The bout between top-10 bantamweights has been set for UFC 219, which takes place Dec. 30 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas and airs on pay-per-view. ESPN.com cited UFC officials in reporting the booking.
Rivera, No. 5 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA bantamweight rankings, originally was slated to face Dominick Cruz before the ex-champion was forced to withdraw because of injury. But now Rivera (21-1 MMA, 5-0 UFC) gets No. 8 Lineker (30-8 MMA, 11-3 UFC) instead.
After losing his second MMA fight in November 2008, Rivera has rattled off 20 consecutive wins, including five in the UFC. He’s coming off a unanimous decision over Thomas Almeida at UFC on FOX 25 in July.
Lineker ended a 10-month layoff last month with a unanimous-decision win over Marlon Vera at UFC Fight Night 119. The victory put Lineker back on track after a loss to champ T.J. Dillashaw ended a six-fight streak.
Rivera’s (21-1 MMA, 5-0 UFC) future was thrown into uncertainty this week when his scheduled UFC 219 matchup with Dominick Cruz (22-2 MMA, 5-1 UFC) was called off when the former titleholder suffered an injury. The bout was likely a title eliminator in the 135-pound division, but after “The Dominator” pulled out, Rivera said there’s no question he should be fighting new champ Dillashaw (15-3 MMA, 11-3 UFC) next.
The twist, however, is that Dillashaw appears to be moving down to 125 pounds for a champion vs. champion showdown with pound-for-pound king Johnson (27-2-1 MMA, 15-1-1 UFC). The fight has been discussed since earlier this year, and after Dillashaw reclaimed bantamweight gold with a knockout of Cody Garbrandt at UFC 217 this past weekend, UFC President Dana White said he wants to see it happen.
That leaves Rivera as the odd man out, and he said he’s not sure what’s going to happen.
“I’m kind of in limbo now,” Rivera told MMAjunkie. “I’m not sure what’s going to happen. I don’t know where it leaves me. You’ve got Cruz who is hurt. You’ve got Cody who is getting hand surgery. That leaves T.J., but the thing with T.J. is, will Demetrious take the fight against him?
“It’s up to Demetrious if he’ll take the fight with T.J. If he takes the fight, it pushes me back, if not it’s fair game.”
Rivera, No. 5 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA bantamweight rankings, said he’s not upset at No. 1-ranked Dillashaw for chasing a potentially historic fight against “Mighty Mouse.” He understands why the champ and UFC brass would be compelled to book the fight, but he’s just disappointed with where it leaves him.
The New Jersey-based fighter is frustrated the 125-pound champion is the one who will determine his immediate future, and he said he really has no idea whether Johnson will accept the fight.
“I honestly don’t know what will happen,” Rivera said. “It comes down to money. Are they going to give him the money he wants? I don’t really care about the money and all that. I just want to fight for the belt. I got in the UFC to fight for the belt, and that’s the main goal. I’m waiting to see what’s going to happen. I want that strap around my waist, and it sucks I have to keep waiting for on people for it.”
“I run a business so I know how a business works,” he continued. “Obviously, the UFC is a business, and they want to push that fight because it’s going to have an impact. I understand why. It’s a good business move for T.J. and Johnson, but I don’t know if Johnson is going to get the number he wants for that fight. It might not be the best situation for Demetrious Johnson. There’s a lot on the line – losing his title – and he could lose his winning streak. There’s a lot on the line for that. I don’t know what’s going to happen with that. It’s kind of crazy that a title shot at 135 is held up on Demetrious Johnson, who is the champion at 125.”
At this point, Rivera’s not sure if he will still fight at UFC 219. Brazilian bantamweight John Lineker (30-8 MMA, 11-3 UFC) has offered his services, and a grudge match with Aljamain Sterling (14-2 MMA, 6-2 UFC) is also a potential option.
Rivera, though, said those fights simply don’t make sense to him.
“I tried to fight (Sterling) as I was coming to the UFC and when I was in the UFC, and he said no,” Rivera said. “Now I’m ahead of him, and I’m in a better position, and now he wants to fight me?
