UFC lightweight Aaron Riley is truly an unsung hero of the sport of mixed martial arts.
He has been fighting for over a decade, has amassed 30 victories, has fought in seven countries and was one of the first truly well-rounded fighters in the sport.
Pretty impressive for a teenager who saw UFC I and started to get ideas.
"I saw the UFC when I was 13 and said 'You know, I would love to fight in that," Riley told BleacherReport.com. "I was already doing Judo and some stand-up martial arts when the UFC came out...I just kind of turned my martial arts training into mixed martial arts training."
Riley's diverse skills served him well. He won his first MMA fight when he was still a teenager. "My first MMA fight was when I was 16 years old and I kept going ever since," he said.
A solid foundation in varying martial arts was good, but to get to the top, Riley eventually realized he needed more. "I trained with Pat Miletich in 1999," said Riley. "That was when I really got my taste of what real martial arts training or learning how to train hard and learning what all of that is about."
It seems appropriate that a man who witnessed the UFC's genesis and was part of the first wave of well-rounded fighters—as well as a member of one of the first truly elite training camps—gets to fight at UFC 135 in Denver, Colorado, where the very first UFC took place.
"In a certain way I kind of feel like it is kind of cool to go to the roots where it all started," he said. "I think it’d be kind of cool to fight there because that is where the UFC kicked it all off years ago. So I’m just happy to be a part of the show and go out there and do my thing. Here we are at UFC 135, who would have thought at UFC 1 you’d be up to UFC 135, but here we are."
Riley's opponent at UFC 135 is Ultimate Fighter season 13 winner Tony Ferguson, a man who has ruffled many a feather in the past. But to Riley, the trash talk really doesn't matter.
Riley said "I know that he rubbed some people the wrong way on the show. I haven’t heard anything disrespectful or bad but I think he’ll make it a good fight. So I’m looking forward to getting out there and putting on a good fight."
The fight between Riley and Ferguson is interesting because it matches a man whose been in the sport since 1997 and grounded in MMA's history with a fighter who was made famous by a reality show that epitomizes the modern UFC.
Riley doesn't feel that makes any difference in the fight at all.
"I don't consider myself 'old guard' because I'm trying to be progressive with my techniques," he said. "I look at it as a guy with a lot of experience fighting a less experienced guy."
But this doesn't mean Riley is taking Ferguson lightly, quite the contrary.
"It’s not like 'oh well you have more experience so that automatically means a guaranteed ‘W’' or anything like that," said Riley. "All I know from my experience is that I just know he’s gonna be coming to fight. I’m sure he’s up on a lot of new techniques like a lot of these guys are and it’s gonna be good."
An exciting fight would do wonders for Riley's current training camp, the illustrious stable of fighters lead by Greg Jackson, that has been a source of controversy due to "boring" fights.
In fact, discontented fans have even given the phenomenon of Greg Jackson's "boring" fighters a name: "The Greg Jackson Effect."
"People like to complain," Riley said. "I mean Cowboy [Donald Cerrone]—on the last show, Cowboy finished his opponent. Carlos Condit finished with a flying knee which is actually a pretty impressive way to finish...I just think that people are looking for something to talk about."
For Riley, Greg Jackson's gym is nothing short of amazing. "It’s awesome, it’s phenomenal you know because they bring the best out of me all the time because they’re at a high level. It’s great. It’s a privilege and an honor and a reward to be in such a great gym with such great training partners," he said.
Aside from his time in Albuquerque with Greg Jackson's gym, the highlight of Riley's career took place in Japan.
"I wanted to fight in Japan in Pride fighting championships so bad," he recalled. "I was able to go fight in Prude Bushido, Pride Bushido 7. And that was just an awesome experience for me, something that just stuck out because it was something I had wanted for so long in my career. Fortunately, I was able to end the fight with a head kick knockout against my Japanese opponent. So, for me, that one really sticks out because it was such a surreal experience and something I had been wanting for so long."
But even training in the world's most prestigious gym and fighting in the world's most prestigious promotions, Pride and the UFC, haven't soured Riley's attitude; he is still humble and credits many people for his success.
Riley said "I want to thank all my training partners for helping me get ready for this fight. I want to thank Alchemist, my management team—Alchemist Management—for setting up everything for getting my sponsors and getting the interviews set up."
Aaron Riley will be fighting at UFC 135 against Tony Ferguson. It will be his seventh fight in the UFC and his 44th fight in MMA overall.
The fight will be broadcast as part of the Spike TV preliminaries.