Commentary

Peaking Rivera finally piquing interest

Originally Published: February 25, 2011
By Brett Okamoto | ESPN.com

SYDNEY -- For 45 minutes last week, Jorge Rivera sat in on a UFC conference call and didn't say a word. Media members directed questions to president Dana White and UFC 127 main event fighters Jon Fitch and B.J. Penn, but nobody had a thing for Rivera.

It's a bit puzzling when a veteran such as Rivera remains largely unknown to the casual fan this deep into his career.

The guy has fought some of the biggest names in the sport -- Anderson Silva, Rich Franklin and Chris Leben to name a few -- most within the sport's premier organization. Rivera's appearance in the co-main event at UFC 127 this weekend will be his eighth time on a UFC main card.

So what has held Rivera back in terms of recognition? He believes the answer lies in the roller coaster that is his record.

"It's inconsistency," Rivera told ESPN.com. "I was inconsistent for a long time. I feel I've gotten a much better camp now. I'm in a different place. At times, I went through life and didn't have a goal. I was just happy to be here.

"Things happen, and you realize you have to get a game plan together."

At the age of 38, Rivera (19-7) is enjoying the most successful run of his UFC career. His current three-fight win streak is the longest he has put together in the organization, and he has finished his past two opponents.

His upcoming fight against Michael Bisping at UFC 127 in Sydney has become one of the most anticipated bouts of early 2011 -- thanks in no small part to Internet videos released by Rivera and his team that mock Bisping's style and British accent.

Rivera isn't known for self-promotion or seeking the spotlight, and he insists neither was the goal when he filmed the videos in November.

Motivation came when the UFC informed him that Bisping (20-3) was hesitant to take the fight, based on his belief that Rivera isn't a well-known opponent.

"I asked for the fight, and the UFC said he didn't want to take it," Rivera said. "It lit a fire under me. He thinks he's on a whole other level than me, and I don't think he is.

"If he knocks me out, good. I'll shut my mouth. But he's never had a knockout in the UFC. These are facts."

It's unfortunate Rivera has remained in the shadows this long, because he does have a story to tell. Rivera's life changed forever in 2008 when his 17-year-old daughter, Janessa Marie, died suddenly from complications caused by blot clots.

From a personal and professional perspective, Rivera says, he then realized how fragile life truly is. Shortly thereafter, he parted ways with longtime trainer Mark Dellagrotte, joined a new team and put an entirely different spin on his career.

"S--- happens in life and you realize this isn't going to happen forever," Rivera said. "I was almost like a hamster in a wheel that starts running towards the light. I realized I can only fight for so long and I have something to say to people.

"I feel like life is short and we spend all our time fighting over stupid stuff. As human beings, we need to push our differences aside because at the end of the day, we all want the same thing."

[+] EnlargeBisping vs. Rivera
Martin McNeil for ESPN.comMichael Bisping initially wasn't interested in fighting Jorge Rivera, whom he considered too little-known. Rivera quickly changed Bisping's mind.

Releasing videos that mock an opponent would seem to contradict that philosophy, but for Rivera, the videos were never anything more than having some fun and baiting Bisping into a fight he initially didn't want to accept.

It certainly seems to have worked, as Bisping has been visibly on edge during fight week and has repeatedly referred to Rivera as an "idiot," a "child" and "pathetic."

Rivera has taken the banter in stride, although he questions the legitimacy of Bisping's anger. While the cameras are on, it's the hottest rivalry in MMA. But Rivera says he hasn't seen any hostility from Bisping behind the scenes.

"You know what, I ran into him in the hallway the other day and he said, 'What's up?'" Rivera said. "If he was that pissed off, he wouldn't have done that. I think it's a show. I could care less, though, at the end of the day whether it's a show or it's real."

Real or not, it has the MMA world talking about Jorge Rivera. And even at this stage in his career, it's never too late to steal the show.

"Anybody can win; it's a funny sport," said Peter Welch, one of Rivera's boxing coaches. "One punch can put you a shot away from a title. Anything can happen, and he's at a different place in his career. He's a little more focused and he's keying in on some important things."

Brett Okamoto covers MMA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at bokamotoESPN.