Before he became known as “The Animal,” Joseph Rivas was just a kid from Eloy who wanted to prove to his dad and older brother that he could also be part of the family legacy in martial arts.

Rivas has been around the art form since he could walk and was raised in the gym watching his dad and brother train.

The 20-year-old also did some training of his own, but he was more of a punching bag for his family and didn’t compete in an actual fight until he was 15, because he dad didn’t allow it.

“I was small in school and got bullied,” Rivas said. “I was bullied by my brother, and my dad told me that I wasn’t going to be like him when I grew up, that I wasn’t going to be big like them or really good like them in a fight. It took years for me to get a fight and just convince my dad to allow me to fight.”

Rivas didn’t let the negativity get to him, and after competing in his first fight, he has gone on to win three titles and currently holds a 12-2 record in Muay Thai.

“I used that as my motivation growing up and becoming better than them,” he said. “I still use that as part of my motivation to keep going and keep improving. I’m a fighter. You tell me I’m not going to be something, I’m going to be it, and I’m going to stick to it.”

Rivas believes that his dad didn’t see the same fight in him that he saw in his brother and wanted something different for him in life.

“You’re the brains of the family. You’re smart,” Rivas recalled what his dad had told him. “You have to stick to the books; you belong behind a desk.”

Rivas added he did do well in school and received good grades, but working in an office behind a desk was not something he wanted to do.

“I was born active,” he said. “I was wrestling, grappling and all that stuff, just staying active. I’m still active to this day. I don’t work behind a desk. I work at an irrigation job, and it’s a really great job. It keeps me going every day.”

At first, Rivas was unsure if he actually liked fighting; he wrestled for a short time while he was in high school at Vista Grande and liked it. When he first started competing in Muay Thai, his sole focus was trying to prove his family wrong. He didn’t allow himself the opportunity to actually enjoy it.

Everything changed once he started winning matches and belts. Now he can’t imagine himself doing anything else.

Although Rivas originally set out to prove to his family that he could be a top fighter, his motivations have changed a little since joining Cobra Fight Club in Casa Grande with trainer Armando Lucio.

Rivas now not only fights, he helps Lucio train kids in MMA.

“Before it was the drive of being a champion, then when I became a champion it was just getting another belt and then trying to get one belt after another,” he said. “Now it’s probably because I’m getting older and being in the gym a lot, but it’s just helping the kids out. They look up to me, and having the drive of still trying to keep that title and having every one look up to me as that guy (is important).”

Rivas’ next Muay Thai fight is scheduled for July 27 in Tucson against APEX’s Humberto Duarte for the flyweight title.

“Every time he goes in there, he’s like my kid. I always get nervous,” Lucio said. “I think I get more nervous with him than I do with my daughters. He’s different. He’s a good kid. My daughters are born killers; he was made into a killer. I get nervous when he goes in there, but I know he’ll do well.”

Rivas’ last fight was just last month, but it was an MMA match. His last Muay Thai fight was in December. Lucio said it’s hard to get Rivas matches in Muay Thai because opponents fear the striking power of “The Animal.”

“It’s hard to find a fight in Muay Thai,” Lucio said. “He’s already fought most of the guys in Arizona in his weight class and after you fight him once, they don’t want to fight again. Also, he’s so advanced in his record you can’t have him fight a guy that’s 0-5.”

Although his last Muay Thai fight was six months ago and he was expecting another MMA fight before a Muay Thai fight, Rivas said he’s ready for it.

“Every month I’m pretty much active,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting this Muay Thai fight to come up and for it to be a title shot. I wish I had more time to train for this fight specifically, but I’m ready for it. Right now my main goal is to get that belt, but once that’s over I’ll be back here teaching the kids.”