UFC 203 has been hotly anticipated for some time now. September 10th will see the UFC enter the Cleveland, Ohio, market for the very first time and their hometown hero, UFC heavyweight champion of the world Stipe Miocic, will be defending his belt against kickboxing phenom Alistair Overeem.
There’s another fascinating heavyweight contest on offer at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena—former champ Fabricio Werdum will be facing off against the towering Travis Browne in a rematch between the pair. Then there’s the MMA debut of former WWE megastar CM Punk, who is taking on fellow fledgling welterweight Mickey Gall. It’s one of the more interesting fight cards in recent memory.
However, it’s the contest between Urijah “The California Kid” Faber and Jimmie “El Terror” Rivera which really catches the eye. It’s a classic match-up between a seasoned veteran and an intriguing prospect.
It’s a relatively speedy turnaround for Team Alpha Male product Faber. In early June, Faber lost a lopsided unanimous decision to long-term rival Dominick Cruz for the UFC bantamweight strap. UFC colour commentator Joe Rogan pressed Faber on some of his comments during his post-fight interview in the Octagon—comments some quarters deemed to be Faber signalling the end of his standout 33-9 MMA career.
However, the California Kid quickly rebuffed those claims when talking at a public appearance for one of his sponsors: "No, I'm not gonna retire. [Joe] Rogan asked me the hard questions and I do this to be the best. I feel like [at age] 37 [was] one of the best training camps I've had, period. It was amazing. I know I'm right there at the top. I don't know what's next necessarily. I'm gonna chill for a bit. But I'm definitely not done done."
The Cruz loss will have particularly stung: not only was it the rubber match to settle their previously tied series of fights, but there is a genuine, deep-seeded hate between the two. But, if Faber has proved anything in his career it’s his ability to bounce back from adversity. In fact, of his nine losses, Faber has never lost consecutive fights during the entirety of his 13-year tenure as a mixed martial artist.
Rivera is certainly the kind of character who will test the mettle of Faber’s mindset. Though an all-round solid fighter, Faber’s penchant for wrestling could meet its match against the gritty 27-year-old Rivera, who likes to switch up his sharp boxing for powerful double-leg takedowns.
With a record of 19-1, Rivera has notched three impressive wins on his UFC resume since entering the promotion’s bantamweight division as a late replacement for a fight against TUF alum Marcus Brimage—a bout he won by TKO, by the way. Rivera was actually a castmate on that series of The Ultimate Fighter—losing in the early stages to now-UFC featherweight stalwart Dennis Bermudez.
In addition to his win over Brimage, Rivera also earned impressive victories over Pedro Munoz and, more notably, Yuri Alcantara, who has also fought Faber in the recent past. Before that, the New Jersey native competed in top MMA promotions such as Bellator and World Series of Fighting. He may be young in his MMA years compared to that of Faber, but he is certainly not lacking in experience.
That experience has certainly helped El Terror on his brief stint as a UFC bantamweight. Within a year, he has already traversed his way up the rankings to earn a berth at #13—which is rather impressive given the nature of the division and quick progress. In fact, when talking to Bloody Elbow, Rivera believes a lot of the UFC’s bantamweights are ducking him already.
"They offered me a couple of people already and I said yes but they said no. Actually, they offered me [Bryan] Caraway; Caraway obviously said no. It's a dangerous fight for him and he wants to pick and choose his fights. So they had four other guys so Sean Shelby was like, 'if Caraway doesn't want to take the fight then who would you want to fight?' I said well out of those four names Urijah Faber was at the top of the list. I said well, if he [Caraway] doesn't want to take the fight then I would want to fight Faber and it would be great."
"I think he [Bryan Caraway] just doesn't want to fight me because he knows it's a tough fight and he knows I can beat him. He doesn't want to take that loss. You ever notice he always picks and chooses his fights? [Aljamain] Sterling the same way. They offered me Sterling before; he said no. Caraway said no a couple of times. Mizugaki, I was supposed to fight Mizugaki but he said no; I said yes. I pretty much said yes to everybody they gave me... I'm pretty much down to fight whoever, just give me time to train and that's it."
Saturday night will prove a lot about both men. In Rivera’s case, it’s whether he is already at the level needed to mix it with the 135lbs division’s best. If not, there’s always time given his 27 years—but opportunity knocks for Rivera. Meanwhile, in Faber’s case, this fight could prove if he still has the body to keep up with his impressive fight IQ and whether he actually wants to continue competing in the Octagon after such a devastating loss to Cruz.
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