UFC Vegas 42: Can Rodriguez Pose a Challenge to Holloway’s Brilliance?

Max Holloway and Yair Rodriguez, UFC Vegas 42
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - NOVEMBER 12: (L-R) Opponents Max Holloway and Yair Rodriguez of Mexico face off during the UFC Fight Night weigh-in at UFC APEX on November 12, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Top ranked contender Yair Rodriguez is looking to have a career breakthrough by upsetting the still brilliant former champion Max Holloway at UFC Vegas 42.

To put it into words, Max Holloway’s last performance may be the most exciting one-sided five round contest in MMA history.  “Blessed” put up a statistical clinic over Calvin Kattar in January, landing a record 445 significant strikes.  That’s more than any two fighters combined have ever landed in a single fight in the UFC.  It only added to his legacy as a legend in the making after defeating the likes of José Aldo, Frankie Edgar, Brian Ortega, and others while he was in the midst of a thirteen fight win-streak.

Normally, a victory over Kattar would be another significant feather in any contender’s cap.  But a fighter of Holloway’s stature is seeking loftier goals.  Specifically, the opportunity to secure a second shot at reclaiming his title against Alexander Volkanovski.  It is a testament to Holloway’s skills and popularity that he is even in the conversation for an unprecedented third fight for the title against the same person after losing the first two bouts relatively recently.  Both Volkanovski and UFC President Dana White appear to be on board with the idea, and that means this Saturday for the former champion is about selling the trilogy in 2022.

In 2017, Yair Rodriguez was at the height of receiving the proverbial push from the UFC.  Rodriguez was 6-0 in the Octagon and had won The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America.  More than having headlined two events inside the Octagon, he was also making crossover appearances after the company was sold to WME and was seen at events like New York Fashion Week.  It led to a breakthrough opportunity as he faced former lightweight champion and perennial featherweight title contender Frankie Edgar.  While Rodriguez had been brilliant leading up to the fight, Edgar brutalized the young prospect and showed he still had much room to grow.  It also led to a period of inactivity as injuries and other factors have seen Rodriguez only fight three times in the past four years.

Rodriguez has maximized on his three (technically two) appearances since that fight with Edgar at a time when the division has been gridlocked.  He was on his way to a clear unanimous decision loss when he delivered the buzzer-beating knockout of the year against “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung in 2018, a fight that he took on two week’s notice after being away from the cage for over a year.  More than a year later, an accidental eye poke in the opening seconds against Jeremy Stephens led to a No Contest.  The two would quickly run it back, with Rodriguez prevailing by unanimous decision a month later.

The state of the featherweight division has opened a door for “El Pantera.”  Previously, he was in a race against fellow striking dynamo Zabit Magomedsharipov to be the one to break through to the title picture.  However, Magomedsharipov’s rumored retirement due to his health and a new champion in Alexander Volkanovski have created an opportunity for Rodriguez to break right into the title picture if he can upset a world class talent in Holloway.

When talking about the style match-up, the boxing prowess of Holloway will be tested against the amazing kicks from the Tae Kwon Do background of Rodriguez.  To make it clear, Rodriguez will not be able to get away with kick after kick and win the fight.  He must hide his kicks behind a committed boxing attack as that will make Holloway a stationary target for him to chop away at with his best weapons.  For Holloway, keeping the fight at close-range is paramount to forcing Rodriguez onto his heels where he has historically struggled.  Though most expect and desire a striking battle, takedowns for Holloway to completely neutralize Rodriguez would also be an efficient strategy.

The winner of the fight is the unquestioned next contender for reigning champion Alexander Volkanovski who is on an astounding 21 fight win-streak.  The fight world knows that Max Holloway is his perfect dance partner and that the two push each other to their best.  Holloway is heavily favored to win on Saturday behind his last performance and overall pedigree, but Rodriguez would be a breath of fresh air in the title picture and ride an overwhelming wave of momentum into his own title shot if he bests the former featherweight king.