Jimmie Rivera is quick to use the words “legend” and “inspirational” when describing the man he’s going to face in the Octagon on Saturday night, Urijah Faber. But if you think that’s going to stop him from punching “The California Kid” in the face at Quicken Loans Arena, think again.
“I don’t really get star struck,” he said. “I’ve met some people who are famous and it’s cool to meet them and see what they’re like, but they’re the same as you are. The only difference is that they’re a little bit more well-known on social media and stuff like that. But besides that, there’s nothing different. I believe everybody’s the same.”
For the most part, that’s true. But for others, like Rivera and Faber, they’ve conquered the art of prizefighting to a point where they’re a lot different than most people. It’s why they’re on the UFC 203 main card this weekend and considered to be two of the best 135-pound fighters on the planet. So it’s Rivera’s task to prove that he’s better. If he does, he will have won 19 fights in a row, four in the UFC, and he can begin making noise for a title fight. And that’s what it’s about for him. It’s not bad blood, it’s not getting his aggression out. It’s martial arts, and it’s what kept him pushing even when it looked like a UFC call would never come.
“I’ve learned through martial arts that hard work always pays off, and the harder you work, the more it’s going to pay off,” he said. “If you don’t put that work in, you’re not going to get what you want.”
What Rivera wanted for the longest time was to see the phrase “UFC fighter” next to his name, and on the east coast MMA scene, there was no one more deserving as he racked up win after win. A loss to Dennis Bermudez on the first episode of The Ultimate Fighter 14 hurt, and then he got tagged as a fighter who didn’t finish fights.
So what did he do? He knocked out Anthony Durnell and Carson Beebe in 2014-15, and he got his call to the big show. And now that he’s here, it looks like a permanent stay, as he justified his call-up with three wins that included a knockout of Marcus Brimage and a Fight of the Night win over Iuri Alcantara in January. As a bonus, he beat Alcantara in his home state of New Jersey, proving that he can win when the pressure is on.
“I wish I got to enjoy it a little bit more, but it’s so fun when you go into the cage and you’re so focused on what you need to do and the task at hand,” he said. “The crowd was so loud and it was just an awesome feeling to be in front of everybody and be in Jersey and be able to fight. I really enjoyed it so much. I just wish the walk was longer to the cage.”
The win was proof that Rivera belonged, but maybe more telling was that it showed a lot of fighters who are where “El Terror” once was that they can reach the top of the game if they stay persistent. When Rivera hears that other fighters are using his story as fuel, it’s a responsibility he doesn’t take lightly.
“I really didn’t think that people would mention my name like that,” he said. “But it’s unbelievable. I’m an ordinary person, but when you hear about people following you and you become an inspiration to them, it hits home and it hits the bottom of my heart. It feels really good, like you’ve done something right, and you’re helping people trying to live their dream.”
So how does he keep their dream alive? By living his own. 2015 was a good start, 2016 has been even better, and if he beats Faber, does he have an idea on what he does for an encore in 2017?
“I’ll hopefully get a title fight,” Rivera said. “That’s the only way to top it – to fight for that title and get it.”