September 19, 2019

UFC Mexico City: Yair Rodriguez Looks To Continue Surge At Featherweight

By Adam Martin

It was almost a year ago when one of the best fights in UFC history took place, between Yair Rodriguez and "The Korean Zombie" Chan Sung Jung. The UFC was celebrating its 25th anniversary and brought a card back to Denver, the birthplace of the Octagon. In the main event were two of the most exciting young fighters in the sport. They put on one of the greatest fights ever, battling for 24 minutes and 59 seconds before Rodriguez KO'd Jung with a stunning upwards elbow. It was a win that Rodriguez badly needed, as his UFC career trajectory had shifted quite a bit since his Octagon debut.

Considered one of the featherweight division's rising stars since winning The Ultimate Fighter Latin America in 2014, Rodriguez looked to be a building block for the promotion as it looked to make headway in Mexico. After defeats of Charles Rosa in a "Fight of the Night", a Dan Hooker decision win, and an incredible flying head kick over Andre Fili, the UFC rewarded him with a main event slot, and he impressed with another "Fight of the Night," en route to defeating Alex Caceres by split decision.


It was then that the UFC decided it was time for Rodriguez to get a step up in competition, booking him against the legend BJ Penn at UFC Fight Night 103. Once again Rodriguez shined, destroying Penn in a star-making performance. Next, the matchmakers decided to give Rodriguez the chance to fight an elite opponent, and booked him against former UFC Lightweight Champion Frankie Edgar. It was a fight he was expected to win, but the fight did not go well for Rodriguez, as Edgar took him down and smashed him with elbows en route to a vicious TKO win. It was a devastating loss that seemed to destroy Rodriguez's confidence.

From there, the UFC tried to set up a fight with Rodriguez and Zabit Magomedsharipov, but after a drawn-out public negotiation, the fight never materialized. And when matchmakers grew tired of those negotiations, Rodriguez was shockingly released. But before Rodriguez could make his debut with Combate Americas, cooler heads prevailed, and Rodriguez ended up re-signing with the promotion. Back in the good graces of White and the UFC brass, he was put into the main event fight against Jung. And after putting on an amazing fight, Rodriguez was once again one of White's favorite fighters.


10 months later, Rodriguez returns at UFC Mexico City this weekend, when he takes on veteran Jeremy Stephens in the main event. In some ways it could be seen as a step down, as Rodriguez wanted to fight a top-five opponent after the Jung win. On the other hand, Stephens is one of the most well-respected fighters in the featherweight division, and another favorite of White. Should Rodriguez defeat him, it would put him in a good position to fight for the featherweight title in his next fight, or after he gets one more win. It's an important fight for Rodriguez as he looks to take the next step in his career, and it should be exciting as hell, regardless of the outcome.

UFC on ESPN+ 17
Yair Rodriguez vs. Jeremy Stephens

UFC on ESPN+ 17: Rodriguez vs. Stephens takes place September 21, 2019 at Mexico City Arena in Mexico City, Mexico.

Click HERE for more UFC on ESPN+ 17 Pre-Fight Analysis


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