LAS VEGAS – One of the lesser talked about fighters heading into Saturday night’s UFC 181 pay-per-view is Francisco Rivera, who fights Urijah Faber in the headlining prelim spot. After coming off a loss against Takeya Mizugaki at UFC 173, Rivera drew Faber next due to a unique set of circumstances: Namely, the perennial contender Faber needed to fight somebody, and Rivera just happens to be that somebody.
And sometimes the most dangerous fighters are the ones who genuinely feel like they have nothing to lose. The ones like the 33-year old Rivera, who says he feels like he’s playing with house money heading into his fight with "The California Kid."
"It would mean the world for me to perform at my best, let alone get the win against somebody like Urijah, on this type of huge card in Vegas, right before Christmas," Rivera told MMA Fighting during the media day. "What more can you ask for? This is a huge opportunity -- I have nothing to lose. And regardless of what happens I’m going to fight my butt off."
In Rivera’s second stint in the UFC, he’s stealthily put together a very nice run. The Mizugaki loss aside, Rivera scored victories over Alex Soto, Edwin Figueroa and George Roop. He also knocked out Roland Delorme at UFC 149 in Calgary, which was later overturned when it was revealed that he had ephedra in his system.
Even with the tumult, Rivera’s second stint in the UFC is much different that the first. The first time through he lasted only about a dozen minutes. He fought Reuben Duran at the TUF 13 Finale, and lost via rear naked choke. It was the first time he fought as a bantamweight.
"It’s better now," he said. "The first time I was scared, I was nervous, I didn’t have the right training, I was working a full-time job. It was tough. But now in my second stint I quit my job, I train full-time now, and it’s really helping my career."
If Rivera is dangerous in this fight, it’s in how loose he is going in. Should he score an upset over -- and Vegas has him as more than a 5-to-1 underdog -- "Cisco" could introduce himself into the upper echelon of the division. Should he lose, he’ll have rocking chair stories to tell his kids.
Rivera has the look of a man who is truly enjoying the moment.
"How can you say no to an opportunity like this? It’s Urijah Faber, well known, one of the best guys in the world," Rivera said. "I’m a big fan of his, and I’ve been a fan of his since I started MMA. What’s better than being able to tell your kids 10 years from now, wow, I fought that guy. That guy’s a legend. So it’s definitely a huge opportunity for me, and to come out of it with a win would be huge for me."
Todd Duffee remains an intrigue in the UFC’s heavyweight division, in part because of his cartoon-like beach body (and in part because of that seven-second knockout of Tim Hague back in 2009).
He was on record this week saying that his fight with Anthony Hamilton was on the main card primarily on his name alone. Which of course, in some ways, might be true. At the UFC 181 media day Hamilton sat for the most part unattended, without fanfare and microphones in his face.
But when he did get interrogated about his spot against Duffee, he was very…realistic about things.
"People like to see the heavyweights throw down," he said. "We both have a lot of power, so the fight’s probably not going to last all three rounds. I think for that reason we’re all the main card."
Hamilton is used to the spotlight shining on others. He has trained at Jackson-Winkeljohn’s in Albuquerque for over five years alongside some of the game’s most revered fighters. And because of that, he’s not intimidated by Duffee. And he says he’s not afraid to chin-check if it comes down to it.
"I’m training Jon Jones and Andrei Arlovski. I still stay in touch with my buddy Travis Browne over there, too, so we train together," he said. "If you can hang with those guys you can hang with anybody in the world.
"The amount of talent that’s down there at that gym any given day is world class. It’s amazing. And then to have somebody like Greg to talk to everyday, somebody who is there supporting you and whatnot, it’s just been a blessing."
As for fighting Duffee, Hamilton says he sees it going down one of two ways: Either he’ll knock Duffee out, or Duffee will knock him out.
"He’s a super-tough opponent," he said. "This is going to be a great match-up. I think that he’s very explosive, he’s tough, he’s athletic. I’m looking forward to getting in there and mixing it up with him, to challenge myself a little bit, and I think we match up well. The fight can go either way, we’re both heavyweights…we both have a lot of power in each hand, so it could be over very fast."
Browne back after first "real" loss
When heavyweight contender Travis Browne suffered a loss against Antonio Silva back in 2012, there were excuses at his disposal that he refused to use. The reality was that Browne tore his hamstring during the fight, and, thusly hindered, got knocked out in the second round.
After winning his next three fights via knockouts -- over Gabriel Gonzaga, Alistair Overeem and Josh Barnett -- Browne suffered his first "real" loss against Fabricio Werdum in April.
The fight was a one-sided showcase for Werdum, and it was a back-to-the-drawing-board affair for Browne. Speaking to him about the loss at the media day, Browne said it wasn’t the loss that bugged him so much as spending the entire 15 minutes doing it.
"Really for me, any decision I go to is tough," he said. "I don’t make the sacrifices I make, train and bust my butt night and day for this -- blood, sweat and tears-- to come out with anything less than a finish. Anything less than spectacular I feel like I lost. I gained so much from that, though. It lit a fire under my butt that I needed."
Though he remains friendly with Greg Jackson and the team down in New Mexico, Browne left for California, where he now trains at the Glendale Fight Club with Edmond Tarverdyan. As he gets set to fight Brendan Schaub on Saturday night, he says that he feels refocused and dialed in.
"It’s a breath of fresh air being able to learn under a new coach, new style and all that stuff," he said. "It just helps to freshen your brain and give you a kick start.
Should be defeat Schaub, the 32-year old Hawaiian will once against get back into contention. With two heavyweight fights on UFC 181’s main card, some fortunes will change. Asked what he thought of the current state of the heavyweight division, he said it could use an infusion of "Hapa."
"I think it needs somebody to stir it up," he said. "And I’ll go get my wooden spoon."