UFC 290: Alexander Volkanovski Stops Yair Rodriguez in Third, Unifies Featherweight Title

Alexander Volkanovski and Yair Rodriguez, UFC 290
Alexander Volkanovski and Yair Rodriguez, UFC 290 ceremonial weigh-in Credit: Eddie Law/Cageside Press

Saturday night’s UFC 290 turned out to be an absolute barnburner of a card, with the annual International Fight Week show featuring a record-setting number of quick finishes as well as some bloody, drawn out wars. But it was Alexander Volkanovski and Yair Rodriguez, in a featherweight title unification bout, set to close out the show.

“El Pantera” Rodriguez was the second Mexican champion to make the walk on Saturday, with the interim title hold following Brandon Moreno. Moreno, for his part, did not leave Las Vegas with gold still in hand.

Rodriguez was looking for a different result, but it did not turn out to be a great night for Mexican champs.

Early on, Volkanovski walked the taller, longer interim champ down, flashing some stance switches and avoiding a question mark kick. But it wasn’t long — just under two minutes in — when Australia’s Volkanovski planted Rodriguez on his back. From there, Volkanovski would spend basically all time remaining controlling and doing just enough damage to maintain top position.

Round two opened with kicks from Rodriguez, who looked to keep Volkanovski on the outside. That didn’t last long, with Volkanovski punching his way in and dragging Rodriguez down — though this time he did not stay down long. Right back to his feet, Rodriguez was forced to fight hands, as Volkanovski held on to a body lock, and landed another takedown. Volkanovski began dropping punches from a three-quarter mount with one leg in, later ending in half-guard. Rodriguez, meanwhile, was bloodied, and as in the first, unable to escape the heavy top game of Alexander Volkanovski.

Between rounds, ref Herb Dean warned Rodriguez for both grabbing the fence, and his opponent’s gloves. “Don’t bring me into this,” admonished Dean.

In the third, Rodriguez needed to stay upright, and find a way to inflict at least some damage on his Australian counterpart. In the first half of the round, the pair traded kicks, with Rodriguez finally getting a few solid blows to connect, finding some success finally with both his hands and kicks. Rodriguez mixed a kick to the body with a front kick up the middle and a leg kick; Volkanovski seemingly acknowledged that Rodriguez had caught him, but fought on. A head butt moments later led to ref Dean calling for a time out; Volkanovski had initiated it coming in, the top of his skull crashing into Rodriguez’s jaw.

After a minute or so the pair got back underway, a minute and a half roughly remaining. The best round of the fight thus far for Rodriguez continued as he fired a high kick, then got the better of an exchange — then landed another head kick. But as the final minute arrived, Volkanovski landed a right hand, hurting Rodriguez, backing him to the fence and unloading uppercuts before landing a massive takedown. That was followed by a torrent of lefts and rights leaving Rodriguez covering up! Yair was given ample time to defend, but couldn’t, and the fight ended there — with Volkanovski facing only minimal adversity from start to finish.

After the win, Volkanovski admitted that during camp, he had some fear of Yair’s dangerous striking. But, he noted, he’s a well rounded fighter. One with the history books in his sights. “I’m really coming for all those records. I’m pretty close to knocking off a few of those. Sky’s the limit. I might be in this position right now, but I guarantee I’ll be in the gym next week, busting my ass again.”

Volkanovski also revealed that he needs surgery on his arm, which might put him on the shelf for a little bit.

Official Result: Alexander Volkanovski def. Yair Rodriguez by TKO (punches), Round 3, 4:19