There are few fighters as cool under pressure and soft-spoken as Yair Rodriguez. But when the rising featherweight star read that his UFC 211 opponent, Frankie Edgar, called their bout a “Win-Win” situation for the promotion, it got him a little – okay a lot – fired up.
“He (Edgar) says I’m in a win-win situation,” Rodriguez recalled. “He says, ‘If he wins against me, he will build his name.’ One, who does he think he is? Two, if I lose, I’m not supposed to win. What does that mean? That’s being disrespectful to me. I’ve never been disrespectful with nobody, but if people are like that with me, you’re in trouble, man. I don’t care who’s in front of me, I just want to fight with all my heart and I hope he knows that.”
Clearly, Edgar’s comments have poked “El Pantera,” but it’s not surprising that Rodriguez took the words personally. He knows that this is his big step-up fight against a former world champion, and he’s heard some fans and pundits opine that it’s too much too soon for the 24-year-old. Yet after dedicating his life to combat sports, Rodriguez feels that he’s ready, and he should get kudos for taking the risk by stepping up to face Edgar. No matter how anyone feels about the fight though, Rodriguez is not placing his opponent on a pedestal, a lesson he learned when he fought and beat UFC Hall of Famer BJ Penn in January.
“Sometimes you look up to guys, but you look up to them a little bit too much,” he said. “When I fought against BJ, it was like an awakening for me. You have to see everyone as the same. You can’t look down at them, but you can’t look up to them either. It’s one more opponent that’s been preparing for you the same amount of time as you’ve been preparing for them. He’s just a human being – he has a head, two arms and two legs and he’s going to try to take your head away. But that’s what I’ve prepared all my life for. I’ve been training since I was five years old, and people forget about that stuff. I’ve been in contact sports all my life and I know what it takes to win tournaments and championships. People say I don’t have enough experience, but I don’t listen to that. I’m going to prove to everyone that I’m ready for a title shot this year.”
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It’s not just the confidence of youth talking, but the pride of being a Mexican fighter as well. As he was in Las Vegas last weekend for the Canelo Alvarez-Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. bout, I read him a quote from Mexican boxing legend Marco Antonio Barrera:
“A Mexican believes that once you sign that contract, you go into that ring and leave it all there – all your anger, your pride, everything. And whether you win or lose, you can never come back and say that I should have done this, or I should have done that.”
I asked Rodriguez if that was an accurate statement.
“Mexican fighters are proud, and they fight with all their heart,” he said. “And it doesn’t matter what happens out there, you can’t quit. We’re warriors. This is my life, this is the only thing that I do and the only thing I’ve been doing for years. I sleep thinking of it, wake up thinking of it, I eat and drive thinking of it. So nobody’s going to make me quit out there. They can take my arm, they can take my leg, but they will never take my heart. I will never let that happen.”
Edgar, while not Mexican, feels the same way, setting the stage for something special in Dallas this Saturday. Rodriguez agrees.
“It’s going to be a really, really good fight,” he said. “Frankie Edgar is tough. That’s why he’s ranked number two in the world. But I’m younger, I’m hungry, and I’m coming to get everything. This is my dream, this is what I want to do and nobody’s going to stop me. He’s been there, he already knows what it takes, but this is my chance and this is my time. He already had his opportunity and now it’s my time.”