By Adam Martin
One of the criticisms of the UFC is that the promotion's matchmakers often push prospects too soon, and those prospects crumble under the pressure and never reach their potential.
An example of the UFC pushing a prospect too soon is Erick Silva. Silva looked excellent in his first three UFC fights, stopping Luis Ramos, Carlo Prater (a DQ, but a terrible call by referee Mario Yamasaki), and Charlie Brenneman in his first three fights.
Everyone saw that he had some serious potential. But the UFC rushed him into the shark tank and gave him Jon Fitch in his fourth UFC fight. It was just too much for Silva's fourth bout, and he lost, and ever since the Fitch fight he has never really been able to get back on track, going 4-4 since then. He was once labeled as a future welterweight champion, and now Silva is fighting Brandon Thatch not to get cut and end up in Bellator.
Of course, Silva is not the only prospect the UFC has rushed. Thatch, who I just mentioned, is another. Another one is Dan Lauzon from back in the day. Or how about Chan Sung Jung, who won three fights in the UFC and then got thrown into the cage with featherweight legend Jose Aldo. You could even include Paige VanZant in here, although she still has the opportunity to bounce back. The UFC doesn't always rush its prospects, but when it does, it often doesn't turn out pretty.
But matchmakers, like anyone else in their professions, learn from their mistakes, and it seems clear to me from the way the UFC has matchmade for star featherweight prospect Yair Rodriguez that they don't want to make the same mistake they did with guys like Silva and Jung in the past.
I really like the way the UFC has gradually given Rodriguez, the TUF Latin America winner, his steps up in competition. In "Pantera's" first UFC fight he fought and beat Leonardo Morales to claim the TUF LA title. In his next fight, he took on Charles Rosa and won a "Fight of the Night" bonus in a split decision win. In his third UFC fight, he beat Dan Hooker, who was coming off of a win over Hatsu Hioki. Then in his fourth UFC fight, he fought and defeated Andre Fili via flying head kick KO in a "Performance of the Night" showing at UFC 197. These were all gradual steps up in competition, and Rodriguez showed he belonged each and every time.
Alex Caceres in the main event of UFC Fight Night 92. Although Caceres isn't a ranked featherweight, he does have almost 15 fights in the UFC, and he's looked great since moving up to 145 lbs. He's also a guy who will always bring the fight. Plus, because this fight is five rounds, it gives Rodriguez the experience he needs before he fights guys who are in the top 10 at 145 lbs and who have likely fought in championship rounds before. I'm still not convinced the fans in Utah are loving Rodriguez vs. Caceres as a main event, but at the same time, it's really good matchmaking from Sean Shelby.
I really like how the UFC is bringing Rodriguez along, and if he beats Caceres, it will be interesting to see who he gets after. Perhaps Dennis Bermudez -- who is top-10-ranked and fights Rony Jason in the co-main event -- makes sense. Or maybe Jeremy Stephens, who just beat Renan Barao and needs a fight. But regardless, the UFC has a talented young potential superstar on its hands in Rodriguez, and having learned from their mistakes in the past, its matchmakers have been brilliant with their booking for him thus far in his young career.
UFC Fight Night 92: Caceres vs. Rodriguez takes place on August 6, 2016 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah.