The top bantamweight contender wants to get a crack at the newly crowned champion Dillashaw, but things are currently a bit complicated in the division. Rivera was set to fight former champion Dominick Cruz at UFC 219 in what many believed to be a clear No. 1 contender bout. Unfortunately, Cruz broke his arm during training and was forced to withdraw from the bout.
Cruz’s withdrawal was bad news for “El Terror”, as missed out on fighting a high-level opponent on the Dec. 30 card that could’ve punched his ticket to a title shot.
“It sucks because it was going to name the No. 1 contender and this was going to be a definite,” Rivera told Ariel Helwani on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour. “I was actually looking forward to the fight for a while, he’s a legend in the sport, he’s been around for forever and that was definitely the next step that would get me closer to the belt.”
Yet, despite not getting to fight Cruz, Rivera still wants a shot at the champ, and he believes his current resume puts him at the top of the list for possible opponents for Dillashaw.
“If Dom (Cruz) got hurt, I understand, then let Cody (Garbrandt) and I fight and that helps Cody get back into title contention and I would fight him for that number one contender, but he’s hurt.” Rivera explained. “So both Cody and Dom are hurt, so that automatically makes me the number one contender.
“At the end of the day, I’m 5-0 in the UFC, no one is at my ranking, I’m on a 20-fight win streak, no one has that, and I’m undefeated at 135 (pounds). My first two fights of my career were at 150 (pounds) – at a catchweight – and I learned the hard way, I lost my second fight by split decision, (that) I had to cut weight. Going from amateur to pro is a completely different thing and I’m undefeated right now at 135, so I need the next and most reasonable (step) and that is fighting T.J. for the belt. And my credentials are there. I’ve won three belts, defended three belts in three different organizations – I had to vacate them – I’m in the UFC now, I’m 5-0, no one is on the winning streak, it makes the most sense.”
Although Rivera has the accolades and momentum to be an obvious candidate to fight for the belt, it’s not clear that the 28-year-old fighter will be the next man to meet Dillashaw in the Octagon. Fan interest in a potential super-fight between Dillashaw and UFC flyweight champ Demetrious Johnson has picked up steam and the promotion has publicly shown interest in making the fight happen. Both Dillashaw and UFC president Dana White have shown plenty of interest in the match up, while Johnson has also seemed opened to the idea, but just as long as the price is right.
With a potential champion-versus-champion match up in the horizon, the status of Rivera’s deserved title shot remains unknown.
Several ranked bantamweights such as Aljamain Sterling and Marlon Moraes have tried to pick a fight with Rivera in hopes to land a high-profile fight. Rivera disregards these callouts, as he doesn’t see those potential match-ups benefiting his career at the moment.
“A lot of the guys calling me out are not going to get me closer to the belt,” Rivera said. “How are they going to benefit me? What have they done that I haven’t done yet? No one is on a five-fight winning streak in the UFC, no one is on a 20-fight winning streak in their career, no one has won three belts – defended them and vacated them – no one is undefeated at 135 (pounds), so I don’t know who has the credentials to really fight me besides the champ.”
Rivera is unsure what the next move of his career will be. The American is still training as if he were competing at UFC 219, but admits he has taken “the foot off the gas” a little bit as he has no opponent for the card and the UFC hasn’t told him whether or not he’ll be fighting on the event.
Rivera really hopes to get his shot at the title, but if the UFC were to go down the Dillashaw-Johnson route (or any that doesn’t involve him), Rivera wouldn’t be opposed to fighting someone else not named Dillashaw, just as long as it benefits his campaign for a title shot.
“I got to see what the options are, what they’re going to offer, what I can get out of it, would I benefit out of it,” Rivera said. “I don’t have a preference, but I think what makes most sense – and he’s doing really well – is (Raphael) Assuncao. If that happens, because now you have Dom and Cody out for a little while and I can see them fighting in the future for a grudge match, you know, from there I can see Assuncao and I fighting. But I’m not sure, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m just waiting for them (UFC) to see what the next step is.”