“A win over Sterling – everyone says I’m going to run through him, and I am going to run through him. He’s not going to help me get the belt. He’s not a No. 1 contender fight. It’s not going to work out with him at all. The one thing I said numerous times is that once I am champ, I’m not going to turn down a fight. I will fight whoever they want me to fight because I’m the champ, and that’s an obligation. Now I’m not the champ, and I’m trying to work for it. A fight with him doesn’t make sense. He beat a nobody and he beat a washed-up (Renan) Barao.”
With an incredible 20-fight winning streak to his credit, Rivera is adamant that it’s essentially title shot or bust at this point. He’s aware of the reality of his situation, though, and said if Dillashaw ends up dropping to flyweight and fighting Johnson, he will either be forced to take another fight or experience an extremely long layoff.
Rivera said his team is going to work with the UFC in the coming days to help gain clarity on his future, but at this point, he knows exactly what he wants.
“Who am I going to fight? The only three fights that makes sense are Dominick, Cody or T.J., and Dominick and Cody are both out,” Rivera said. “I have nothing against anybody else in the division but no one is as established as I am. No one is on the winning streak I am, and no one is doing what I’m doing. The Cruz fight was going to settle the No. 1 contender, but Cruz is out, so now I’m the No. 1 contender. That’s what it means. That’s the only way I see it.”
UFC 217 was not a good night for champions. All three titleholders who entered the octagon dropped their belts with a stoppage loss on Saturday’s pay-per-view card at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Prior to that, Cody Garbrandt (11-1 MMA, 6-1 UFC) and Joanna Jedrzejczyk (14-1 MMA, 8-1 UFC) had their undefeated records, as well as UFC titles, taken away with knockout losses to T.J. Dillashaw (15-3 MMA, 11-3 UFC) and Rose Namajunas (7-3 MMA, 5-2 UFC), respectively.
Also on the main card, former welterweight champion Johny Hendricks (18-8 MMA, 13-8 UFC) continued his career slide while Jorge Masvidal (32-13 MMA, 9-6 UFC) experienced another disappointing setback.
After every event, fans wonder whom the losing fighters will be matched up with next. And with another night of UFC action in the rearview mirror, it’s time to look forward, put on a pair of Sean Shelby and Mick Maynard’s shoes, and play UFC matchmaker for UFC 217’s losing fighters.
* * * *
Should fight: Rashad Evans Why they should fight: Hendricks’ career slide took arguably it’s most worrisome turn when the former champ suffered a second-round TKO loss to rising middleweight prospect Paulo Costa.
After being forced out of the welterweight division due to multiple failed weight cuts, Hendricks won his 185-pound debut earlier this year. He lost his subsequent fight against veteran Tim Boetsch, but after falling short against a previously unproven prospect, he’s in a challenging position.
Hendricks is just 1-5 in his past six UFC fights dating back to March 2015. He moved his camp to Jackson-Wink MMA in Albuquerque, N.M., in hopes of finding new results, but it didn’t go his way. As long as Hendricks decides he wants to fight, he’s going to be a notable name who will have a job with the UFC or elsewhere.
“Bigg Rigg” desperately needs to win his next fight, and fighting someone who’s at a similar stage in his career might be the only thing to help him regain his confidence and form. Fellow ex-champ Evans (19-7-1 MMA, 14-7-1 UFC) is no gimme fight when he’s on point, but even the current version of Hendricks would likely be a favorite.
Dong Hyun Kim
Should fight: Dong Hyun Kim Why they should fight: Just when Masvidal appeared to be on the cusp of a welterweight title shot, he suddenly finds himself on a two-fight losing skid after suffering a unanimous-decision defeat to Stephen Thompson.
Masvidal fell short against the two-time title challenger and is now in a difficult position. His two losses came against the best in Thompson and Demian Maia, but in a similar situation to when he was fighting at 155 pounds, Masvidal has had trouble winning at the most crucial moments.
Nevertheless, Masvidal isn’t going anywhere and will attempt to fight his way back into the mix. Kim (22-4-1 MMA, 13-4 UFC) is coming off a loss to Masvidal’s teammate Colby Covington, and he’d surely be happy to follow up on his good friend’s handiwork with a showdown against “Stun Gun.”
