August 9, 2016

UFC Fight Night 92: Matchmakers Have Plenty of Options For Yair Rodriguez

By Adam Martin

UFC Fight Night 92 was essentially Yair Rodriguez' card, and the TUF Latin America winner lived up to his end, defeating Alex Caceres by split decision in the five-round main event, a bout that won each man a $50,000 "Fight of the Night" bonus.

Rodriguez showed off his flashy striking attack in the fight, as he basically spent the entire first round throwing spinning switch kicks and generally attempting to make a mockery of Caceres, who actually fought decently well
in the fight, all things considered. Despite fighting at a high elevation and using all kinds of crazy attacks that eat cardio, Rodriguez didn't tire at all in the fight, going hard for 25 minutes and showing off the skills that have many believing in him as a future featherweight champion.

Prior to the bout, I wrote about how the UFC has done a fantastic job with its matchmaking for Rodriguez, giving him the slow but steady build in the featherweight division in each successive fight. Now, by taking out a 15-fight UFC veteran in Caceres, the UFC needs to give Rodriguez another step up for his next fight.

Although they could match him up with a top-five opponent, since some of them are available to fight, there's really no rush. After all, it's not like UFC Featherweight Champion Conor McGregor is defending his title anytime soon. So even though Rodriguez probably has the skills to fight a top contender at this point, there's no need to rush him up the ladder that soon.

There were actually a number of featherweight bouts at UFC Fight Night 92, which means these fighters will be on the same schedule as Rodriguez. The winners of those fights were Dennis Bermudez, Teruto Ishihara, and Cub Swanson, and the losers were Rony Jason, Horacio Gutierrez, and Tatsuya Kawajiri.

Let's comb through the winners first, as the UFC generally matches up those coming off of wins against one another. Bermudez is ranked a bit higher than Rodriguez and is clearly one of the most talented and dangerous featherweights in the division, but he also has some flaws in his game, namely his chin and submission defense, both of which Rodriguez could exploit. Still, Bermudez has the wrestling game that could drown out Rodriguez' special attacks, so maybe the UFC won't go this route, even though it is an option.

As for Ishihara, who also won at UFC Fight Night 92, there's no reason for the UFC to match him up with Rodriguez, as he is a fellow prospect who should take a different path. So that possible matchup is off the table.

That brings us to Swanson, who beat Kawajiri in a spirited affair to retain his position among the top fighters at 145 lbs. Swanson is one of the most experienced fighters in the weight class, and although he is on a slight decline, it would still be tough for the UFC to justify matching him up with Rodriguez, unless the plan is to give Rodriguez a title shot with a victory. But with McGregor not defending his belt anytime soon, there's no reason to rush it, so as much as Swanson vs. Rodriguez would be a killer fight, it's probably not happening anytime soon.

Looking at the losers of this fight, we can probably write off Jason and Gutierrez as neither of them is ranked, and neither is highly regarded. Kawajiri, though, does make sense for Rodriguez, as although he lost to Swanson, he's still ranked in the Top 15 of the “official” UFC featherweight rankings, and he's a veteran of the sport. If Rodriguez beat him, it would be the biggest win of his career. The UFC has been more open to matching up winners and losers as of late, so this matchup is definitely possible.

As for other featherweights on the roster, the UFC could match up Rodriguez with guys like Hacran Dias, Brian Ortega, or Darren Elkins next. There's also Jeremy Stephens, but that may simply be too much too soon. Basically, the UFC matchmakers have a lot of options right now, and it will be interesting to see what they do.

Rodriguez is one of the most special talents in the UFC today, and his matchmaking could make or break the trajectory of his career. Hopefully the UFC chooses the right matchup for him next, and he ends up having the career we all hope, want, and expect him to. But in the meantime, we'll have to wait and see what happens.

UFC Fight Night 92
Alex Caceres vs. Yair Rodriguez: Yair Rodriguez def. Alex Caceres via split decision (46-49, 48-47, 48-47).

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UFC Fight Night 92: Caceres vs. Rodriguez took place on August 6, 2016 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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