I first met Steve Rivera in 1995 when he and a group of friends showed up at a skydiving school where I was working as an instructor. He excelled immediately, literally flying through the basics and in very little time was performing extremely difficult vertical (head to earth) manuevers and jumping with some of the best skydivers in the country. He approached every skydive with a purpose and determination that I'd never seen before so it was no surprise to me when I found out that he had recently won a NCAA National Wrestling Championship and was a four-time All American.
New Jersey is one of the top states in the country for both high school and youth wrestling. The Shore Region is at or near the top year in and year out in both team and individual accomplishments. Rivera grew up competing in the area then started coaching youths after graduating college and spending one year as a grad-assistant coach at Central Connecticut University. After winning the competitive and talent-rich league four times in his seven years coaching, he was approached by a man that offered him a club rate to train his son, who was in seventh grade at the time. Rivera accepted. The boy's name was Frankie Edgar and Elite Wrestling was born. I asked the newly crowned UFC lightweight champ about Elite and he said, "Steve was definitely a huge influence in my life. I think what separates Elite from all the other schools is the fact that you have Steve Rivera at the helm. The passion he has for the sport of wrestling and coaching is what sets him apart from everyone else. He bleeds and sweats it and you can see that from the results he gets. He brings that passion with him in everything he does."
Edgar's success is well-documented throughout the mma world, especially after dethroning BJ Penn but he's not the only success story to come out of Elite. The website is filled with information on decorated wrestlers like Scott Winston (3x state champ), Vinnie Dellefave (2x state champ), Doug Hamann, and BJ Young. Eighteen year old high school senior Matt Dosk is already 2-0 as an amatuer mma competitor. Rivera's own 11-year-old son, Sebastian, is on his way to rewriting the youth record books.
Rivera's training spans far beyond the mat. Elite wrestlers are encouraged to work hard and prepare for everything they do, especially when it comes to their educations. Rivera himself is a successful business man and while leading by example he also offers coaching and assistance to his wrestlers in a wide variety of areas. Dosk says, "Steve has taught me so much about how to work hard to achieve my goals both on and off the mat" and BJ Young told us, "he even taught me how to ride a dirtbike." Building champions is something that Rivera does but being a father, a husband, and a business man is what he is and the distinction is something that he's proud of. Being a wrestling coach has brought the kids and the club countless trophies and medals but more importantly, being a mentor has brought them diplomas and degrees.
For more stories of success in wrestling and in life, check out elitewrestling.net.