ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — When Jimmie Rivera had the chance to try out for The Ultimate Fighter: Team Bisping vs. Team Miller he knew it was an opportunity he could not pass up.
While confident he could make an impression and secure a spot on the show, he also knew he had plenty to work on despite being selected as one of the 16 featherweights vying for a spot in the house. He lost his preliminary fight to eventual finalist, Dennis Bermudez, via a second-round TKO.
“I felt I had holes in my game before The Ultimate Fighter,” Rivera said. “I made some mistakes there, and since then I’ve really taken the time to perfect my game.”
In just his second fight since TUF, Rivera flashed an improved all-around game by battering Justin Hickey for three rounds to earn the Ring of Combat Bantamweight Championship via unanimous decision on Friday night at Ring of Combat 41.
Ring of Combat 41 took place at Tropicana Casino and Resort and featured championship fights in the light-heavyweight, bantamweight, featherweight and middleweight divisions.
Rivera landed several big shots on Hickey and nearly finished him on several occasions, but Hickey proved to be ultra resilient. Rivera was able to use his wrestling to control Hickey on the ground and avoid nearly any damage for most of the fight, winning 30-27 on all three judges’ scorecards.
“He’s got a great chin,” Rivera said. “I was confident the whole time. In the third round I was trying to be smart while still looking for the submission, but you can’t finish every fighter.”
A dominant first round for Rivera led to him nearly finishing Hickey in round two. He landed a flush left hook that sent Hickey to his back, but he was able to lock up guard on Rivera and prevent further immediate damage. Rivera continued to grind away, however, winning the exchanges on their feet and controlling position on the canvas.
The Tiger Schulmann’s MMA product was thrilled at winning his second belt at 135 (he captured the King of the Cage title in 2010 and defended it once), specifically since the ROC belts tend to have some extra meaning to them. The list of former ROC champs and standouts that have made their way to the UFC and other top organizations is well-documented.
“This is a big step to take,” said Rivera, who improved to 9-1 with the victory. “Whether my next fight is here or in the UFC, this is a big win. I’ve made some mistakes but I’ve been able to learn from them to make myself better.”
Rivera’s Tiger Schulmann’s teammate, Uriah Hall, gave the fight team a second champion when he outlasted the persistent Nodar Kudukhashvili to recapture the middleweight title with a 29-28 unanimous decision victory.
Hall and Kudukhashvili split the first two rounds with the Georgian special forces member coming on strong in the latter stages of round two. But in the third, Kudukhashvili changed his approach, choosing to lay back and wait for Hall to make a mistake and subsequently landing only a handful of punches. Hall took advantage with his kickboxing and forced the Sambo practitioner to shoot for the takedown. Kudukhashvili assumed top control, but Hall made his way back to his feet without absorbing any damage. He then scored a takedown of his own to cement the victory and improve to 7-2.
“That dude is a Sambo guy and in my mind I wasn’t going to let that mess me up,” Hall said. “I didn’t fight my game entirely, but I got the belt back. I know I have all the tools. It’s mainly mental and about preparation, and learning from your experiences.”
Team Serra/Longo prospect Ed ‘Truck” Gordon remained undefeated (5-0) by besting Carlos Brooks via unanimous decision in the light-heavyweight title fight. Brooks, who owns a 9-0 kickboxing record, had his moments in the standup game but ultimately it was the pure strength and wrestling ability of Gordon that allowed him to take the unanimous decision, 30-27, 29-28, 30-27.
In the card’s featherweight championship bout, Guillermo Serment made quick work of James Jenkins with a first-round submission victory. Serment dropped Jenkins early in the opening round and locked on a guillotine to secure the win in the only title fight to end inside three rounds.
In the five-fight main card that preceded the title fights, finishes in three of the contests highlighted the action. Making his US debut, England’s Liam McGeary scored a devastating knockout of Walter Howard 41 seconds into the second round of their light-heavyweight bout. An accomplished striker in his native country, McGeary, now with Pellegrino MMA, shook off some first-round jitters to improve to 3-0 with three stoppages.
His Pellegrino MMA teammate, Lester Caslow, won with a slick submission off his back to counter the wrestling of Brian Van Horen at 155 pounds. Van Horen had taken down Caslow and held him there for the better part of the first round. He was doing more of the same in round two when Caslow locked in a guillotine off his back and forced the tap-out at 2:27 of the second round.
In a featherweight fight, Andre Harrison stopped William Metts with a rear-naked choke 3:27 into the opening round. Long Island MMA’s Chris Wade survived a back-and-forth, three-round war with Villi Bello to take a 30-27, 29-28, 30-27 unanimous decision at 155 pounds. At a 142-pound catchweight, Soslan Abanokov eked out a 29-28, 29-29, 29-28 majority decision win over Tom English.
A pair of featherweight fights completed the two-fight preliminary card as Ricardo Almeida-trained local favorite Frankie Perez stopped Ben Syers with a second-round TKO at 1:23 and Marlboro, N.J.’s Anthony Facchini punched out Kevin Molina in 2:32 of the first round.