JAN / 2012 



My name is Eddie Morales and welcome to Online Martial Arts Magazine. The person I’m introducing in this interview has had a dedicated career in the Martial Arts. Training was a ritual, which he consistently engaged in, and it showed when he stepped into the fighting arena. He now continues to make his mark in a different arena. An arena that is filled with improving children's lives. He helps, teaches and motivates  with the intention of improving the lives of all that come in contact with him. From our conversation I got the sense that Martial Arts is not something that he does but instead who he is. This is a man of honor and strength that is true to the way of life as a warrior. We here at hope you enjoy this look at a true warrior and compassionate human being.


Interview by Eddie Morales

Online Martial arts Magazine Where are you originally from and where did you grow up?


OLANDO RIVERA: I am originally from New York City but I grew up in Staten Island. I then moved to Tampa with my family in 2000. What is your current or former occupation?


OLANDO RIVERA: I was always a carpenter by trade but I have been a Kickboxing Instructor for 20 yrs now. What or who got you interested in studying Martial Arts?


OLANDO RIVERA: My Mother signed me up for Tae Kwon Do classes when I was 9 yrs old because I would get picked on and bullied in school a lot. She felt it would help me build my confidence and teach me how to protect myself. I continued to study off and on throughout the years receiving my black belt in Tae Kwon Do, at age 18. I got more interested in full contact fighting from a dear friend named Henry” The Hitman" Nieves who sparred with me and gave me a most humbling experience by hitting me with a full contact body shot that dropped me to my knees. I loved it! That surge of energy and adrenaline, I stood up and said Wow can I do that, he said yes of course this is full contact. So I began to train with his instructor Master Joe Mercado. What are your thoughts on the importance of Tradition in combative arts?


OLANDO RIVERA: I think the discipline and respect that is taught when you are learning traditional Martial Arts is very important, especially for the youth of today. They need help developing a positive mindset that will last a lifetime. Did the Martial Arts play an important role in who you are today?


OLANDO RIVERA: Absolutely! As I mentioned the structure you are taught in traditional martial arts helped make me become a disciplined person throughout my life growing up for the most part without my father.  The training I learned from martial arts helped keep me get and stay on the right path.  I am very grateful to the wonderful teachers that have passed their knowledge on to me over the years. Who was your greatest influence growing up?


OLANDO RIVERA: Bruce Lee of course!  He was the icon of the time and since I had been taking martial arts since my childhood it was only natural.  As the years went by so many more martial artists influenced be, Chuck Norris, Joe Lewis and Bill Wallace to name a few. What are your thoughts on Mixed Martial Arts?


OLANDO RIVERA: It's a great way to show off the diversity of fighting styles both stand up and on the ground.  You can see that there is no one fighting style better than another.  I have always thought there was a better way to get the job done in the ring.  MMA is a perfect example of how you can be dominant in one style and in a split second lose the fight to an opponent who has a different style they can switch up on you and take you by surprise, changing the game just like that!  I wish MMA had been around back when I was fighting professionally I would have loved to have been able to have competed in an MMA setting.  I truly believe that no matter what, it will always come down to who wants it more, that determines who will win the fight in the end.  The best style is the man who is using his art to the best of his ability. What would you say is your greatest personal achievement to date?


OLANDO RIVERA: My greatest personal achievement to date is being a father to my four beautiful children (2 boys, 2 girls).  Nothing is more important than my wife and family.  Secondly it would be winning 5 world titles after a devastating motorcycle accident in which I was told I would walk with a limp and never fight again.  It is because of my strong heart and my discipline that I overcame the odds and fulfilled my dream.  Being a mentor to my students right now is something I am also very proud of.  I believe everyone should have a mentor in their life to help show them the way. I am honored by the students who have chosen to have me be that mentor for them.
 You mentioned motorcycle accident. What were the circumstances?

