There has been a lot of reporting this week that Yair Rodriguez will fight for the UFC’s featherweight title next if he gets past Brian Ortega on Saturday in the main event of UFC on ABC 3 in Elmont, New York.
Now, that could well happen, but Rodriguez admits he was promised no such thing, even though he’s been quoted publicly that way.
What he was told is that if he wins, he could fight for the title next. But he also could not.
There are no guarantees.
But perhaps the one guarantee that Rodriguez can make as he heads into what is most likely the final fights of his 20s is what will happen in the Octagon Saturday afternoon.
“Crazy,” he said. “Lots of things going on, probably.”
Crazy entertaining has been Rodriguez’s M.O. since he joined the UFC in 2016. UFC president Dana White had hoped that Rodriguez would be the first of a flood of talented MMA fighters to join the promotion from Mexico.
Fighting is huge in the Mexican culture and many of the greatest boxers in history — as well as many of that sport’s most memorable fights — were Mexican.
Rodriguez is the type of fighter that White had in mind when he began looking to develop the Mexican market: Aggressive, fearless, always attacking and highly entertaining.
It’s the style the majority of boxers from Mexico use and it’s one that Rodriguez has adopted in MMA. He’s been in the Fight of the Night in half of his 10 UFC bouts (not including his no-contest with Jeremy Stephens) and he’s won Performance of the Night three times. Given that Ortega, who is an American of Mexican descent, has earned three Fight of the Night bonuses and one Performance of the Night in his last five bouts, it shapes up to be a wild bout.
But as much as Rodriguez loves to put on a show, he’s in a different position than he was when he entered the UFC. He’s ranked third at 145 now and on the precipice of his first title shot. He turns 30 in October. He’s fought the best in the world and knows what it takes at the highest level.
He lost a decision to former champion Max Holloway in his last outing, a Fight of the Night brawl in Las Vegas that earned him a lot of praise. At this stage of his career, though, praise and public acclaim isn’t really what matters to him.
“A loss is a good learning experience if you take it that way, but it also isn’t a win,” Rodriguez said. “It’s a loss in my career, a little setback. But I learned from that fight and so I want to take the good out of it. Max had a lot of experience on me and he taught me some things. He showed me that I needed to keep my strategy and stick to my strategy instead of going too wild on things like jumping around too much or doing crazy stuff.”
Rodriguez loves to perform leaping and spinning moves and his spinning back elbow knockout of Chan Sung Jung remains one of the greatest finishes in the UFC’s acclaimed history.
Ortega’s style is inevitably going to lead to scrambles and a frenetic pace, but he doesn’t want to get caught up with the emotions of the moment.
“Stylistically, talking about styles, Brian Ortega is a super hard opponent and he’s a really explosive guy,” Rodriguez said. “I have to be careful with the scrambles and not put myself in bad positions. I have to limit the mistakes. With the scrambles, he’s really good at taking advantage of those positions, so I have to be aware at all times about what is going on and where we are.”
Rodriguez is always intense, but there’s more of an edge to him this week because he’s aware of the significance of the fight. The most important bout for any fighter is always the one upcoming, but there are situations where a loss isn’t a killer.
But being so close to a championship shot, a loss in this spot would be devastating, if not a killer. And so he just wants to use the lessons he learned in fights against former champions Holloway and Frankie Edgar and force the UFC to choose him to fight for the belt.
The only thing he can control is how he performs and that’s what he will focus upon.
“I’ve fought all these guys and little by little, you add things after you fight them and put them away,” Rodriguez said. “And sooner or later, you’re not the young guy or the newcomer but you’ve added all these tricks and learned these things and you’re the veteran. That’s where I am going into this fight and I feel really great about it.”