Fans, pundits, coaches, and fellow fighters are all interested in seeing Yair Rodriguez face the toughest test of his mixed martial arts career at UFC 211. Regardless of the outcome Saturday night in Dallas, the rise for Rodriguez is just beginning.
Fighting Frankie Edgar in 2017 is a career-making opportunity that not every young featherweight prospect would be willing to take on. Following his dismantling of B.J. Penn earlier this year, Yair Rodriguez was asking for Edgar in particular, according to UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby. A 24-year-old with 11 career fights requesting a bout with a future UFC Hall of Famer and former lightweight champion. Yep.
The winner of The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America in 2014, Rodriguez has just one loss on his record. Getting knocked out in his third career fight in December of 2012, he’s since rebounded, and is 6-0 in the UFC to go along with his 10-1 overall record. Of those six fights in the sport’s biggest promotion, Rodriguez has featured on four pay-per-views, and headlined two Fight Night events.
That much of a push, especially for a fighter clearly still developing, isn’t something every UFC competitor has access to. Just ask Nate Diaz.
Luckily, Rodriguez is from a country the UFC is always trying to gain more fans in: Mexico. Following the likes of Cain Velasquez and Diego Sanchez, Rodriguez and his highlight-reel finishes are at the top of the UFC’s list of “Next Big Things” when it comes to their Mexican prospect. Rodriguez was out with promotion President Dana White a week before his bout with Edgar, taking in the atmosphere at the Mexican Superfight in Las Vegas between Canelo Alvarez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. That match, which reportedly drew more than one million PPV buys, has Rodriguez, and the UFC, thinking big.
“I can be bigger (than Alvarez),” Rodriguez told reporters leading up to UFC 211 (h/t MMAJunkie) . “Mexican people, they already have a lot of boxing stars. But they don’t have an MMA star in Mexico. It’s just me. I’m going to be that star. I’m already a star in Mexico, but I’m going to be even bigger than that, because I have all the Latin American market behind me, and part of the United States market. I have all these advantages.”
Along with announcing the promotion’s return to Mexico City on August 5th, the UFC recently agreed to a long-term broadcast deal with FOX networks in Latin America. Reaching more than 40 million households in 17 countries, Rodriguez’s promotional push isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Especially if he defeats Edgar.
A win catapults “El Pantera” into the featherweight title race. Edgar has proven his worth at both 155 and 145-pounds, and becoming the fourth fighter to defeat “The Answer” in his nearly 30-fight career would be a massive accomplishment. His likely reward? A title-shot against the winner of Jose Aldo and Max Holloway’s unification bout at UFC 212 in June.
While Edgar himself may be in a sort of “no man’s land” when it comes to getting another crack at the featherweight belt, the options for Rodriguez at 145-pounds are plentiful.
After what many are considering a rushed matchup with a talent the likes of Frankie Edgar, following a weirder matchup with B.J. Penn, predicting what the UFC will do with Rodirguez next is anyone’s guess. A win over Edgar, something only Aldo has among ranked featherweights, would give “El Pantera” a solid argument for a shot at the title.
What if he loses? The current underdog, Rodriguez isn’t expected by many to leave the Octagon victorious at UFC 211. Even so, a loss wouldn’t set Rodriguez back as far as it might some other young prospects in the promotion. The next bout will put Rodriguez at a dozen in his career, and getting some time in the Octagon with a fighter as well-rounded and battle-tested as Edgar has value.
How valuable that opportunity is, especially in a loss, is up to Rodriguez.
He’ll be fighting Edgar’s pace, stamina, mindset, and more. Edgar’s experience edge is more than just an edge as well, with eight UFC title fights under the New Jersey-native’s belt. Those are things that Rodriguez can’t compete with. Yet.
But, by taking this fight at this point in his career, the Mexican prospect is evaluating both the short and long term. Looking to gain that experience, while risking some of the momentum he’s built to this point, is something we should respect and appreciate from Rodriguez. He may be fighting Edgar a little early in his career, but that doesn’t mean only one outcome results in success. The success might just come a bit later. And that’s okay.
A marquee victory at this point in Rodriguez’s career would ensure his push from the promotion is stronger than ever. Meanwhile a loss doesn’t derail the talent-filled hype train and gives him a glimpse of the top-tier of the UFC’s 145-pound division and what it takes to compete at the highest level. Regardless of the outcome, he will have the promotion behind him following UFC 211, ensuring Rodriguez’s rise continues for the foreseeable future.