Jimmie Rivera and his wife, Samantha, both dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic firsthand. The two were diagnosed with the virus in April and Samantha nearly had to be hospitalized due to the severity of her symptoms, Jimmie said.
Rivera was back in the cage on Wednesday. And he put on a very solid performance, defeating Cody Stamann via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28) on the UFC Fight Night: Kattar vs. Ige main card in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Rivera (23-4, 7-3 UFC) took the bout on just eight days' notice, but that wasn't apparent to anyone watching. Rivera used his wrestling and boxing effectively to neutralize the talented Stamann (19-3-1, 5-2-1 UFC). In particular, Rivera found a home early and often for his left hook. Stamann had some success with his wrestling in the first and third rounds, but otherwise Rivera cruised.
Afterward, Rivera said he was "not happy with the win." Due to the late notice, Rivera said he couldn't really rely on his cardio. Plus, he was fighting one weight class up at featherweight.
"I just used my skill instead of pushing the pace," said Rivera, ESPN's No. 10-ranked MMA bantamweight.
Rivera (23-4) snapped a two-fight losing streak with the victory. The New Jersey native has faced the elite of the bantamweight division lately, dropping bouts to current champion Petr Yan, top contender Aljamain Sterling and former title challenger Marlon Moraes in the past two years. Rivera, 31, successfully defended four of five takedown attempts from Stamann. Coming in, Rivera had the best takedown defense in UFC history (95%), per ESPN Stats & Information research.
"It was tough, taking the fight on three days' notice and not being where I want cardiowise, but it was an opportunity, I had to step in and take it," Rivera said. "There were so many mishaps and things that happened. I was supposed to fight in February, I had a herniated disk in my neck and pinched nerves in my arms, so it was a tough thing I had to recover from. In March, myself getting COVID at the end of March and my wife getting it in May, and then other personal things we've been dealing with at home, 2020 has been a s---ty year. Today was a little bit better, obviously I wanted a better performance, but just coming back and being able to get back in there was an opportunity that I wanted, thank you to UFC for letting me take this opportunity.
Jimmie Rivera's defense was on display tonight.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 16, 2020
He successfully defended 4 of the 5 takedown attempts by Cody Stamann.
Rivera entered tonight with the best takedown defense in UFC history (95.5%), and 7 of his last 8 fights have gone the distance. pic.twitter.com/XDMQIGjrpg
"It's crazy, quarantine. We haven't seen daylight; I only got to see daylight today because I had to go out and pee because the bathroom is outside. Besides that, I've been going to bed at 9 a.m. every morning. Before I go to bed, I shut the curtains so we don't get any daylight and it doesn't mess with my head. I've been on New York time, Jersey time, I've been going to bed at 9 a.m. and waking up at 7 p.m. and I haven't seen daylight. I'm really excited right now when we get done to go outside and get a little daylight. We have a crazy flight back, we have 15 hours back to Vegas, another six hours back to Jersey. It's a hell of a ride, plus dealing with the whole COVID stuff, but I can tell you one thing -- UFC hands down, Abu Dhabi, they had us. I've been tested four times in the last week, came up negative, they've been testing everyone, keeping distance, they're super professional and doing everything right."
Stamann (19-3-1) had a three-fight unbeaten streak snapped. The Michigan native had only one loss -- to Sterling -- in his previous 14 fights. Stamann, 30, beat Brian Kelleher by unanimous decision at UFC 250 last month, just days after the death of his 18-year-old brother, Jacob.
-- Marc Raimondi
Calvin Kattar landed a knee, Dan Ige slipped to the canvas and Kattar got on top, throwing punches downward as hard as he could. The time on the clock expired. The fight was over.
By then, Kattar had the decision in the bag. But he was still trying to finish, even in the final seconds.
Tim Elliott and Ryan Benoit exchange combinations in Round 2
Tim Elliott lands shots on Ryan Benoit, who responds with punches of his own in the second round.
Neither of these flyweights was going to have his immediate future impacted by the championship fight coming up in three days between Joseph Benavidez and Deiveson Figueiredo. But once they got going, Elliott and Benoit showed off the all-action nature of the 125-pound division.
And Elliott got stronger as the fight wore on, earning 29-28 scorecards from all three judges.
The last half of Round 2 alone was worth the price of admission. After absorbing a succession of crisp punches to the face, Elliott finally got the bout to the canvas, where he figured to have an advantage. He quickly achieved full mount position and locked in a guillotine. But Benoit hung in there, and with 1:20 left in the round he reversed position and locked in a kneebar that made Elliott wince. The finish did not come, but these late scrambles swung the fight back and forth.
