Only a few weeks ago UFC bantamweight prospect Francisco Rivera (8-2) was hoping to get over the hump and notch his first win in the world’s biggest promotion mixed martial arts promotion. But by the time UFC on FX 4 rolls around on June 22, Rivera might do something few have done and put together a two-fight UFC win streak in about a one-month period.
Before facing Alex Soto on May 15 at UFC on FUEL TV 3 in Fairfax, Va., Rivera had two appearances under the Zuffa banner but came up short on both occasions. Now that he’s able to focus on training full-time, the results have been impressive.
Rivera picked up two knockout wins in Tachi Palace Fights over Brad McDonald (8-2) and Antonio Duarte (15-4). Those performances earned him a return to the UFC, where he dominated Soto for three rounds, almost stopping him on multiple occasions.
“Going into this fight, I knew my striking was going to be way better than his,” Rivera said. “I just wanted to keep it standing until I knock him out or just get the win.”
Although Rivera dropped Soto a few times and looked for the finish, Soto somehow managed to go the distance. Rivera, to his credit, didn’t let his foot off the gas but avoided getting to aggressive and making a mistake.
“Man, he was really tough,” Rivera said of Soto. “Every time I rocked him, he just kept getting up. So I just kept my striking technical and made sure I didn’t blow my wad and get caught in something.”
While his first UFC stint didn’t go well, the experience helped out. This time around, Rivera knew what to expect when it came to weigh-ins, media obligations, and all of the other backstage production routines.
“Yes, most definitely,” he said when asked if his prior UFC experience gave him an edge. “In my last run with the UFC … I broke hand in the first round against Ruben Duran. And I took the Erik Koch [WEC] fight on short notice and that was at featherweight. I was also working a full-time job.”
“I think all of that kind of helped me out this time around. I already felt more comfortable and knew what to expect. I was feeling confident coming off of the two wins at Tachi Palace Fights. I just felt like I was more prepared for this fight.”
Of course, getting into the UFC is one thing, but getting a win is another.
Like a baseball player trying to get their first hit or a basketball player trying to make their first shot of the game, each time you miss the pressure starts to mount. Now with that UFC win under his belt, Rivera knows he won’t have so much weight on his shoulders when he takes on Ken Stone (10-3) at UFC on FX 4 in Atlantic City.
“It’s a relief,” he said. “It’s one of the best feelings in the world getting that first UFC victory. Now I can go in there not worrying about being cut and just do what I do and fight hard.”
Yet with such a big win out of the way, Rivera literally isn’t taking any time to celebrate. Feeling good mentally and physically, when the opportunity came up to fight Stone on short notice, Rivera took it.
“I went back to training [after the Soto win] and actually felt pretty good,” Rivera said. “I was still going to the gym, keeping my cardio and running. Then they gave me a call about fighting Ken Stone and I was already healed up. So I was back to sparring and training hard and I’m feeling good.
“I’m on a three fight winning streak and feel probably I have in my whole career. I think it’s another good fight I know I can win. Having wins in the UFC back to back can really help my career.”
Rivera isn’t taking Stone lightly. Stone only recently picked up a win to bring a halt to a two-fight losing streak, and Rivera knows as well as anyone that Stone probably can’t afford a setback.
“I know he’s going to come well prepared and well trained, so I’m not going to take him lightly,” Rivera said. “I’m going to come in there, keep my chin down, and let my hands go.”
That being said, Rivera likes the matchup. As a heavy-handed striker with good technique, Rivera expects to have the advantage on the feet. And if Stone tries to take him down, he’s prepared for that. Soto wasn’t able to keep him down and Rivera plans to have similar success against his new opponent.
“I know he’s going to try and shoot to take me down,” Rivera said. “My punches are really, really powerful, so I already know he’s going to try take me down and submit me.”
As a full-time fighter without a side job to worry about, Rivera gets to train three-times a day and seven days a week, helping his wrestling and submission game come along.
Asked about how he stacks up with the rest of the division, he replied, “I’m definitely working on a lot of stuff still. I’m probably one of the hardest punchers in the bantamweight division, but it’s not like I’ll be able to get a knockout every time. I know that’s not going to happen, so I try to use my technical striking to my advantage. My wrestling, my Jiu Jitsu, I work on those every single day. I feel like I’m ready to start taking people down and using my submissions.”
Francisco asked to thank his sponsors — Headrush, Revolution Cantina, Hayabusa, and West Coast Burgers — as well as his manager Jason House and the UFC. You can follow him on Twitter @CiscoRiveraUFC.