Eight days’ notice? For an MMA fighter making his UFC debut, that’s less than ideal.
One day’s notice? Even less so. Yet, Jerome Rivera would not have hesitated.
Rivera, a 25-year-old Santa Fean, is scheduled to face veteran Tyson Nam Saturday on a UFC Fight Night card in Las Vegas, Nevada. The fight is at the 135-pound bantamweight limit, 10 pounds heavier than the flyweight class in which Rivera normally competes.
Again, no hesitation. A UFC contract represents a major milestone for Rivera in a seven-year career that’s seen great success and a few setbacks.
On Aug. 4, Rivera defeated Mexico’s Luis Rodriguez by unanimous decision on Dana White’s Tuesday Contender Series – simultaneously a success and a setback. He was the only winner at that event who was not offered a UFC contract.
“I was a little bit bummed out,” Rivera said from Las Vegas in a phone interview, “but I kind of knew in my own mind that I didn’t do enough to get that contract. I could have pushed the pace a little more.
“I wanted to get that finish. That’s what I was gunning for.”
Even so, Rivera had made an impression. The word passed on to him through his management company, Iridium Sports Agency, was to stay ready.
Then, on Sept. 11, Rivera got a phone call. Matt Schnell, Nam’s scheduled opponent for a UFC card the following night, had dropped out. Would Rivera be willing to fight Nam with approximately 32 hours’ notice?
Yes, he would – but COVID-19 protocols dictated otherwise, and the fight was rescheduled for Saturday.
After the Rodriguez fight on the Contender Series, Rivera said, he’d taken only a week off before returning to the gym. Jordan Espinosa, his teammate at Albuquerque’s Luttrell-Yee MMA, had a fight scheduled on Saturday’s card. Rivera, who usually fights at the same weight as Espinosa, was helping him prepare.
“Whenever Jordan’s in camp, even if I’m not, I’ll go in there and train with him two or three times a week,” Rivera said. “All my teammates that are grinding for the same goal hold me accountable to stay in the gym.”
So, whether with one day’s notice or eight, Rivera eagerly seized the opportunity.
In Nam (19-11-1), a Hawaii native who trains in Portland, Oregon, Rivera will face a tough, seasoned opponent who turned pro in 2005.
“I was only 10 years old then,” Rivera said. “That’s probably when I first started watching UFC. He’s definitely a really tough dude, and that motivates me. … I’m excited for the challenge of a really tough dude with a lot of power.”
Rivera made MMA look easy through his first 11 fights (four amateur, seven pro), all victories.
Then came his first loss, via third-round submission (arm bar) on an LFA card in June 2017, followed by a loss due to injury – a dislocated elbow – against Brandon Royval in May 2018.
After undergoing Tommy John surgery, Rivera said, his only goal at the time was to be able to hold his daughter Emilia Elena, when she was born that September.
“I was able to do that, so I was very happy and thankful,” he said. “Once I was that far along, I said, ‘All right, I’m not quitting now.'”
Back in the cage, Rivera defeated Belen’s Gene Perez (first-round submission, arm bar) on a Jackson’s MMA Series card in February 2019.
After a scheduled rematch with Royval fell through, Rivera defeated Kendrick Latchman in January by second-round submission (mounted triangle choke) on an LFA card at Route 66 Casino Hotel.
Then came the victory over Rodriguez on the Contender Series, which ultimately led to Saturday’s fight against Nam. Now, with Emilia having just turned 2, Rivera hopes to present her and his fiancée, Gabriella Fischer, with his first UFC victory.