Chris Weidman wasn’t the only New Yorker to earn a big statement win on Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum. There was the Tigers Schulmann product, Jimmie Rivera (lives in New Jersey, but trains in NYC) who improved his undefeated MMA run to 20 consecutive wins. His win over Thomas Almeida was a back-and -forth battle but ultimately he proved that his name belongs in the UFC bantamweight title discussion. Dominick Cruz might not agree.
Rivera, 28 earned the biggest win of his UFC career behind his last win a year ago over “The California kid,” Urijah Faber. The only problem is that there are a couple of contenders ahead of him in the rankings not named Dominick Cruz or TJ Dillashaw. Firstly, Raphael Assuncao is coming off a close and impressive win over former World Series of Fighting bantamweight champion, Marlon Moraes, snapping his 13 fight win streak in the process. Assuncao has a better argument in fighting Dominick Cruz than Rivera at the moment. Assuncao is 35, which might also play a factor in who gets what next.
Then there is John Lineker who lost to TJ Dillashaw at UFC 207 last December. The broken jaw he suffered in the fight is likely why he has yet to compete this year, but what better way to return than against Dominick Cruz who technically is also coming off a loss on the same night. Lineker, unlike Rivera poses a large threat to Cruz’s consciousness given his power, but what he has in power, he lacks in his grappling ability. While he does possess good take down defense, Lineker’s downfall in his latest loss was due to the superior wrestling of TJ Dillashaw. Cruz also possesses high level wrestling, which could be his key to victory over Lineker.
Rivera would be in a size disadvantage against Cruz, but his highly effective leg kicks could play a critical role in a bout against the former champion. The problem is that while Rivera has the skill and ability, he doesn’t have the notoriety, which could hurt him in his bid to take on Cruz. The win over Almeida should earn him a top ranked opponent and it could occur in November on a big pay per view card given his connection to New York. The UFC is planning on returning to Madison Square Garden at year’s end, which could make for quite the platform for Rivera. But then again, his performance could be overlooked due to the nature of stacked cards. It’s difficult to remember all the competitors performing on a big card and Rivera is already having trouble establishing himself as being on the MMA radar.
It’s more than likely that Rivera gets booked against John Lineker, who is ranked third, one spot above Rivera. Another option could be John Dodson who is coming off a victory over Eddie Wineland in April. Both men competed recently and could be aligned to return around the same time. The only negative is the fact that Dodson is ranked seventh and lost to Lineker in a very close fight last October. Bryan Caraway could be considered a dark horse in the division despite being ranked quite high at number 6. He was scheduled to fight Rivera this past January, but withdrew from the bout citing a shoulder injury. Caraway’s last performance was more than a year ago, a decision victory against Aljamain Sterling, but he’s been missing in action since then. A rescheduling of their bout could be an option, but it wouldn’t be much of a step up in terms of rankings.
In the end, it doesn’t matter who Rivera’s opponent is as long as he keeps doing what he’s done since 2009, winning. A potential scrap between Rivera and Cruz is on his wish list, but like the Rolling Stones infamously stated, “You can’t always get what you want.” Just ask, Raphael Assuncao who is in a similar position but arguably more deserving than Rivera.