OLANDO RIVERA: On a clear summer day we were preparing to take a gym field trip to Great Adventure in New Jersey.  I decided it would be a nice idea to ride mymotorcycle up to the theme park.  I remember like it was yesterday, my dear friend Tommy Rodriguez, asked me if I could give his fiancé a ride on the motorcycle as she had never ridden before.  He trusted me with the safety of his soon to be wife, and so I accepted with honor.  We got on the motorcycle and secured ourselves we were only a few blocks from the gym where my bike was parked.  A woman drove through the stop sign where we were crossing the intersection.  I swerved around the front end of her vehicle to avoid a head on collision and a mini van was coming from the other side.  It clipped my bike and I was trapped between the bumper of the mini van and the original car and at that moment I was hurt. I stopped the motorcycle to check on my passenger Jessica Sanchez and myself.  My passenger was ok but I began to feel light headed.  I attempted to lay the motorcycle down and take my helmet off.  I looked down and saw my leg was hanging and I was not able to lift my leg over the motorcycle.  All I could see was the skin hanging and the bone of my kneecap exposed.  I had Jessica get off the bike first and I gently laid the bike down took off my helmet and passed out.  I remember waking up to the sirens of the ambulance that was arriving to take me to the hospital.

Arriving at the emergency room I was told it was a compound fractured patella.  I recall so clearly the doctor telling me that I am lucky to still have my leg attached to the body.  He then told me that I would walk with a limp for the rest of my life and there would be no using that leg for any type of competitive sport.  It was a very difficult time for me.  I laid there wondering why this was happening to me when I was so close to my dreams when I worked so hard and wanted it so badly...only to be derailed this way.  However, like a true warrior I picked myself up and was matched up with a Russian physical therapist who taught me how pain was just weakness leaving my body. He really helped me through rehabilitation so that I was able to walk again normally.  I was able to eventually get back to my gym training slowly but surely with the thought in my mind that I was going to be a champion one day no matter what.  There was another driving force in my heart that wanted me to get better and his name is Luis Bad Boy Ruiz.  At that time he was quickly moving up through the Light Heavyweight Division as I was in recovery and unable to compete.  My injury was not known in the kickboxing circuit, Ruiz thought I was ducking him.  Me and my team, in my crutches showed up to one of his bouts and sat ringside.  I will never forget the look on his face as he saw me sitting there in a cast up to the hip and my crutches.  He had a look in his eye like he was wishing the opponent opposite him in the ring was me.  My desire to compete again and fight him especially, increased tenfold.  I returned to the gym with a renewed vigor, determined to train to fight again, and it was him that I wanted my comeback fight to be against.  No one else would do.   Everyone in my immediate circle tried to convince me that a tune-up fight was the way to go before such a battle, as it was sure to be against Luis Ruiz.  The day came when I fought him for his KICK United States Title at the Vanderbilt in Long Island.  It was the first of our epic battles very emotional for all that were involved and there to watch.  I was victorious and was finally the US Champion! Tell us more about Warriors for Autism?

OLANDO RIVERA: Our son Anthony (now 12) was diagnosed as having Autism in 2001.  Back then there was so little information on the condition.  There was no real help, advice on therapies, diets etc.  We felt really lost on how to handle the situation and no one we knew had ever had a person with an autism spectrum disorder in their families either.  The Internet wasn't the wealth of information 11 years ago that is today. It was a devastating and isolating feeling for our family. We eventually got a handle on things; became autism advocates, and fundraised for the larger organizations for years.  We began to realize that there was so much more we could do.  The larger organizations are focused mainly on research, cures, genetics etc.  There are not that many that are actually trying to provide functional assistance to the families that are raising children on the spectrum right now.  Of course we believe that the research is necessary, but so is providing the best care and lifestyle we can for the children that are already living with the condition everyday.  Aren't we the parents the ones that are walking, raising donations and spreading the word about our children?  Where is the help for us now?  We formed Warriors for Autism, Inc. in 2010, a non profit organization benefiting families who have children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.  The organization is run by my wife, Deena, she keeps things going and organized so that I can maintain the martial arts aspect of our business and she the charity aspect.  We are currently hosting events, play dates and support group meetings for families that have children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).  We also run camp programs on a local horse farm for the children with autism and their siblings.  This camp is an amazing program where the children get to interact with each other, with siblings of ASD children as well as their own and get hands on sensory fun on the farm! They absolutely love the animals and through the bonds they form with the animals, learn to transfer some of that on to better relationships with people.  They learn to feed and care for the animals, take nature walks and ride the horses daily.  It's truly one of the programs right now we are most proud of.    We have created a "Sensory Friendly" Santa event as well. Because the children with autism are so easily overwhelmed by their senses, it becomes difficult for families to figure out how to enjoy the holidays and create lasting memories such as a visit and picture with Santa.  The lines at the mall are much too long, the lights, the music; the chatter all can easily set an autistic child off on a meltdown.  We have figured out a way to have the families come out and enjoy sensory friendly craft tables, play areas, quiet reading with Mrs. Claus and so on all while you wait for your turn to visit with Santa one family at a time.  It works amazingly well and the children are having so much fun they don't realize they have been "waiting" for their turn at all. This is just an example of how we help families have a sense of normalcy while keeping in mind their child's special needs.  There is a way to balance it all out.  We've met so many families that have not been out socially in ages because they are afraid others will stare, or make comments or just not understand their situation and cause an unpleasant experience.  With our events, programs and play dates, we've eliminated that problem for them and help them re-enter society and enjoy family time with others.   There are many fundraisers, events and programs always on the forefront is how to find out up to date information about the organization. Do you have any plans to make a video instructional series or books?