Elliott came out aggressively in Round 3 and landed again and again, with his opponent appearing tired. But Benoit came to life with an attack on his own, and the fight ended with the two men in the pocket, exchanging. It would have been a crowd-pleaser, if there had been a crowd.
It was a much-needed win for Elliott, a onetime title challenger who had lost his past three fights. It was Benoit's second straight loss.
-- Jeff Wagenheim
Santos lands big takedown on McCann in Round 2
Taila Santos takes down Molly McCann in the middle of Round 2 of their bout at UFC Fight Night.
Santos was 15-0 before dropping her UFC debut in February 2019. That made her eager to right the ship, but over the next 14 months she had three fights canceled. Finally, the 27-year-old Brazilian got back into the cage and showed off what had fueled that unbeaten run.
Santos did not get a finish -- McCann was too tough to take out -- but all three judges scored every round for Santos.
The 30-year-old McCann, of Liverpool, England, had a lot of fight in her right from the start. She got the better of the early fighting, opening a cut above her opponent's left eye. But Santos countered the aggression with kicks to the body that gradually slowed down McCann. And before the round's end, Santos' jabs and elbows started to carry the way.
Round 2 was much the same, so going into the final five minutes, McCann recognized that she needed a finish. She came out hard. McCann landed some straight shots, but Santos absorbed them all. Then, midway through the round, Santos secured a takedown right into full mount. McCann scrambled out of danger once, but Santos regained her position and worked for a finish right to the horn.
Mounir Lazzez unloads punches on Abdul Razak Alhassan in Round 2
Mounir Lazzez gets Abdul Razak Alhassan up against the fence as he peppers Alhassan with punches in the second round.
There was anticipation about the return of Alhassan, one of the most explosive and powerful welterweights on the UFC roster. Lazzez spoiled it, and in the process he made a name for himself.
In his UFC debut, Lazzez, a rangy and skilled striker, beat Alhassan via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28) to open the main card. It was named the fight of the night, but Alhassan didn't receive his share of the bonus because he missed weight.
Lazzez had to weather Alhassan's early flurries. Alhassan landed hard shots in the first round, cornering Lazzez against the cage and throwing long, wild combinations. Lazzez was able to shake them off and take over the rest of the round with elbows, knees to the body and a slick head kick.
Mounir Lazzez made his UFC debut and, in the process, became the first fighter ever to represent Tunisia in the UFC.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 16, 2020
With the win, Lazzez cashes as a +270 underdog and is the biggest underdog on the card to win thus far. pic.twitter.com/eXvITFbRXd
In the second, it was more of the same for Lazzez, who also landed a takedown and hurt Alhassan with a combination that backed Alhassan up against the cage. Lazzez blasted Alhassan with a big knee up the middle in the third and landed a nice takedown. In the closing minutes, Alhassan made his way to his feet and threw wild hooks, some of which landed. But Lazzez was never in any trouble, as he earned the decision victory.
Lazzez (10-1) earned his spot in the UFC when a friend of UFC president Dana White's son showed Lazzez's highlights to White on the internet, according to play-by-play man Jon Anik. The 32-year-old Tunisian-born Dubai resident has won three in a row and looks like someone to watch at 170 pounds.
Alhassan (10-2) had his three-fight winning streak snapped. The 34-year-old Ghana native, who lives and trains in Dallas, had not fought since September 2018. Alhassan was inactive after facing charges of sexual assault. He was acquitted in March.
Chimaev submits Phillips via D'Arce choke in Round 2
Khamzat Chimaev dominates John Phillips on the mat in Round 2 to pull out a submission via D'Arce choke at UFC Fight Night.
Chimaev arrived for his UFC debut as an undefeated fighter. He walked out of the Octagon with his record still unblemished, having raised eyebrows with as domineering a performance as a fighter can have.
He finished Phillips with a slick D'Arce choke at 1:12 of Round 2 after softening up the Welshman with an unrelenting ground-and-pound for all but a few seconds of the fight.
Khabib 2.0 was an accurate statement. Chimaev is an animal! #UFCFightIsland1— Tatiana Suarez (@tatianaufc) July 16, 2020
Chimaev, who is of Chechen descent and has lived in Sweden from a young age, came out with an immediate head kick, then ducked under and took the fight to the canvas. From there he controlled Phillips the rest of the way, immobilizing his legs with a Khabib Nurmagomedov-style lockdown and throwing rights and lefts with abandon. By the end of Round 1, Chimaev had a 72-1 striking advantage.
