September 10, 2016

UFC 203: Flying Under The Radar -- The Underrated Jimmie Rivera Takes On Urijah Faber

By Adam Martin

There are a lot of fights flying under the radar at this weekend's UFC 203 event, but perhaps none more than the bantamweight showdown between veteran Urijah Faber and upstart Jimmie Rivera.

Faber last competed at UFC 199 in June, losing via unanimous decision to Dominick Cruz in his fourth attempt at winning UFC gold. Since coming over to the UFC five years ago in 2011, Faber has amassed a solid 9-5 record in the UFC, with four of those losses coming in title fights and the fifth defeat coming against Frankie Edgar in a featherweight bout.
Faber, who at 37 should probably not be called "The California Kid" anymore, has always been a bridesmaid in his UFC career, proving that he can beat anyone at bantamweight not named Renan Barao or Cruz, and now he's being used more as a gatekeeper by the matchmakers rather than as a title contender.

It's a risky role that Faber has been put into, but one that makes sense for him and one that he's quietly accepted, considering he makes about $150,000 to show and the same amount if he wins. Sure, being a champion would make him a lot more money, but it seems pretty clear at this point that Faber isn't destined to win UFC gold. So beating non-elite fighters while getting paid near-elite money seems to suit Faber just fine, as so far he's beaten everyone the UFC has put in front of him save for champions and Edgar, in a fight in another weight class. As a gatekeeper, though, Faber has taken out tough fighters like Frankie Saenz, Alex Caceres, and Francisco Rivera, made good money, and kept himself relevant. So far, so good for the former WEC champ.

The problem is, Faber is getting older, and one of these days, one of these non-elite fighters that Faber is fighting is going to beat him, and that could very well happen this weekend when Faber takes on the surging Rivera on the UFC 203 main card.

Rivera, 27, is obviously not as well known as Faber by the masses, but hardcore MMA fans know who Rivera is, and perhaps shockingly, he's currently the betting favorite to beat Faber this weekend. On one hand, it's shocking considering Faber's success in non-title fights against non-champions, but on the other hand, it's a sign of the respect those in the know have for Rivera, who is quietly emerging as a legitimate title contender in one of the UFC's most exciting divisions.

The New Jersey native is currently 3-0 in the UFC and in his last outing he won a share of "Fight of the Night" for his victory over Iuri Alcantara, the biggest win of his career. A pro MMA fighter since 2008, Rivera is now 19-1 in his MMA career with his only career loss coming via split decision in his second pro fight eight years ago (he also has a TKO loss to Dennis Bermudez in an exhibition fight on The Ultimate Fighter). Rivera has fought for promotions such as Bellator, where he had a perfect 4-0 record, King of the Cage, where he was their flyweight champion, and World Series of Fighting, where he was also undefeated. He's a guy who really flew under the radar his entire career, and it wasn't until he knocked out Marcus Brimage in his UFC debut and then beat the also-underrated Pedro Munhoz by decision in his sophomore UFC effort that observers of the sport really started to take him seriously. Now, though, with him being the betting favorite over a guy like Faber, it's pretty clear Rivera is no longer being taken lightly, and if he can pick up the win, it's going to put him into elite company at bantamweight.

Stylistically, Faber vs. Rivera is a very exciting matchup between two fighters who generally put on exciting fights. Rivera is the more active, more technical striker and has excellent takedown defense, but Faber has solid striking himself, as well as underrated power in his hands, good wrestling, and one of the best submission games in the division. It seems likely that Rivera will look to sprawl-and-brawl his way to victory, while Faber will look to get the fight to the ground and get the tapout, making for a very intriguing matchup that has title implications in a surprisingly-stacked bantamweight division.

For Rivera, getting a win over Faber would obviously be the biggest win of his career, and would set him up for a possible title eliminator bout his next time out against a guy like Bryan Caraway. For Rivera, it's a low-risk, high-reward fight. As for Faber, it's the exact opposite. If he beats Rivera, it won't get him another title shot, although it will earn him a sizeable payday. What it will do is earn him some more respect from the MMA community, who have generally under-appreciated Faber throughout his career. A loss to Rivera, though, and Faber is going to be in a bad position going forward; it could signal the beginning of the end for Faber, making this a high-risk, low-reward proposition.

You have to credit Faber for taking this fight. At the UFC 203 pre-fight media scrums, Faber accused other bantamweights of ducking Rivera for the exact same reasons outlined in this article, as he's a small-name fighter who is extremely dangerous. So you have to give him a lot of credit for taking this fight, one he very well may lose. As for Rivera, he's busted his tail for years with little fanfare and deserves to fight a big-name opponent on a big card like Faber. It's really a perfect matchup, and ultimately the fans are the winner, as this is likely going to be in the running for "Fight of the Night". Too bad the CM Punk vs. Mickey Gall fight is stealing the spotlight from these guys, but it is what it is, and this should be a great fight.


UFC 203: Miocic vs. Overeem takes place on September 10, 2016 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.

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