When UFC bantamweight Jimmie Rivera (21-2) steps into the Octagon opposite John Dodson (20-9) this Saturday at UFC 228, he will be just 99 days removed from the crushing KO he suffered at UFC Fight Night Utica. That defeat to Marlon Moraes was Rivera’s first pro loss since 2008.
Rivera was on a 20-fight winning streak when he met Moraes, having collected victories over Thomas Almeida, Urijah Faber, and Pedro Munhoz. The win streak vaulted Rivera into the upper echelon of the bantamweight division and within striking distance of a title fight.
Bloody Elbow asked the now 5th ranked Rivera what it was like coming to terms with his first official* loss inside the UFC Octagon. “I guess for me, everybody’s different, but I accepted that it happened; that I got caught,” said Rivera.
“I went back and thought about what I could do better, in my training camp, and what I needed to fix and from there just got back on the horse and started training again.”
Rivera said that his wife asked him to take a week off from training. Rivera said he tried to do that, but returned to the gym the Friday following the fight. “Almost a week,” he chuckled.
When Rivera did return to training, he did so with an opportunity to practice what he’s been preaching as an instructor at the Manhattan branch of Tiger Schulmann’s Martial Arts academy.
“One of the things I’ve learned is; it’s a part of life that we fail,” said Rivera. “We teach that to the kids here, even the adults here, but it’s about what you do right after you fail. You get right back up and you try again and you don’t give up. So that’s the big picture here, that’s what I focus on, getting back up and getting right back in there.”
The man Rivera drew for his quick return to the Octagon is John Dodson. The 7th ranked bantamweight in the UFC is coming off a win over Pedro Munhoz in March. Dodson’s last loss was in November, dropping a controversial split decision to Marlon Moraes.
When Rivera was offered a bout with Dodson, it was an easy decision for him to accept. “Dodson’s a well known name. People know him. He’s been around forever. He’s fought for the 125lb belt twice. He’s won some, lost some at 135. When we went to the UFC wanting a fight and they gave us John Dodson we said, yeah. We took the fight right away. It was the first and only name they gave and we said alright, that was it.”
Rivera called Dodson a “tough guy” who is “tricky, fast, and moves a lot.” He refused to share any of his game-plan for the fight other than to say, “It’s kind of like you have to catch him, in a way, it’s cat and mouse.”
Though he didn’t want to share any details from inside his training camp, Rivera did speak about a shift in philosophy; one spurred by the loss he suffered last time out.
“I’m just focusing more on myself and what I’m going to do in the fight and more focused on making everything else kind of fall behind,” he revealed. “I can only focus on Dodson and that’s it.”
To do this, Rivera claimed, he has tried to minimize both his work and family commitments. He said he still coaches at Tiger Schulmann’s, but he’s not as involved as he would be outside of training camp. And he will still spend time with his family and attend functions, but not at the expense of training.
If putting himself first during camp pays dividends, with a victory at UFC 228, Rivera will be launched back into the pack that is now chasing reigning bantamweight king TJ Dillashaw. The current champion claimed the title with a thunderous win over Cody Garbrandt at UFC 227. What’s next for the champ, and the hardware around his waist, is a fascinating subject for Rivera.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens in the next six months,” said Rivera. “You saw TJ and Henry Cejudo going at it. They want to fight and we don’t know what weight that’s going to be at. And then we have Dominick Cruz calling out TJ and that would be an interesting fight. So my top three in the division — to receive the next title fight — are Cejudo, Cruz, and Raphael Assuncao, because Assuncao has a win over Marlon Moraes and TJ. Those are my top three, but you don’t know if they are going to push the Cruz or Cejudo fight, you really don’t know what will happen. It depends on performances and who is stirring the pot.”
Rivera wouldn’t be drawn on speculating where he figures in the title picture. He stated, repeatedly, that he is only focusing on Dodson. After he faces Dodson at UFC 228, he’ll have the opportunity to watch another top ten bantamweight compete; Aljamain Sterling, who fights Cody Stamann.
Sterling told Bloody Elbow a fight between he and Rivera would make sense and that he expects the winners and losers of he and Rivera’s fights to be matched up next. When Rivera was told about Sterling’s comments, the New Jersey-born fighter showed little interest in his Long Island neighbour.
“I know he was staying stuff on twitter that I wouldn’t want to take a fight with him,” said Rivera. “When it comes down to it, the UFC offers me names. I couldn’t negotiate anything. It was either you fight Marlon or you don’t fight. You either fight Dodson or you don’t fight. When it came to Dodson, we wanted to get back in there, we’re not going to negotiate and stuff, it sounded really reasonable.
[I was matched-up with] Cruz and then Lineker and then Marlon, there was really no negotiation. They just gave me guys and it was yes or no. So when it comes down to it, I’m not sure what’s going to happen next. I’m not really focused on it, I just want to go in there and get the win over Dodson.”
Jimmie Rivera vs. John Dodson goes down on the prelim card of UFC 228: Woodly vs. Till. That portion of the event begins at 8PM ET live on FX.
*Rivera was defeated by Al Iaquinta in an exhibition bout as part of The Ultimate Fighter 14.