It got no better for Phillips in the second round. Chimaev got a takedown 12 seconds in, continued his beatdown, then ended it with the submission. Chimaev won a performance-of-the-night bonus.
Phillips is a resilient one. The 35-year-old Welshman, who fights out of SBG gym in Dublin, lost his first three UFC fights but kept coming back for more. He finally got a win last September, and what a win it was. He knocked out Alen Amedovski in 14 seconds. But he took a fall once again this time.
Murphy overwhelms Ramos late in Round 1
Lerone Murphy unleashes a vicious stretch of ground-and-pound late in the first round on Ricardo Ramos to pick up a win on Fight Island at UFC Fight Night.
Murphy proved his UFC debut was no fluke.
The British featherweight blasted Ramos with hard ground-and-pound for a TKO at 4:18 of the first round. After being swept initially by Ramos, Murphy countered and got back into top position and rained down some brutal punches.
Initially, it looked like Ramos would have his way. He was throwing flashy spin kicks and briefly got Murphy's back. Murphy went for a takedown and Ramos slickly swept and got into side control. That did not last long. Murphy exploded his way up to his feet, got Ramos down and landed some impressive strikes -- including a big elbow -- from the top with Ramos prone. Murphy described his blows from that position as "like a sledge."
Murphy, 28, fought to a surprising draw with the very tough Zubaira Tukhugov, the longtime teammate of Khabib Nurmagomedov, in his UFC debut at UFC 242 last September. Murphy, an England native, remained undefeated and appears to be a legitimate prospect in the featherweight division.
Ramos, 24, was on a two-fight winning streak coming in. The Brazil native has five UFC wins after starting in the promotion when he was just 21 years old in 2017.
"I wanted to prove that I belong here in the UFC," Murphy said. "I plan to spend the rest of my career in the UFC, climb to the top, get into that top 15 and obviously one day be champion. I'm just going to go back, heal up for a month and then get back to training and grow and grow. That's all I want to do, grow."
Murphy won a performance-of-the-night bonus.
Modestas Bukauskas elbows Andreas Michailidis' head for TKO
Modestas Bukauskas repeatedly lands elbows to Andreas Michailidis' head at the end of Round 1, and the ref calls the end to the bout.
Michailidis tried to make an impression on the judges with a late takedown in Round 1 of this meeting of light heavyweights making their UFC debuts. But Bukauskas made the judges unnecessary.
For nearly five minutes, it was a good back-and-forth fight on the feet, with Michailidis' footwork presenting a problem for the aggressive attack of Bukauskas. Then, with seconds to go in the round, Michailidis went for a takedown. Bukauskas defended it and began dropping elbows to the side of the head. When the horn sounded and the assault ended, Michailidis dropped forward on his hands and knees.
Michailidis eventually sat, but when he leaned back the cage door was open and he nearly fell over. The ref waved off the fight.
Weird... #UFCFightIsland— Dominick Reyes (@DomReyes) July 16, 2020
Bukauskas, a native of Lithuania who trains in England, has won seven in a row. The 26-year-old is a former Cage Warriors light heavyweight champ.
Michailidis, who is 31 and fighting out Athens, came in having won seven of his past eight.
"I feel absolutely amazing. I've been visualizing this moment," Bukauskas said. "Visualizing the finish, writing it on my board and everything like that, for it finally to come to fruition in the cage is absolutely amazing, to be part of such a historic event as well, I couldn't have asked for anything better. This is a great way to introduce myself to the UFC, but I'm only going to keep getting better and keep putting on better performances.
"I knew once those shots were landing that they were going to be hard because in my last fight in Cage Warriors I finished the guy with the exact same finish. Even when I went with the guy to the medical room, he was completely dazed and confused, so I wish for a speedy recovery for my opponent. I would have liked to finish it in a different way because I was just starting to feel my range, and I had a bit of a leg injury coming into the fight, so it was a little bit more difficult to show more of myself, but to come out there and see those elbows and land them, I couldn't have asked for anything better."
Bukauskas earned a performance-of-the-night bonus.
Jared Gordon wins with Paul Felder in his corner
Jared "Flash" Gordon beats Chris Fishgold with UFC commentator and lightweight Paul Felder, who left the desk to work the fight.
A hellish few weeks was worth it for Gordon.
After his fiancée and all his corner people tested positive for COVID-19, Gordon made the trek all the way to Abu Dhabi alone. While there, he dealt with a false positive for the coronavirus. The trials and tribulations all paid off with a dominant unanimous decision (30-26, 30-26, 30-26) over Fishgold in Gordon's return to the featherweight division.