OLANDO RIVERA: Yes I am in the process of creating two workout videos which will be released in 2012, stay tuned to my website for an actual release date. What advice can you give someone that wants to study the combative arts but doesn’t know where to begin?


OLANDO RIVERA: I would suggest they look up a listing of local training centers in their area determine what style interests them most and then most importantly, research the instructors.  In these days of the Internet it should be very easy to verify the credentials of the instructors and be sure they are qualified to give the instruction in the style they are teaching.  There are a lot of great teachers out there whether it be in stand up or ground fighting styles.  The perfect gym will have a bit of both to offer their students. Who was your instructor/s?


OLANDO RIVERA: Grandmaster Yung Kim was my Tae Kwon Do instructor in Staten Island for many years. I also studied with a Goju Instructor by the name of Shihan Glenn Nieves.  My  Shindo Ryu instructor and dear friend Shihan Jonas Nunez Jr. He also traveled around the world with me as I competed and I earned my black belt with him as well.  Champion kickboxers Larry Thunderfoot Cureton and Henry The Hitman Nieves helped me realize my love and potential in the kickboxing circuit and gave me lots of sparring when I needed it.  I had my head kickboxing trainer Virgil Meyers and my boxing trainer Vincent Vazquez who helped me realize another dream in obtaining two boxing titles.  When I moved to Tampa there were no kickboxing shows at all going on and so I delved into boxing for a while as well.  I have always been a stand up fighter though! You competed in kickboxing; can you explain to our readers your mindset when you were engaged in the match?


OLANDO RIVERA: In a fight I would always keep in mind that I was a champion at heart, I had to train like a champion to fight like a champion if I wanted to stay a champion.  I cannot lose, I will not lose and that was because I always trained to fight not for a fight.  I always fought with all my heart, every time.  With those thoughts in my head I would feel invincible. Have any of your students competed and won any titles?

OLANDO RIVERA: I have one student right now by the name of Mark "Bivwack" Bevacqua who
fights at 145lb and is the current ISKA Florida State Champion. There are a few others on my team of fighters currently being trained and that are active on the amateur circuit so yes, there will be more titleholders within our ranks very soon! Who was your toughest opponents?


OLANDO RIVERA: The toughest opponents that come to mind are firstly, Louis Bad Boy Ruiz because he had such tenacity, he was a tough competitor.  We fought a total of three times over the course of my professional career and although I won each of the three bouts he fought with the heart of a champion each time, I give him much respect for that.  There was Ed Butcher who I remember because he had the ability to psychologically beat you up before the fight even began.  He knew how to get inside his opponents head and make you doubt yourself.  Once I got passed that facade it was much easier to beat him.  Lastly there was Conrad Ply a Canadian champion whom I fought early on in my career, that was a battle.  He clearly outclassed me in technique at that time and was very ring savvy but he fell short on heart.  I lost the fight that night in a decision but won the respect of the Canadian crowd that night for sure! It sounds like you have had a good career and I salute you for the work that you continue to do. Thank you for accepting this interview the staff and I at wish you continued success.