Brad Riddell has been waiting for his opportunity at the UFC rankings. Now, it has finally arrived.
The 29-year-old UFC lightweight was supposed to return in March against Gregor Gillespie, but the fight was pulled the night before it was supposed to go ahead due to Covid-19. Riddell himself did not catch the virus, but members of his team did.
Rather than reschedule the bout against then No 15-ranked Gillespie for a later date and face eight weeks away from New Zealand and his newborn daughter before he could get an MIQ voucher, he returned home as scheduled. Gillespie took another fight, beating Carlos Diego Ferreira in impressive fashion and improving his place in the rankings to No 10.
"That experience sucked," Riddell said of being forced out so close to the fight. "There wasn't much we could do about it. I guess it happens to somebody every week in the current state of the world, and unfortunately that happened to me."
While frustrating, the decision has worked in his favour. Rather than taking on an elite wrestler in Gillespie, Riddell will return this weekend at UFC 263 against American striker Drew Dober. Ranked No 13 in the division, Dober, like Riddell, prefers to keep the fight standing.
"I watched Drew and thought this guy likes to come forward and fight so it should be fun," Riddell said of the matchup. "I got pretty excited a couple of weeks ago – I don't watch it at the start of the camp or I might get excited a little too early.
"Preparing for a striker is good for me, because it's something I've been doing my whole life, so it's a little bit easier to transition to that camp versus going against a collegiate wrestler like Gregor. So, it's cool; I think it's worked in my favour."
Riddell (9-1; 3-0 UFC) has made a splash since joining the UFC in late 2019, with three wins from as many bouts against high level prospects - most recently in September last year. He's been rewarded with a shot to get a number next to his name in arguably UFC's most competitive division.
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Dober, 32, has been a known quantity with the UFC since making his debut in 2013. In 16 bouts with the promotion, Dober has a 9-6 (1 no-contest) record. Four of his losses have come by submission, while he dropped his first two bouts with the promotion by decision. In 34 career bouts, Dober has only been knocked out once – back in 2011.
It's a bout many fans believe will be a contender for the $50,000 Fight of the Night bonus come the end of the event. Riddell said while it was nice so many people were acknowledging the high-level of himself and Dober, he had other plans on his mind.
"You're in this business to get tested and fight the best people, and if two really high-level people go at each other and it does end up the fight of the night, it's kind of a compliment, I think," Riddell said.
"I think a lot of people think and would like it to be a very even striking match and we come out with some headaches, but my intention is not to have that.
"I like him and he's a nice guy, but I intend on murking him."
The card will be headlined by fellow Kiwi and Riddell's City Kickboxing teammate Israel Adesanya, who puts his UFC middleweight title on the line against Marvin Vettori.