With Gordon not having any corners with him, he asked UFC lightweight and broadcast analyst Paul Felder to corner him. Felder, Gordon's longtime friend, left his position as color commentator temporarily to back his pal for the bout.
Fishgold had an early takedown in the first, but once Gordon got up he landed his own takedown and ended up in top position. That's how the next two rounds went, too. Gordon took Fishgold down and landed ground-and-pound in the second. In the third, he got Fishgold down again and landed hard punches to the sides of Fishgold's head. Gordon was close to finishing, but Fishgold survived to the end of the bout.
Gordon landed 241 total strikes, which was the fourth most landed in a single fight in UFC featherweight history, per ESPN Stats & Info.
Gordon, 31, picked up his second win in three fights. The New York native had dropped three of four coming in. Fishgold, a 28-year-old England native, has dropped three of his past four bouts. Fishgold missed weight Tuesday by three pounds.
Liana Jojua wins via armbar submission
Liana Jojua gets Diana Belbita into an armbar and forces her to submit in the first round.
Jojua withstood an early onslaught and methodically worked her way to an armbar finish at 2:23 of Round 1 in a meeting of young flyweights. Jojua is 25, Belbita a year younger.
Belbita, a Romanian fighting out of Canada, came out aggressively, moving forward behind punches, then trapped Jojua in a clinch. But when the fight went to the canvas, Jojua, a Georgian, immediately set up the submission. She got it for her first UFC win.
These fighters had followed similar paths to the big show. Jojua lost her promotional debut last September after riding in on a five-fight winning streak. Belbita had won four in a row before she dropped her first UFC bout in October.
"I think submission, not armbar, but any submission will do, but armbar is my favorite submission and I make do," Jojua said. "I didn't think I would make this in the first round, I think one or two rounds, but she took me down and I finish. I'm very happy because I haven't won in two years, it's very hard for me. This is my first UFC win and fight at the new weight. I felt very good, but the weight cut is very hard for me, it's very crazy for me. But then I think it will become easier for me because it won't be new for me and only having one month for the fight was a little bit short notice.
"I don't know when I want to fight next, I haven't thought about it. I think I want to go to new camps, make a visa for America. I want to go to America and train there and then I will think about fighting. Right now it's very hard for training, if I don't change camps, it's not good for me."
Jack Shore makes quick work of Aaron Phillips
Jack Shore submits Aaron Phillips early in the second round of their bout in the prelims of UFC Fight Night at Fight Island.
The UFC has a legitimate prospect from the United Kingdom on its hands.
Shore stopped Phillips with a rear-naked choke at 2:29 of the second round to open the UFC's second card on Yas Island. Shore was able to take Phillips down in the opening seconds of the second round, take Phillips' back and then lock in the choke.
Shore dominated just about every second of the fight with his wrestling and grappling. He pressed Phillips against the cage in the first round, landed punches from the turtle position and then blasted Phillips with some hard knees in the clinch.
Shore, 25, has 12 stoppages in 13 career victories and eight of those stoppages are submissions. The Wales native is now 2-0 in the UFC. Shore is a former Cage Warriors bantamweight champion.
"I'm gonna keep the finish rate high," Shore said. "People pay to see finishes."
Phillips, 30, had his five-fight winning streak snapped. The Louisiana resident was making his first appearance in the UFC since 2014.
"It's been a tough fight week with the quarantine in London for two days, flight to Abu Dhabi, stuck in the hotel room for two days here, the weather, the sleeping pattern, the change of opponents, but it is what it is, as fighters we've got to learn to deal with adversity," Shore said. "Other than a sloppy start to the first round, I can't complain, second-round finish -- I'm a happy man. I'm a bit of a perfectionist, I'm one of those guys, I want to go out there and win every second of every round of every fight. I'll probably go back and watch it on the TV or on my phone and I'll have a different view like I always do. I just felt a little bit sloppy starting off, but once I got in my rhythm and loosened up, I got the job done.
"I want to keep getting better between fights. I want to bring a better version of myself to every single fight; I don't want to be that guy who is fighting every month. Give me a month or two now to improve my skill set and it'd be great to come back to the Octagon. October or November time, perfect. I'd like to come back to Abu Dhabi as well, I didn't get to see much of this beautiful place, been stuck in the hotel for a week cutting weight, so I'd love to come back here for a trip and have a look about and enjoy it a little bit more too."