Rose Namajunas and Joanna Jedrzejczyk
Should fight: Namajunas Why they should fight: After putting together one of the most dominant title runs in UFC history, Jedrzejczyk finally experienced her first career setback with an upset loss to Rose Namajunas to drop the 115-pound title.
Although it was a surprising and disappointing outcome for the Polish fighter, it’s obvious what has to happen for her next: an immediate rematch with Namajunas. The UFC often gives dominant titleholders an immediate chance to regain the belt, and Jedrzejczyk has more than earned that opportunity.
If there were a clear No. 1 contender who had been overdue for a title shot, then perhaps there would be an argument to go a different direction for Namajunas’ first title challenger. No such contender exists, so Jedrzejczyk vs. Namajunas 2 should be next.
Should fight: John Lineker Why they should fight: Watch the video above to see why Garbrandt should fight Lineker (30-8 MMA, 11-3 UFC) next after his title-fight loss.
Should fight: Luke Rockhold Why they should fight: Watch the video above to see why Bisping should have his trilogy bout with Rockhold (16-3 MMA, 6-2 UFC) following his title-fight loss.
On Saturday, Lineker ended an octagon layoff with a unanimous-decision win over Marlon Vera (10-4-1 MMA, 4-3 UFC) at UFC Fight Night 119. The display put Lineker (30-8 MMA, 11-3 UFC) back on track after a loss to ex-champ T.J. Dillashaw, but not everyone was impressed. That much was clear immediately when Caraway (21-7 MMA, 6-2 UFC) took to Twitter to throw a jab his way.
Speaking to reporters afterward, Lineker chuckled at Caraway’s comments that he was the one doing the running.
“I asked. I said, ‘I’ll fight you tomorrow,’” Lineker said. “But he wanted to pick the date. I said, ‘Let’s fight in Brazil. I’m ready. You’re the one picking dates.’ I’m a fighter. I’ll fight whomever wants to fight me. Whomever the UFC wants to. He’s the one who chickened out, not me.”
While Lineker won’t really call out Caraway, he left himself open should his Twitter foe want the fight. But even if that were to happen, there would be some waiting as Caraway is already set to meet Luke Sanders in Fresno on Dec. 9.
On his end, after an injured jaw forced him into a hiatus, “Hands of Stone” wants to reclaim momentum by staying active. Which makes sense considering that, other than the toughness that the “incredible” Vera brought, Lineker believes that the lack of rhythm might’ve contributed to display that “wasn’t one of my best.”
“I didn’t think I would feel it,” Lineker said. “But I did feel it after being away for 10 months.”
As he made it clear, Lineker will not go around picking opponents. In fact, while he’d be open to returning this year, he won’t even make a case for a specific card. But as he looks to get back in the title picture, he’s not about to pass up on opportunities either.
“I’m keeping an eye on the fight between Jimmie Rivera and Dominick Cruz (at UFC 219, on Dec. 30),” Lineker said. “If any of them have to withdraw, UFC, I’m here. I’m on stand-by just waiting.”
Another possibility that would interest Lineker, should it ever happen, is welcoming flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson back into the bantamweight division. The idea of ending the long-running streak of one of the sport’s greatest ever would probably be enough incentive for any fighter, but in Lineker’s case it carries some added weight.
After all, not only did Lineker start his UFC career in the 125-pound division – he had a pretty solid run at it, too, beating six of the seven flyweights he came across. However, with the wins came another consistent issue for the Brazilian: making weight. So he moved up.
Despite being shorter than most of his competition, Lineker found a home at 135. And he has no plans of moving back down. But as he watches Johnson take out contender after contender, he admits he isn’t entirely at peace with the path he could’ve had.
“Every time (Johnson) fights and wins I get that bitter taste,” Lineker said. “That I could have fought him and be flyweight champion.”
