Over the first minute of the final round of their UFC 201 bantamweight encounter, Francisco Rivera managed to goad Erik Perez into the sort of wild brawl in which he thrives, bringing the crowd at Philips Arena to their feet.
For most of the rest of the fight, however, Perez appeared to be a fighter who is finally maturing into the sort of competitor he's long been expected to become. Perez won via unanimous decision with a pair of 30-26s and a 29-28 on Saturday night in Atlanta.
"I've learned to fight with my mind and my heart," Perez (16-6) said after his third win in his past four fights. "Being Mexican I want to fight with my heart, but I've learned to fight with my mind as well."
The opening round was a feeling-out affair, with Rivera winging big left hands, while Perez appeared content to dart in and out.
In the second, Perez, a Nuevo Leon, Mexico native who is now based at San Diego's Alliance MMA, put on a masterful technical display of speed and footwork and opened a gnarly cut on the left side of Rivera's head.
The third round was all Perez, as he ended Rivera's attempt at a brawl with a takedown and worked him over from top position for the bulk of the period.
"It was such a great fight, the Mexican in me wanted to put on a great show, but I calmed down and got the takedown and settled in," Perez said.
Rivera (11-7) has lost three straight and five of his past six.