Former state champ Cordoba opens new training center

FAIRFIELD – John Rocco of Kearny is a 9-year-old third grader from Roosevelt School. Rocco is already an accomplished wrestler, having won a district championship four times already in his young life.

So John travels some 25 miles west of his home to work with a legend in Kearny wrestling, none other than former NJSIAA state champion David Cordoba.

“It’s a lot of fun,” young John Rocco said. “I play baseball, soccer, football and hockey, but wrestling is my favorite sport. I learned a lot about arm bars and take downs. It inspires me to become a better wrestler.”

David Cordoba just recently opened his new facility, called Cordoba Trained. He just had his grand opening a little more than a month ago, but he already has more than 100 wrestlers of all ages coming to his facility to learn and train.

Cordoba, who won the state championship at 130 pounds in 1999, was for the longest time the only wrestler from Kearny to win a state title.

But Jacob Cardenas topped Cordoba by capturing two state championships while wrestling for Bergen Catholic in 2018 and 2019. Cordoba is very close to Cardenas, has trained with Cardenas for years and even had Cardenas work for his facility as an instructor with the young campers the last few weeks before Cardenas heads off to wrestle at Cornell.

“This has been a blast,” Cardenas said about working with the little kids. “I really wasn’t doing anything, so this turned out to be so much fun. I remember coming to classes like this and learning from Dave. He’s been like a mentor to me. This is cool teaching little kids.”

“He’s like a super hero to the little ones,” Cordoba said. “Jacob is very quiet, but these kids just run to him. They really look up to him.”

So here they were, Kearny’s two state champions together, helping little kids learn the ins and outs of the sport.

Now 37 years old, Cordoba has also worked with Kearny’s Jimmy Mullen, a four-time New Jersey state champion on the youth levels. Mullen will begin his freshman year at St. Joseph of Montvale this fall.

Cordoba has also helped to train Jacob Baeza, who will wrestle his third season as a junior with the Kearny High School team this season.

Cordoba said that he had to get a new facility, because his old one in Little Falls became outdated.

“We had a 1,000-square foot place in Little Falls,” Cordoba said. “Now we have 4,000 square feet. We had some mats, but we had to buy extra. We just outgrew the old place. There just wasn’t enough room.”

Cordoba secured this former furniture store on Route 46 East in Fairfield. It took a lot of time and patience, plus a lot of word of mouth, in order to get the facility.

Cordoba thought he was headed for a life in education.

“I thought I was going to become a teacher,” Cordoba said. “I really wanted to become a physical education teacher.”

After high school and college, Cordoba became the head wrestling coach at St. Mary’s of Rutherford. He also gave private lessons to aspiring wrestlers, but most of that work was done in living rooms.

“I would go to do training at people’s houses in front of their grandparents,” Cordoba said. “Those were the rough days. I traveled all over.”

Cordoba realized that there was a ton of wrestling clubs in the state. One, the NJAC Wrestling School in Cedar Grove, inspired Cordoba to make the financial investment to branch off on his own.

“I wanted to have a place to do some small group training, like with 10 kids or so,” Cordoba said. “It just morphed into a bigger wrestling club.”

At the same time, Cordoba met his fiancée, Misty Hill, a former fitness trainer from Ohio with a background in martial arts.

“Misty really helped me,” Cordoba said. “We went to a lot of tournaments, handing out fliers, talking to parents. It was a lot of work.”

Their former wrestling home in Little Falls became obsolete.

“People kept asking me, ‘When are you going to get a bigger place?’” Cordoba said. “It just grew real quick.”

Thus, the need to move to the new facility in Fairfield.

“This was in the works for a long time, probably about 15 years,” Cordoba said. “Misty really helped me. I had the fear of failure. I didn’t know if I would be a good coach. I had a lot of sleepless nights wondering what I was going to do. Misty pushed me and said, ‘Well, at least you can say you tried.’”

Hill inspired Cordoba to include girls in his training program.

“We started out with one and we now have 18,” said Hill, who teaches the girls how to wrestle. “I was pushing him from the beginning that we should include girls. It just kind of blew up.”

Especially since the NJSIAA included girls for the first time last season and had the first-ever girls-only wrestling tournament. One of Cordoba Trained’s female wrestlers,. Emelly Santos of Secaucus, placed seventh in the recent girls’ championships.

“It’s amazing how it’s grown,” Hill said. “They keep me on my edge. I now live on the mat.”

As for the young ones, Aiden Badia of Kearny has a bright future. Aiden is only eight years old, but is already a champion.

Declan Coleman is only five years old, but he’s in love with the sport.

“I play baseball and soccer, but I love wrestling,” said little redheaded Declan, whose mother the former Dana Warnock was an All-Hudson County softball pitcher at Kearny High School. “When I came here, I didn’t know what a sweep single was. I like wrestling live.”

Karen Rocco, young John’s mother, doesn’t mind taking her son to wrestling practices three days a week.

“They learn a lot,” Rocco said. “He really enjoys it and it’s good for him. He gets to wrestle different people here. He goes to school, comes home and then comes here. He’s really good with it.”

Rocco wrestles both for Cordoba Trained’s team and for Kearny Recreation.

Needless to say, it’s a family affair at Cordoba Trained.

“We’re here until 10 p.m. every night,” Cordoba said. “I’m here every day, ready to wrestle. This is my home. It’s doing very well. I’m very happy about it.”

Former Nutley wrestling champion Joe Ferinde, who wrestled at Johnson and Wales in Rhode Island, has joined the coaching staff.

“It’s great for the program,” Cordoba said. “All the kids love him.”

Cordoba currently has a Cordoba Trained team that travels to tournaments. About 15 or so wrestlers will head to Harrah’s in Atlantic City for next weekend’s Nuway Summer Nationals, the premier summer wrestling tournament on the East Coast.

“My Dad (William) took me to tournaments and held me in line,” Cordoba said. “He also kept me on the straight and narrow line. He’s also my biggest supporter. He’s here with me now and he cleans the gym. He’s incredible.”

It’s safe to say that David Cordoba has come a long way since his days growing up in Kearny.

“No, I never saw this,” Cordoba said. “I never even thought about it. It’s a great place with a great positive vibe. I had so many people who backed me up and supported me. I can’t thank them enough.”




Former Kearny High School state wrestling champion David Cordoba (back row, center) poses with some of his students at his Cordoba Trained facility in Fairfield. Another state champion Jacob Cardenas is standing in the back row. Cardenas has been an instructor at Cordoba Trained this summer. Photo by Jim Hague



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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”