As a bantamweight, Lineker feels better than he did in his previous division. He gets to train harder and channel his added strength into better training sessions. So, if Johnson is ever tempted enough to hang with the UFC bantamweights, Lineker thinks he’d make for a much more challenging competitor.
“If there was an opportunity to fight him, it’d be an incredible fight for sure,” Lineker said. “I’d give him a hard time – if not beat him.”
John Lineker had a lot of forward marching to do to get in close on the much taller Marlon Vera, but when he got there he opened up with the power shots fans have come to expect from him.
While it didn’t earn him a finish this time, Lineker (30-8 MMA, 11-3 UFC) did get the nod from the judges, beating Vera (10-4-1 MMA, 4-3 UFC) via unanimous decision after three rounds.
The bantamweight bout opened up the main card of today’s UFC Fight Night 119 event at Ibirapuera Gymnasium in Sao Paulo. It aired on FS1 following prelims on FS2 and UFC Fight Pass.
Lineker used a more patient approach than normal in this fight, opting to take his time while pursuing the taller, lankier Vera. But in close quarters he became the same slugger he’s always been, ripping Vera with hooks to the head and body and keeping him largely on the defensive.
For Vera, the best moments of the fight came off his kicks, as he chipped away at Lineker’s legs and body before going upstairs with some unconventional attacks.
But Vera never seemed to hurt Lineker, nor could he slow down the perpetual forward motion of his offense. In the end, he spent too much time backing up or being thumped by Lineker’s powerful combos to do much that might sway the judges.
When the fight finally went to the scorecards, all three judges saw it for Lineker, who won the bout with scores of 30-27, 29-28, and 29-28.
The victory gets Lineker back in the win column for the first time since his decision loss to T.J. Dillashaw last December. Vera’s loss snaps a three-fight winning streak.
Up-to-the-minute UFC Fight Night 119 results include:
John Lineker def. Marlon Vera via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
+ 3x Division 2 All-American wrestler
+ Regional MMA titles
+ Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt
+ 10 KO victories
+ 3 submission wins
+ 13 first-round finishes
+ KO power
+ Dangerous left kicks and crosses
+ Subtle shuffle-step entries
^ Closes distance and sets up strikes
+ Strong pressure against fence
^ Strikes well off the breaks
+ Good power-double takedown
^ Chains / transitions from it well
+ Solid pressure from topside
– Sometimes throws self out of position
+/- 3-2 against UFC southpaws
+ Former UFC light-heavyweight champion
+ Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt
+ Karate black belt
+ 9 KO victories
+ 3 submission wins
+ 5 first-round finishes
+ KO power
+ Crafty feints and footwork
^ Deceptive distance closer
+ Accurate left cross
^ Coming forward or off the counter
+ Dangerous left kick
+ Good counter wrestling
^ Strong base and balance
– Someimtes struggles from back
+/- Coming off a 28-month layoff
+/- 0-2 against fellow UFC southpaws
The main event in Sao Paulo features a pairing of middleweights as Derek Brunson and Lyoto Machida square off.
A top-10 contender who has recently rebounded from losses to the likes of Robert Whittaker and Anderson Silva, Brunson will get another shot at a big name when he travels to Brazil.
Welcoming the American is Machida, a former champion who has been out of competition for the past two years due to an infraction with USADA stemming from April 2016.
Starting off on the feet, we have a battle between two southpaw strikers.
As I often preach in my breakdowns, a meeting of lefties can always be tricky, especially considering that most southpaws predicate their games on facing an opponent of the opposite stance. For this reason, the more “skilled” striker does not always demonstrate their perceived on-paper advantages.
With this in mind, I will be very interested in seeing Machida’s approach. Not only is the Brazilian coming off of a two-fight skid, but those last two losses came at the hands of southpaw fighters.
Still, the dynamic of this matchup has been one that typically favors Machida since Brunson is a come-forward fighter who can sometimes be available for the counter.
If the 39-year old Brazilian’s bottom has not yet dropped out, then Machida may have ample opportunity to attempt counter left hands, a shot that has traditionally troubled Brunson from both stances.
Nevertheless, Brunson will be the more potent striker of the two, and more importantly, he has the pressure to make things uncomfortable for Machida.
