UFC Long Island: Ortega and Rodriguez Collide As Their Division Mulls Its Future

Brian Ortega and Yair Rodriguez, UFC Long Island
ELMONT, NEW YORK - JULY 15: (L-R) Opponents Brian Ortega and Yair Rodriguez of Mexico face off during the UFC Fight Night ceremonial weigh-in at UBS Arena on July 15, 2022 in Elmont, New York. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

While the fight between Brian Ortega and Yair Rodriguez already promises to be an exciting one, the fact that it comes at a pivotal time in the featherweight division makes it one of the best headliners of the year at UFC Long Island.

It feels so long ago now: the third round against Alexander Volkanovski.  After struggling to deal with the striking of the champion, Brian Ortega locked in a deep guillotine that even Volkanovski admitted he felt would be the end of his reign.  Seconds away from winning the world title, the champion held on to eventually escape and retain the title by decision.  Ortega was left to regroup, and once again mull over his second consecutive one-sided loss in a title bout.

It undid the hard work that Ortega had put in to reach this point.  A loss to former kingpin Max Holloway in 2018 was proceeded by a litany of injuries that kept him out of the cage until late 2020.  When he finally did return, it was as a drastically different fighter who routed perennial contender Chan Sung Jung.  The performance was impressive and came at the perfect time for “T-City” to take another shot at the world title.  Though he was ultimately unsuccessful in the attempt, he remains in the hunt against the elite of the division as even the slightest hint of turnover could see him get another opportunity with a victory.

Yair Rodriguez is the one with the most to gain, if the cards play out in his favor.  Once one of the UFC’s most highly promoted young prospects, “El Pantera” burst onto the scene as a fresh faced 22 year-old who won The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America behind a fan-friendly style that quickly made him must-watch television.  His career took off to a perfect 6-0 start in the UFC, but he was soon matched up with former champion Frankie Edgar in 2017 who cooled his ascent up the ladder.

Injuries and other issues kept him out of the cage for much of the next several years, but he made his sparing appearances count.  His buzzer-beating, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat knockout over “The Korean Zombie” in 2018 lives on in sports highlights all over the internet.  His bouts with Jeremy Stephens, the first being considered essentially non-existent by many due to ending early due to an eye poke, held up his 2019.  But it is his impressive showing in last year’s Fight of the Year contender against Max Holloway in which he pushed the longtime champion in an exciting contest that raised his stock as a true title hopeful.  As the most high profile opponent who has yet to face Volkanovski, a strong performance will likely propel him into a title bout in his next outing.

While on-paper the bout is expected to pit the grappling of Ortega against the striking of Rodriguez, the versatile attack of Ortega is expected to be the biggest x-factor.   On the feet, Ortega will look to sit down on heavier shots and use more physicality and forward pressure to keep Rodriguez from settling into his offense.  From there, a steady diet of takedown attempts from the clinch are expected as he holds a great advantage on the mat.  For Rodriguez, working behind his length and a jab are expected as he exercises his shot selection to keep Ortega from closing the distance.  Assuming he is effective, then keeping the pace will be his biggest priority to staying ahead on the scorecards.

Should Alexander Volkanovski stay at featherweight for his next fight, then Yair Rodriguez is expected to be next to fight for the title with a victory whether it is against the champion or against a top-contender like Josh Emmett if an interim belt is created.  While an interim title challenge could be possible should Ortega prevail, it is likely that he will also set his sights on opponents such as the winner of the upcoming bout between Giga Chikadze and Sodiq Yusuff.