May 11, 2017

UFC 211: Win Over Edgar Should Earn Yair Rodriguez Featherweight Title Shot

By Adam Martin

In 2014, the UFC put out a casting call for featherweights to compete on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America. One of the fighters who tried out for the show was an unknown 21-year-old Mexican fighter named Yair Rodriguez, who at the time was 4-1 while fighting mostly on the Mexican regional circuit. When the press release for the show came out listing the cast, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who recognized him.

On the show, Rodriguez won both of his fights, first tapping out Humberto Brown and then knocking out Rodolfo Rubio Perez. At UFC 180 he was matched up against Leonardo Morales and won a unanimous decision, winning TUF and earning a UFC contract. It wasn’t his greatest performance inside the Octagon, but clearly Rodriguez had some talent. Even still, not many at the time would have predicted he would be where he is now.

For his sophomore UFC effort, Rodriguez was matched up against fellow prospect Charles Rosa at UFC 188, this time on PPV. It’s kind of surprising that Rodriguez was the underdog in that fight, but at the time no one really knew how good he was. Rosa proved to be a tough challenge for Rodriguez, but he was able to edge out a split decision and won a share of “Fight of the Night” in the process. This is when fans started to realize he was an exciting fighter and that he had more talent than he showed in his UFC debut.

The UFC decided to finally give Rodriguez a fight outside of Mexico, and for his next outing at UFC 192, he took on Dan Hooker, who at the time was coming off of a huge KO win over Hatsu Hioki. Rodriguez was able to take home a unanimous decision win over Hooker, and the third straight win earned him another main-card PPV slot, this time at UFC 197 when he fought Andre Fili. This was the breakout performance of Rodriguez’ career, as he was able to knock Fili out with an incredible flying switch kick; the knockout not only earned him a Performance of the Night bonus, but also a slew of new fans -- and a whole lot of hype.

The hype train continued for Rodriguez in his next fight, as he finally got his first opportunity to headline a card against Alex Caceres in the main event of UFC Fight Night 92. Though Caceres proved to be a tougher matchup than most figured he would be, Rodriguez was still able to edge out a split decision and win another Fight of the Night bonus, his second in the UFC and third bonus overall.

The win over Caceres was enough to earn Rodriguez another headlining slot, and this time he took on MMA legend BJ Penn in the main event of UFC Fight Night 103. This was a strange matchup because Penn had not fought in three years and was coming off of multiple losses, but the UFC clearly believed that fighting Penn was the best way to grow Rodriguez’ starpower. It worked, because Rodriguez got the most media attention of his career leading up to the fight and then absolutely destroyed Penn in the cage, becoming the first man to knock Penn down in a fight and becoming the first man to knock Penn out with strikes. It was an eye-opening performance for Rodriguez, and even though it came over a washed-up Penn, it was still the kind of win that made fans, the media, and the UFC realize that this guy is for real and absolutely has the potential to one day be the UFC Featherweight Champion.

Well, it looks like the UFC believes that day may be sooner than later, because just a few months after thrashing Penn, Rodriguez now gets the biggest fight of his career to date when he takes on former UFC Lightweight Champion Frankie Edgar on the pay-per-view portion of the stacked UFC 211 card. Rodriguez was the one who asked the UFC for Edgar, and the promotion granted his request. This is one of the best PPV cards the UFC has ever put together, but if you asked fans what fight they are most intrigued by, most would say Rodriguez vs. Edgar because it has the potential to be a high-paced, violent, exciting fight, and a fight that could very well set Rodriguez up to fight for the featherweight title by the end of 2017.

Obviously this is no gimme for Rodriguez, as Edgar is one of the top featherweights in the world and is notorious for his iron chin, but if anyone is going to knock him out it’s going to be Rodriguez. What he showed against Penn was otherworldly, and as good as Edgar is, he’s slowing down now in his career. And although it’s a difficult stylistic matchup for Rodriguez on paper (he’s the underdog), it’s still a fight he can win. If he does, he should be fighting for the belt by the end of the year against the winner of UFC 212’s Jose Aldo vs. Max Holloway.

For a guy who had little hype going on TUF and even in his first few UFC fights, the way Rodriguez has risen from prospect to contender in the stacked featherweight division has been unbelievable to watch. At just 24, Rodriguez is already close to the Top 5, and a win over Edgar would move him into the top three, and put him on the verge of a title shot. He’s one of the most exciting young fighters in the sport right now, and don’t be surprised if he’s wearing gold around his waist by this time next year. Rodriguez thinks he’s on Edgar’s level; now he has the opportunity to go out and prove it this weekend at UFC 211 in what could be one of the best fights of the year.

UFC 211: Miocic vs. Dos Santos 2 takes place May 13, 2017 at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.

Click the stars to rate how good you think UFC 211 will be.

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