Subtly stalking his prey as he utilizes a shuffle-step variation to come forward, Brunson will put himself in prime position to land shots from the power side of his southpaw stance. Having a knack placing powerful kicks, Brunson has also improved his hands over that past few years, being particularly dangerous when punching his way in or out of the pocket.
And considering that Brunson does his best work when forcing his opposition to the fence (a place that has caused problems for Machida in the past), I would not be surprised to see another pressure-heavy approach from the American here.
In Machida’s middleweight title bout with Chris Weidman, we saw the Brazillian initially struggle to get off offensively under the waves of suffocating strikes and takedown stanzas. Should Brunson have similar intentions, I will curious to see how he fairs in the takedown portion of the equation.
Despite having a lower takedown percentage than one might expect, Brunson does a deceptively good job of using his initial shot to force his opponents to the fence; the former All-American wrestler does a decent job of chaining off his attacks from there.
However, it is in that brief space/period of re-wrestling where Machida is most crafty, re-swimming under-hooks or even limp-arming as he attempts to circle to safety. In fact, historically Machida has been hard to take down outside of well-timed shots or an outright out-muscling.
But if Machida is grounded, he is far from impervious.
Although he is a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Machida has struggled when being put on his back, often displaying a lack of offense or even scrambling ability from the bottom.
Against Weidman, this cost Machida crucial rounds. Against Rockhold and Romero, it cost him brutal stoppages.
Brunson may not have a “game-over” type of ground game, but he can transition well with strikes from topside and plays position when he needs to. That said, if Brunson fails to score takedowns early, then this fight’s propensity to hit strange lulls will likely increase as time goes on.
Not only does Machida bring the lulling intangible with his off-beat stylings, but we also saw Brunson struggle in spots against Anderson Silva, another southpaw who prefers to counter. And even though Machida is the elder fighter who is coming off of a layoff, he is more experienced in five-round affairs than Brunson, who has shown signs of slowing late in fights regardless of winning or losing.
With the oddsmakers opening Bunson in the neighborhood of a -150 favorite, I was slightly surprised the line wasn’t a bit wider, to be honest.
Don’t get me wrong: As a black belt in karate who discovered MMA later in life, watching Machida’s initial rise was one of the most inspirational things I’ve witnessed in this sport. Because of that, part of me will always be rooting for Machida to do well.
And yes, perhaps this is another case of me trying to over-correct the steering wheel in the effort to sway from my biases, but I will once again be reluctantly siding with sensibility since there are ultimately more paths and probabilities for a Brunson victory.
If this matchup were to have happened a few years prior, then I would side with Machida to find a crippling counter shot before the final bell. But now, at 39 and a 28-month layoff at his back, the odds at a successful showing may be steeper than the betting lines suggest. For that reason, I will be staying away from any plays as I observe how this crucial crossroads bout shakes out.
Vera admits he’s still bothered by comments Rivera (21-1 MMA, 5-0 UFC) made in turning him down at UFC on FOX 25, and he wants to fight the winner when the bantamweight prospect faces off with ex-champ Dominick Cruz (22-2 MMA, 5-1 UFC) at UFC 219 in December.
“I feel I match up great with both, and one of them owes me one,” Vera (10-3-1 MMA, 4-2 UFC) told MMAjunkie in advance of his FS1-televised fight with Lineker (29-8 MMA, 10-3 UFC) on Saturday at Ibirapuera Gymnasium in Sao Paulo, Brazil. “I want to make him pay.”
Vera, who’s unranked in the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA bantamweight rankings, has fought alongside No. 5 Rivera in the bantamweight division since his octagon debut in 2014. But their paths briefly crossed in January, when Rivera’s originally scheduled opponent, Bryan Caraway, dropped out of UFC on FOX 25.
Vera volunteered to step up on short notice, only to see Rivera dismiss the matchup in favor of a bout with Thomas Almeida. Rivera said if he took the bout with Vera, he would be “bullying some guy who wins some and loses some.” He also said he didn’t want to take away from the Ecuadorian fighter’s GoFundMe drive to help treat his daughter’s illness.
