our elite fighters now.
"At that level, where those guys are, literally, the sky's the limit. Guys who are not at that level and they see that and it's very motivating to them. They know how close they are to getting there. The truth is, not many make it to that level, but you're always aware of it and you're pushing and believing that this next fight could be the one to put you over the top."
Rivera said the last 15 to 18 months have been the most difficult of his life. His 17-year-old daughter, Janessa, died on Aug. 5, 2008, following a bad reaction to medication.
He's struggled to cope with that, but also had to undergo major shoulder surgery. At the same time, he got into a dispute with his former manager over a business and is headed to court soon in an attempt to rectify the situation.
It's been the most tumultuous time of his life, but Rivera dutifully presses on. His heart aches every day – "An hour doesn't go by that I don't think of her," he says, softly – but he has three other children and a fiancé who depend upon him.
They're why he underwent surgery on his shoulder, and they're why he's willing to take on anyone the UFC puts in front of him.
He's 16-7 and has already beaten quality fighters like Travis Lutter, David Loiseau, Dennis Hallman and Kendall Grove. He's fought Anderson Silva and Rich Franklin. He doesn't always win, but he makes it a point to always try to put on a show.
"Basically, it's just like the movie, 'The Gladiator,' " he says. "You have to win the crowd. Win that crowd. When you're around this for a while, you understand the other aspects of it, too. We're not here just to lay on someone or run away from someone and eke out a victory. People are coming out and they're paying a lot of money and they're looking to be entertained.
"We have to do our jobs and fulfill our end of the deal. Part of that is putting on entertaining fights and making people want to see you. And if they don't know who you are when the fight starts, to make them say, 'I have to see this guy again.' "
Rivera, who landed a four-fight deal with the UFC earlier this year, hopes to win the next four and perhaps fight his way into the picture for a shot at the middleweight championship.
If not, he just hopes to stay healthy and continue to earn his way.
He promises that his bout with Kimmons on Saturday will be a toe-to-toe slugfest, if he has anything to say about it, and he hopes to be in the mix for the Fight of the Night bonus. That can add anywhere from $40,000 to $75,000 to his pay.
"I don't see the fight going to the third round, but if it somehow does, you'll know it has been a brawl," Rivera said. "If I catch him well, he's going to want to take it to the ground. But if he catches me well, I'm not going to take it to the ground. I'm going to stand in front of him and throw punches until either I fall flat on my face or he does.
"Fight of the Night, that's what I'm talking about. That kind of money, that means a lot to guys like us. If we can put on the show I want, that's the most important thing. And if we can sneak out of there with that bonus, man, it can't get much better."