Meets TUF 13 winner Tony Ferguson in preliminary card action
Saturday night at UFC 135, the veteran faces Tony Ferguson, the most recent in the line of fighters to be crowned "The Ultimate Fighter." After facing Shane Nelson on back-to-back occasions, then welcoming Ross Pearson to the Octagon for his first post-TUF tilt at UFC 105, the grizzled veteran has seemingly carved out a niche for himself, even if it is by no design of his own.
"For me, a fight is a fight is a fight, you know what I mean? It doesn't matter where it happens or who it's against; it's still a fight," said Riley. "I'm looking at every fight like it's a world title. You have to train hard and be ready to go because you know the guy across from you is going to be."
There is an irony to Riley being the man often chosen to welcome these neophytes into the cage. Surprisingly just 30-years-old, Riley has accumulated more than 40 professional fights with stops in numerous organizations on a collection of continents. Unlike the wave of talent to make their way into the UFC through reality television, Riley got there the old fashioned way – hard work and determination.
It's not that Riley doesn't believe the various cast members who have now found their way into the UFC's ranks don't deserve to be on the biggest stage of them all.
"The thing is, what I don't like is when people go on the show, act up, and they just get put in these higher profile fights and things," clarified Riley, adding, "I just wanted to make it clear that I do think that the guys from TUF, if they get their wins in the UFC, then they do deserve to be in there."
The Tell City, Indiana native who fights of Albuquerque, New Mexico as a member of Team Jackson-Winkeljohn made the news cycle a couple weeks back when he shared his thoughts on the UFC's reaction to the Nick Diaz situation.
"It just seems like they reward this bad boy behavior," suggested Riley. "We're professional athletes, so we've got to conduct ourselves professionally, and that includes things like showing up for press conferences and all the other things that we might not feel like doing, but it's something that needs to be done to hype the fight.
"I just kind of felt it was refreshing to see the UFC kind of take a stand against that stuff, because for the longest time, you see these guys go on TUF, and it's like the guy that's the biggest idiot is always the guy that gets the most fans, the biggest fights, and the most money.
"I just seems kind of unfair when you've got guys that are boiling away in the gym, day and night – I know guys that have other jobs besides fighting, they're trying to make it into the big time. They don't have time to do all that other stuff – that acting up; they're too busy just working hard, so it's just kind of nice to see that that doesn't always work out being the bad guy."
If you had to pick a member of Season 13's cast to attach the "bad guy" tag to, it would have to be Riley's UFC 135 opponent. Ferguson exploded late in the season, picking a booze-fueled fight with teammate Charlie Rader when their drunken antics went too far, and crossing the line by dredging up Rader's personal issues with his son.
It seems almost fitting that the harsh critic of rewarding the bad boy behavior is the one to welcome last season's villain into the cage for his first fight since defeating Ramsey Nijem at the Season 13 Finale, even if Riley himself doesn't pay attention to the symbolism.
"That's probably more for people that are anti-TUF or fans that may be anti-TUF," Riley said with a laugh. For him, Saturday night is about getting back into the cage for the first time in 16 months, and building off his UFC 114 win over Joe Brammer.
"The training has been going great, the camp has gone great, and of course I'm super-excited to get back in. I've been putting in all this hard work, so I'm just excited to get back in the cage, and do my thing.
"I train with really tough guys that are constantly competing, so I've seen all the up-to-date, new stuff that's going on out there, and I've competed for a long time, so I kind of know what to expect when I get in. (Ring rust) is not something that I'm super-worried about."
Neither is the thin air that comes with fighting in The Mile High City.
"The altitude thing is a real factor, so it's important to be prepared for it. Coach Jackson said that Albuquerque is the highest metropolitan city, so I'll be more than ready for Denver as far as the altitude situation. I've been out here for two-and-a-half months now, so I think that the altitude situation is well under control."
Working with the impressive coaching staff at Jackson's will also have him fully prepared for what to expect from Ferguson inside the cage as well.
"Coach Greg and Coach Winkeljohn have combed over the footage repeatedly; I've watched the video a couple times, and seen things—tendencies that he has. It's mostly stuff that we've seen him do with stand-up because a lot of his fights are standing. I know that he's got some ground game, but it seems like he prefers to stand up, but we've been taking note of some of the things that he does with his stand-up, and there's some loopholes there that we're looking to try to exploit.
"We've been training hard and we've formed our game plan around that stuff, and it's just all about going out and performing on that night. There are things that we've looked for and ways that we're going to go about making things happen, and then when we get our reaction that we're looking for, we're going to strike."
And if Riley finds those openings and see those opportunities?
"I connect the dots and then I win the fight; that's pretty much it. If I go out and do everything according to the blueprint, I'll get the W."