Not surprisingly, that didn’t sit well with Vera.
“He was talking too much,” Vera said. “He was saying things that don’t make sense. If he says he’s better than me, that doesn’t offend me at all. But he pulled my daughter into it, and he said he was a bully when he was a kid. But with that size, I don’t think he was a bully – I think he was the bullied one.
“I respect him as a person. As a fighter, I don’t respect him at all, because he wasn’t professional at all.”
Both Vera and Rivera won at UFC on FOX 25, keeping them on a future collission course. But Rivera is perhaps one step away from a title shot, while Vera must face a heavy-handed veteran who’s ended many dreams.
Vera, of course, vows he won’t be distracted by the challenge in front of him. A loss to Lineker will nix any plans for a big fight. And if the winner of Rivera and Cruz is headed for a title shot, he might have to wait his turn. So he’s keeping his options open.
“I really believe that if I win this fight, I want somebody between Rivera and Cruz,” he said. “I want one of those two. I’ve already talked to my manager about it. I feel that’s the fight that makes sense for me.
“If the UFC wants to do anything else, I’m down. There’s also a lot of bantamweight fights in December. I saw them, and I’m like, ‘Somebody’s going to be hurt, and I’m going to be healthy.’”
Vera practices his post-fight speeches as part of his training camp. It appears he’ll have a few requests if he gets his hand raised on Saturday.
Check out the above video to hear Vera talk about fighting in Sao Paulo and his plans for the future.
GDANSK, Poland – Brian Kelleher planned to celebrate his latest victory with a frosty beverage, a bite to eat and a bout agreement to fight one of the hardest hitters in the division later this year.
An effervescent Kelleher (18-8 MMA, 2-1 UFC) chatted with MMAjunkie backstage following his third-round TKO victory over Damian Stasiak (10-5 MMA, 2-3 UFC) at UFC Fight Night 118 and said the bout was one of his career highlights to date.
“That was amazing, man,” the New Yorker said. “I had a lot of fun. That was probably one of my funnest fights against a really tough guy. It took everything I had to finish him, so he brought the best out of me, which I have to thank him for. That was awesome.”
The bout, which earned “Fight of the Night” honors, was Kelleher’s third under the UFC banner, with both his wins coming against hometown favorites in their own back yard. By contrast, his one UFC loss took place in his home state of New York.
Kelleher admitted the more testing conditions of fighting away from home brings the best out of him.
“Being home was weird,” he said. “Being on my front lawn the day of the fight was just awkward. Even though I don’t think that really plays a role in the fight, but there’s just something about the journey to get here.
“It’s a far plane ride, I’m out of my element, I’m out of my comfort zone. I just think it brings this fire out of me to want to come and take the home guy out.”
Kelleher said he’d struggled to get quality rest during fight week, but missing out on the creature comforts of being at home helped make him sharper on fight night.
“It was all just trying to get through a lot of struggles, bumps in the road, and it was tough,” Kelleher said. “The beds were small. I don’t think I slept one hour until last night. It was the first night I got a little bit of sleep going through the weight cut.
“It was all a battle. I got here a little heavier than usual because of the long plane ride. So I had to get through that. Then I made the weight – and that was tough in itself – and the fight was even tougher. But it all made me a better fighter, and I’m thankful for it.”
Kelleher took advantage of his mic time during his post-fight octagon interview to call for top-15 opposition in his next bout. And he expanded on his plans for the future when chatting to the press backstage, saying he’d like to emulate his big-name colleague on the UFC-Gdansk fight card.
“I didn’t want to speak too soon, but after this fight I wanted to get one more in this year,” he said. I said I wanted to be the ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone of the bantamweight division, which is kinda cool, as he’s on the same card. I want to stay active. If I’m healthy, I’m always training. I’m always a professional. Why not make money and do what I love and continue to fight?
“So I’m hoping they put me back in December, and I wouldn’t mind John Lineker if he gets past the last guy I fought, Marlon Vera, who is a tough guy. But if Lineker comes out on top in that fight I want to stick with that guy still.”
