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Combat sports notes: MMA fighter Rivera believes he’s tough enough

Santa Fe native Jerome Rivera, right, shown in action during a fight in 2017, has a big fight coming up early Wednesday morning. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal File)

Jerome Rivera won the first 11 fights, amateur and pro, of his MMA career. He made it look easy.

Then, things got tough— three losses in his next six fights, a painful and debilitating injury.

We all know, though, about that sign in the locker room we all saw as kids — the one that told us what to do when the going got tough.

Wednesday morning (Mountain time) in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, the Santa Fe flyweight faces his next tough assignment.

He’s ready to get going.

“Got the state (of New Mexico) and the city (of Santa Fe) on my back,” Rivera (10-3) posted on Instagram on Tuesday, hours before his fight against Brazil’s Francisco Figueiredo (11-3-1) on a UFC Fight Night card. “Ready to represent my family and where I come from.

“… My shield is strong. My sword is sharp.”

Rivera earned his UFC contract with a victory over Mexico’s Luis Rodriguez on Dana White’s Tuesday Contender Series in August, though he wasn’t signed immediately.

Once signed, he took a fight on short notice in September against a far more experienced fighter, hard-punching veteran Tyson Nam, and at the bantamweight limit — 10 pounds heavier than the flyweight limit of 125 pounds at which he normally competes. Rivera lost by second-round TKO.

Now, against Figueiredo, Rivera is back at flyweight and is facing a fighter more on his level in terms of experience.

But there’s a catch. Figueiredo is the younger brother of UFC flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo, who is on site in Abu Dhabi. No intimidation there, right?

Even so, for Rivera, it’s all part of the journey.

In June 2017, Rivera lost for the first time to Roberto Sanchez (third-round submission, arm bar). Some 11 months later, he suffered a disclocated elbow in a loss by injury to Brandon Royval.

After undergoing Tommy John surgery, Rivera came back with three victories before the loss to Nam.

Now, it’s the younger Figueiredo who stands between Rivera and advancement in his chosen sport.

All the preparations to make me the best version of myself,” Rivera posted, “have been made.”

Rivera and Figueiredo each weighed in on Tuesday at 126 pounds, a permissible one pound over the flyweight limit.

EARLY START: Rivera-Figueiredo is on the prelim portion of Wednesday’s card, which is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. in Abu Dhabi. That’s 7 a.m. MST.

The main card, featuring welterweights Michael Chiesa and Neil Magny in the main event, is scheduled for a 10 a.m. MST start.

The entire card is scheduled to be telecast on ESPN and streamed on espn+.

SHIELDS UPDATE: Olympic and professional boxing champion Claressa Shields, who has been training at Albuquerque’s Jackson-Wink for an eventual entry into MMA, has had to constantly remind people that she’s not deserting the ring for the cage.

On Tuesday, then, came the announcement of an all-female pay-per-view boxing show scheduled for March 5, with Shields (10-0, two KOs) facing Canada’s Marie-Eve Dicaire (17-0, no KOs) for three versions of the world super welterweight (154-pound) title.

The card will send Shields back to her hometown of Flint, Michigan.

A victory over Dicaire would make Shields the undisputed 154-pound champion, a distinction she already holds at the middleweight limit of 160 pounds.

The card is scheduled to be carried by FITE TV, a New York- and Bulgaria-based sports streaming service.

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