UFC 284: Rodriguez and Emmett Lock Horns with Interim Gold on the Line

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 11: (L-R) Opponents Yair Rodriguez of Mexico and Josh Emmett face off during the UFC 284 ceremonial weigh-in at RAC Arena on February 11, 2023 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Perennial contenders Yair Rodriguez and Josh Emmett will look to set up an epic collision with featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski when they compete for interim gold at UFC 284.

It is said that all things are meant to happen in their own time, and that feels particularly true for Saturday’s UFC 284 co-headliners.  For Yair Rodriguez, Saturday feels like the penultimate step of the plan that was put into place years ago.  An exciting contender who hailed from a country that the UFC had been looking to build a foothold in, “El Pantera” was one of the early beneficiaries of the promotion’s sale to Endeavor as the then 25 year-old prospect was quickly being sent to high profile events such as New York Fashion Week.  Inside the cage, he was on a fast-track to the UFC title as he was paired with former champion Frankie Edgar in a high profile bout in 2017.  Unfortunately, the bout was too much too soon as Rodriguez was dominated and his momentum was brought to a screeching halt.

The next several years competitively were tumultuous for the upstart who had previously shown a wealth of promise.  He scored the comeback of a lifetime more than a year later against “The Korean Zombie” but would be out almost another year again before his headlining spot in his home country was cut short after he landed an accidental eye-poke that ended his bout with Jeremy Stephens seconds into their bout.  He would prevail in their rebooking months later, but then saw several plans for a bout with Zabit Magomedsharipov fall apart.  Yair would not fight for two years until he faced former champion Max Holloway in another high profile spot, losing in a Fight of the Year contender.  Last July, he returned to action only to have another injury mar his night as his opponent Brian Ortega suffered a shoulder injury in the first round of their bout that ended the fight early.

Josh Emmett is a contender much in the same vein as Leon Edwards and Beneil Dariush have been before him.  A respectable contender who is on a win streak at the right time in the division, his soft spoken demeanor and workman-like style have made it difficult to catapult him into title contention over big names such as Holloway and Ortega.  But where it once seemed that the Team Alpha Male product would be the odd man out, he is now the one with an opportunity to be the main character in the conversation.

A professional since 2011, Emmett went 9-0 to get called up to the UFC in 2016 where he quickly put together back-to-back victories inside the Octagon.  He would encounter his first stumble, against Des Green, before scoring another two victories.  He would fall to longtime veteran Jeremy Stephens in 2018 before embarking on his latest five fight win-streak that has seen him best heavy-hitters and veterans such as Shane Burgos, Dan Ige, Mirsad Bektić, and Michael Johnson.  Last June, he scored the biggest victory of his career in winning his first main event in a competitive scrap with fellow slugger Calvin Kattar.

Though both are veterans with their fair share of experience and well-roundedness, most expect that the grappling of Emmett could be the deciding factor.  The Sacramento product is more comfortable utilizing an attack that goes from the feet to the mat and if he is effective it could be the deciding factor against the dynamic Rodriguez who does his best work in the middle of the Octagon.  Distance management will be the key for Rodriguez who is expected to use his speed and range to keep Emmett from getting into close range.

The next step for the winner will be determined not only by the result of the main event on Saturday but possibly also by the long-term plans of champion Alexander Volkanovski and the UFC.  Given his dominance at featherweight, it is not out of the question that should Volkanovski win impressively on Saturday that he will elect to defend the lightweight title in his next bout.  That would leave the Rodriguez vs. Emmett winner to likely take another bout, which from a marketing stand-point could raise interest for a unification fight as it develops a new contender that will appear as a greater threat to Volkanovski when they do collide.