Aaron Riley has never won back-to-back fights in the UFC. | Photo: Dave Mandel
Well-traveled lightweight Aaron Riley takes on “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 13 winner Tony Ferguson on the UFC 135 “Jones vs. Rampage” undercard this Saturday in Denver in a classic matchup of up-and-coming prospect versus battle-tested veteran.
By the time Ferguson made his professional mixed martial arts debut in April 2008, Riley already had 36 fights under his belt, including bouts against Bellator Fighting Championships 155-pound titleholder Eddie Alvarez, Michihiro Omigawa, Spencer Fisher, Chris Lytle, Robbie Lawler and Yves Edwards. However, Riley has no intention of serving as a stepping stone for Ferguson.
“I’ve watched some tape [of Ferguson],” Riley told Sherdog.com. “He’s got grappling skills, but seems to prefer standing up and has some unorthodox striking skills. He is a tough guy, but I’ve studied the tape and we’ve got a game plan. I just have to attack his weaknesses and bring my strong suits to the table.”
Riley, who has 19 finishes -- five knockouts and 14 submissions -- among his 30 victories, said he will not be fazed if the fight stays on the feet or it goes to the ground.
“I feel pretty comfortable in all areas,” said Riley. “I have enough experience to know what to do in every situation. I feel like I can make it difficult for him in a lot of different ways.”
The Riley-Ferguson fight will be aired on Spike TV’s broadcast of the UFC 135 prelims, along with a middleweight bout pitting Tim Boetsch against Nick Ring. The card is headlined by a light heavyweight title scrap featuring defending champion Jon Jones and former titleholder Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.
Riley has alternated wins and losses in his last four contests inside the Octagon, most recently capturing a unanimous decision victory over Joe Brammer at UFC 114 in May 2010. The Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts product said he understands a loss to Ferguson could mean his walking papers.
“I first competed in the UFC at UFC 37 [in May 2002],” said Riley. “I came back again in 2006, and both times were on single-fight deals. This time, I’ve been here since November 2008 and I want to stay here. Everybody knows the UFC is the name brand for mixed martial arts, and great things have happened because of them. There’s no place I’d rather be.”
As his lengthy career has progressed -- Riley’s professional debut came all the way back in July 1997 -- the process of preparing for a fight has changed greatly for the 30-year-old native of Tell City, Ind.
“My training has definitely evolved,” said Riley. “I’m smarter about things now. After a hard session, I know not to push myself too hard or else I’ll get hurt. My camps aren’t as intense, but I’m still training hard. I’m just training smarter and getting more out of it.”
Ferguson is coming off a first-round knockout of Ramsey Nijem at “The Ultimate Fighter 13” Finale in June and has won four straight fights. The knockout was chosen as the “Knockout of the Night” and gave “El Cucuy” an extra $40,000 in bonus money. However, if Riley has his way, Ferguson will not be getting any bonuses after their fight.
“Whenever you’ve been in a sport as long as I’ve been in MMA, there’s going to be some burnout,” said Riley, “but I’m really feeling motivated for this fight. I’ve had a good camp. There’s a lot of guys [at Jackson’s] getting ready for fights, and there are so many good fighters to train with. It’s been a long, tough road for me with some ups and downs, but I’m pretty excited about moving forward.”