Bantamweights Jimmie Rivera and Aljamain Sterling have traded verbal jabs for years dating back to when they were competing on the regional circuit on the East Coast. The two finally met on Sunday at UFC on ESPN 1 in Phoenix, Ariz. in a fight that had implications in the 135-pound title picture.
Rivera entered the fight ranked No. 5 in the division while Sterling was slotted at No. 7. Sterling quickly crossed the octagon at the sound of the opening bell. He pressured Rivera. He looked to get the fight to the ground but Rivera’s takedown defense was on full display.
Sterling used his reach advantage and kicks to keep Rivera on the outside and out of boxing range. He repeatedly delivered front kicks to the body. Rivera had difficulty getting inside and was being outworked by “Funk Master.”
In the second round, Rivera secured an early takedown but was unable to keep Sterling grounded. Sterling continued to use kicks to keep Rivera at distance. Midway through the frame, Sterling missed with a head kick and Rivera closed the distance. He was met with a spinning back fist that stunned him.
Sterling poured on the offense looking for the finish but Rivera proved durable. Sterling landed combinations and kicks to the body but Rivera returned fire. Heading into the third and final round, Rivera knew he needed a finish to win.
Rivera pressed forward in the final frame taking the fight to Sterling. Sterling remained just out of range and peppered Rivera with jabs and leg kicks. In the end, Sterling was awarded a unanimous decision.
Following the fight, Sterling called for a rematch against top contender Marlon Moraes. Moraes knocked Sterling out when the two fought in December 2017 and Sterling would like a chance at redemption.
“There’s a guy who should be fighting for the belt next, Marlon Moraes, I 100 percent think he got lucky in that fight against me. I came in overconfident. Really cocky. I thought I was the man,” he said. “He put me to sleep and I’d like to return the favor for sure.”
With the win over Rivera, Sterling will likely jump into the top five in the bantamweight rankings. He believes the win over Rivera puts him on the cusp of a title shot.
“Rivera was the guy that was pegged as being the next guy to challenge for the title and he stumbled against Marlon, the same thing that happened to me. He was the next guy and had won 20 fights in a row, so how am I not the guy after Marlon Moraes,” said Sterling.
“The division is kind of crazy right now, but like I said before, I’m a real threat to this bantamweight division so ya’ll better put some respect on my name.”