Kelleher was forced to dodge beer bottles as he exited the arena after his UFC debut win against Iuri Alcantara in Rio. But despite once again upsetting a local favorite, the Polish crowd’s reaction was noticeably different.
“They were really respectful fans,” Kelleher said. “In Brazil it was different. It felt a lot more hostile. They were really in my face after the fight (in Brazil), and they didn’t like the fact that I won.
“But it seemed like the fans (in Poland) were really supportive of the fact that a good fighter with a lot of heart went out there and finished their guy, who was a really tough guy too. So I think they really respected it.”
The victory gave Kelleher the perfect tonic after succumbing to a Vera armbar in Uniondale in July.
“I took that loss, which was heartbreaking, and it motivated me to come in here and perform to the best of my ability,” Kelleher said. “I want to keep my job. I want to prove my worth, and I think I did that tonight.”
UFC bantamweight Marlon Vera says it all the time – sign him up for a fight in Las Vegas.
That, or Madison Square Garden. Fight at those places, and there’s no mistaking you’ve hit the big time.
For now, Vera (10-3-1 MMA, 4-2 UFC) heads to a decidedly less hospitable locale for his next job: A fight with No. 9 bantamweightJohn Lineker (29-8 MMA, 10-3 UFC) in Brazil.
Until very recently, Vera wasn’t booked for a fight. Then he wound up stepping in between Lineker and Bryan Caraway (21-7 MMA, 6-2 UFC), who were bickering incessantly about a fight in December, to take on Lineker at UFC Fight Night 119.
It’s a big step up for Vera, who’s won his past three but has yet to face a fighter of Lineker’s caliber, much less in his own country.
“I’m pretty sure not many guys want to go to Brazil to fight him,” Vera told MMAjunkie Radio. “But for me, he’s just another opponent. I respect him as a person, but as a fighter, I will treat him the same way I treat other guys and do my best to beat him.”
The two open the FS1-televised main card of the event on Oct. 28 at Ibirapuera Gymnasium in Sao Paulo.
Vera recently traveled to Las Vegas to give himself a leg up by working with the specialists at the UFC’s Performance Institute and training with his jiu-jitsu coach at 10th planet.
“I’m really excited to see the place, because I hear they have everything there,” he said of the UFC’s facility. “I want to see how much we can take advantage of it, learning how to be better as an athlete.”
A trip to Sin City reminds him of how close he is to fulfilling his dream of headlining a major fight card. He’s already adorning billboards in his native Ecuador. If he can beat Lineker, it might not be long before the same happens in Las Vegas.
“For me, it’s a dream to fight on a big card here, but I’m not in a rush,” he said. “I’m getting big opportunities. I’m fighting tough fights. Definitely I want to fight here after this one.”
At the same time, Vera knows it’s best to be patient. Sometimes, you take detours before your big shot. Lineker is one of those.
“If they want to send me to China, that’s no problem,” he said. “For me, a fight is a fight, whether it’s a big card or small card. It’s still the best show in the world. I just take anything they give me. I don’t complain about that.”
The event airs on FS1 following prelims on UFC Fight Pass, though the full fight card and bout order haven’t been finalized.
The booking comes after weeks of Twitter back-and-forth between Lineker and Caraway. Vera, in turn, has most recently issued callouts to Jimmie Rivera and Brett Johns, but he made his willingness to meet anyone, at any time, abundantly clear.
Lineker hasn’t fought since December 2016, when he dropped a unanimous decision to former champion T.J. Dillashaw. Before that, the heavy-hitter was riding six consecutive wins, including recent ones over Michael McDonald and John Dodson.
While Lineker’s UFC run has been mostly victorious, it’s also been plagued by failures to make weight – multiple times at flyweight and once since he’s moved up to 135. He’s currently ranked No. 9 in the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA bantamweight rankings.
The unranked Vera, in turn, has been on a quite a roll: He’s currently riding a three-fight winning streak capped off by finishes over Brad Pickett and Brian Kelleher. At 24, the California-based Ecuadorian has been known to hop on short-notice opportunities – even overseas ones.