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Jimmie Rivera says he pieced up T.J. Dillashaw in sparring, looking to 'finish the Beta Male team'

After winning 20 straight fights, including five in the UFC, it’s plain as day Jimmie Rivera belongs in the upper ranks of the bantamweight division.

Now, he just needs a chance to prove it against one of the biggest names.

Rivera’s unanimous decision victory over Thomas Almeida at UFC on FOX 25 was the latest notch on his belt. From here, he believes he’s ready to take on one of the Big 3 at 135 pounds -- champion Cody Garbrandt and former champs Dominick Cruz and T.J. Dillashaw -- if only he gets the opportunity.

“In this game, you have to speak your mind,” Rivera said during an in-studio appearance on a recent MMA Hour. “So, I’m never going to be a Conor McGregor, but I’ll say in confidence I can beat Dillashaw, I can beat Cruz, I can beat Cody, I just need the one opportunity to do it, and it will happen.”

Rivera was simply reiterating what he said in the Octagon following his victory, which included a specific callout to Cruz, who was seated cageside as part of the commentating team. Rivera recounted his version of their conversation.

“I heard on the broadcast, I need a belt to hold my little boy pants up,” Rivera said. “He’s got his corny little lines which were funny. He’s a smart guy at the end of the day, I think it’s funny, I laugh at his comments. Then he said something like ‘you definitely should respect me’ or something like that. Because I’m a humble guy and I’m a professional. I grew up in the martial arts. Just like Georges St-Pierre. Growing up in the martial arts, you never are cocky. You never are going to badmouth.”

The top of the bantamweight division has been stalled out for awhile. Garbrandt was supposed to fight Dillashaw at UFC 213, but had to pull out with an injury. Cruz, who lost the title to Garbrandt via decision at UFC 207, has been sitting back trying to pick his spot, presumably looking to fight the winner.

Eventually, though, something is going to have to give. Two out of the top three fighters will be matched up again, and the other will need an opponent. Rivera is willing to step in with whomever.

If that ends up being Dillashaw, Rivera feels like he can handle anything the former champ can send his way. The two sparred several years ago when both were guests at Roufusport in Milwaukee, and while we’re only hearing one side of the story here, Rivera’s version is that he got the best of things by far.

“At the time, he wasn’t in the UFC yet, he just finished with The Ultimate Fighter or was about to fight in the Finale, one of the two,” Rivera said. “And I went out to Milwaukee to Pettis’ gym, to Roufusport ... Faber and Dillashaw and them walk in, and I’m like ‘this is cool, am I going to get to train with them?’ This is when I was like a little kid. So I got to train with them and ‘wow, I thought they were going to be a lot better.’ I put them on this pedestal, but they’re not. I’m on the same level as them.’

“And then I got to spar TJ and I was like, wow, this guy is one of the top, up-there 135s,” Rivera continued. “And I’m sparring him, and I’m piecing him up and having fun with it, I’m like, this is just fun. I wasn’t even in shape, I just went in there and had some fun.”

Rivera, like the rest of us, will need to wait and see how things pan out. In the meantime, he's already dissected his fight with Almeida. And while most observers were impressed with his performance, Rivera mostly saw things he still needs to improve.

“I’m a perfectionist,” he said. “I want to be able to not just, the Faber fight where I dominated? I want to be able to have it like that the whole fight where he’s just not in control at all. There was some times he gained control, there were some times I gave him some space so he could. It’s all me. I gotta fix some things I saw, use my jab a little more. ... I always like to get a finish. Even when I do get a finish like Marcus Brimage when I finished him, there are things, I sit down with my coaches like ‘next time, do it like this.’”

Until then, Rivera will continue to ponder his potential matchups as he looks to break through to the top.

“I think it would be nice to fight Cody,” Rivera said. “I beat Faber, I beat up Dillashaw on sparring, let me finish the Alpha Male, or like Cruz said finish the Beta Male team up, and then go on to the next thing.”

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