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By: Jamie Penick, MMATorch Editor-in-Chief
UFC middleweight Jorge Rivera was scheduled to return to action in 2010 on two separate occasions against Alessio Sakara, but due to injuries and illness, both fights fell through. Now, the Rivera finds himself in perhaps the highest profile bout of his career, as he takes on Michael Bisping in the co-main event of UFC 127 in Australia at the end of next month.
The 38-year-old Rivera is a decade-long veteran of the sport, and is riding a 4-1 mark over the last three years of competition. That mark includes a current three-fight winning streak, with his most recent victory coming last March against Nate Quarry. And though he admits he's lost a step or two over the years, he feels the best is still yet to come.
"I feel like I'm getting better," Rivera told MMATorch. "I'm getting sharper. I am getting older, and I might be a step behind where I was ten years ago, but my [knowledge] of the game is going to make up for that. So I feel like you've yet to see the best of me, and I'm looking forward to the next year or two."
Rivera has stood across the cage from a number of big name fighters throughout his career, including current middleweight king-pin Anderson Silva, former Middleweight Champion Rich Franklin, Ultimate Fighter winner Kendall Grove, TUF vet Chris Leben, UFC on Versus 3 headliner Martin Kampmann and more.
After losing Sakara as an opponent at UFC 122 in November on the day of the fight due to an illness, Rivera wanted to get into the cage against another name fighter, and he specifically called Bisping out for this fight. Now that it's coming on February 27, he's excited for what he knows will be a stiff challenge in the Brit.
"I'm looking forward to it, man. I got the fight that I asked for, and I think it's going to be a good fight," Rivera said. "He's fought some high caliber guys before me. I think it's going to be a real good fight."
"He's been fighting for awhile, he's got a reputable name, he's known worldwide. I feel like right now, where I want to be in my fighting career, I want to advance that. I think he's a good matchup for me and he'll allow that opportunity to come about. All I've got to do is go out there and perform, to do my job."
The majority of Rivera's 19 wins have come by way of TKO or knockout, and though Rivera believes his biggest advantage is on the feet, he says he feels equally comfortable taking this fight with Bisping to the ground.
"I think on the feet I'm definitely going to have the advantage," Rivera said. "He's going to be looking for the takedowns, [this fight's] going to be going up and down, up and down, so that's what I'm looking for. I feel like I can beat him on the ground, I can beat him standing, it doesn't really matter."
Though he remains very confident in his own skill set, Rivera knows Bisping will be doing the same. He expects that to bring out the best in both of them, and says one of them will leave Sydney very disappointed.
"I'm confident in this fight. I'm sure he is as well," Rivera said. "He didn't get where he's at by being unsure of his skills. That's going to make for an even better fight because we're both going in thinking we're going to win, and one of us is going to be really upset.
Rivera competes in a crowded weight class at 185 lbs., and while anyone with a decent winning streak eventually gets their name thrown into the mix in the title picture, Rivera isn't looking past Bisping, and is content to take the remaining years of his career a fight at a time.
"Right now I'm taking it fight by fight. I'm letting [my wins] add up right now, and once they add up eventually that title shot will come," Rivera said. "I'm not looking past the guy that I'm fighting now. I've got a tough fight in front of me, I'm not looking past him at all.
"After I get through with him, then I'll start thinking about my next step and how I should go about doing it. But I'm still focusing on February 27 and fighting Michael Bisping."
UFC 127 airs live in the U.S. on pay-per-view on Saturday, February 26 with the time difference from Sydney, Australia. The event begins at noon local time at the Acer Arena on Sunday, February 27, headlined by a welterweight fight between B.J. Penn and Jon Fitch.
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Jamie Penick, editor-in-chief
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