Hot bantamweight prospects Christian Rodriguez and Cameron Saaiman faced off at UFC Vegas 81, and for now only Rodriguez will be able to continue his rapid ascent up the ranks as he earned the decision in a close, well-rounded, exciting fight.
Both men entered the bout undefeated at bantamweight; Saaiman came over from South Africa having never been defeated as a professional while ‘C-Rod’ only has one loss, which came up a weight class on short notice in his UFC debut. With Rodriguez being 25 and Saaiman only 22, these fighters represent the future of the most stacked division in the sport. Unfortunately, Christian Rodriguez missed weight by four pounds and forfeited 25% of his purse as a result.
Saaiman came out using his kicks to attack C-Rod. Rodriguez landed an elbow and tried to clinch to get a takedown but Cameron broke free. Saaiman went back to circling the octagon to avoid the wrestling of Rodriguez but Christian caught him and tripped him to the mat. As Saaiman tried to get back to his feet C-Rod tried to lock up a d’Arce which seemed tight for a moment, but Saaiman escaped and got back to his feet. Saaiman spun like a top at times, routinely using spinning back elbows which rarely had an effect.
When Saaiman focused on more basic techniques he had more success, slightly out-striking Rodriguez, who did still have his own moments of success on the feet. Late in the round one of Cameron’s elbows caught Christian on the corner of his eye and cut him open. Surprisingly, Saaiman shot a takedown in the closing seconds but it was stuffed and the round ended.
The second round saw more slick striking from both men but Saaiman had more volume again with his kick-heavy offense. C-Rod had some good counter boxing when he could get Saaiman into pocket exchanges. Rodriguez landed some good knees on a level changing Cameron early in the round, one of which Saaiman tried to turn into a takedown but it was stuffed. Ninety seconds into the round, Saaiman shot another takedown which Christian stuffed and turned into another d’Arce attempt, but Cameron remained calm, escaped, and ended up on top. As C-Rod tried to stand up, Saaiman scrambled well and took his back. However it was not long before Rodriguez turned and shook his foe off the top and then took Saaiman’s back himself. C-Rod got Saaiman to belly down but then Saaiman scrambled free.
C-Rod attempted a triangle but failed and got his back momentarily taken, but he again shook Cameron off the top and again took his back immediately. The slick grappling of these young men was beyond impressive. Christian almost fell of the top but stayed on the back with only one hook in and landed some hard strikes to the side of his opponent’s head. Saaiman rolled and tried to entangle ad leg but could not get it deep enough to really make a good attempt. Rodriguez swiveled out and found the head of Cameron to be wide open, so he dropped some strikes on it. The pair stood up as the round drew to a close.
The score before the final round could easily have been 19-19 as far as anyone knew, so it was up to each fighter to go out there and put a stamp on the third round in order to seal a win. Rodriguez pressured to start the round and landed some good punches as Saaiman looked worn and somewhat tired. Christian was getting the better of the striking clearly for the first time when Cameron shot and failed a takedown attempt. Saaiman did do better on the feet after that point, fighting his way into the round and having a good flurry of strikes while pressuring two minutes into the round. Rodriguez came back with a good collar tie knee and elbow.
The ebb and flow of the striking in the third round was beautiful to watch and they seemed evenly matched. There was no grappling until Rodriguez tripped with just over a minute left. He turned it into a successful takedown but Saaiman stood right back up. They kept up their violent dance in a razor-thin final round; neither man was able to separate themselves before the final bell which rang after a wild, whirling final fifteen seconds of the round.
The future of the bantamweight division is clearly in good hands with prospects such as these, but only one could leave as the victor. Joe Martinez read out the scorecards, revealing that the judges scored the fight unanimously for Christian Rodriguez, with two judges giving him all three rounds. He used the post-fight interview to apologize for his weight miss.
Official Result: Christian Rodriguez def. Cameron Saaiman by Unanimous Decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)