Rodriguez Feels At Home As He Nears His First Interim Title Shot Against Josh Emmett At UFC 284: Makhachev vs Volkanovski in Perth
When the UFC touched down on Long Island in July, Top 5 featherweights Yair Rodriguez and Brian Ortega met in the main event with hopes of being next in line to challenge 145-pound champion Alexander Volkanovski.
Despite a positive opening four minutes to the bout for Mexico’s Rodriguez, the bout came to an abrupt and anticlimactic end as Ortega laid on the Octagon floor grasping an injured shoulder. It wasn’t the fashion in which Rodriguez hoped to get the job done, but it was a win nonetheless, keeping him in prime position near the top of the featherweight rankings.
At UFC 284, Volkanovski moves up to lightweight, challenging Islam Makhachev in his quest to be the UFC’s fifth athlete to hold two titles simultaneously. Rather than holding up the featherweight division, Volkanovski believed an interim belt was in order to determine who his next opponent will be when he inevitably drops back down to 145.
After Rodriguez’ recent success, his name was drawn from the hat of top contenders, and he’ll challenge Josh Emmett in UFC 284’s co-main event for the interim featherweight crown.
Rodriguez began his UFC career nine years ago, defeating three consecutive opponents on The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America to earn a UFC contract. Since then, he’s collected nine victories and seven performance bonuses in 12 fights to get to this moment.
“I’ve been climbing, going up and up and up, and the goal just seems to be closer every time,” Rodriguez said. “I’m not a quitter. I’m one of the guys where if I put my eyes on [something], I need to get there. That’s what I’m doing right now and I’m going to achieve it.”
“There are moments of doubt, of course. You’re getting tired, you’re exhausted, you’re wondering if you’re going to make it, if you’re not going to make it. But, at some point, when you’re right at the top, you feel more energy.”
Rodriguez’s energy, although abundant when he puts his striking on display, is controlled, and he feels no added pressure, even with a title on the line.
“For some people it’s the hardest part, for me it’s the easiest,” Rodriguez said of fight week. “The hardest part is at the beginning [of training camp]. Overcoming all the obstacles you need to overcome to get here, especially this far. Now that I’m here, now that I’m making weight, now that I’m talking to you, everything becomes easy. This is my habitat.”
Emmett is known primarily for his striking and feels that even landing one of his patented overhand rights is enough to close the show against any opponent. Sacramento’s Emmett did acknowledge some of Rodriguez’s talents, including his speed and dynamic attack, but Rodriguez has other tricks up his sleeve that he believes are flying under the radar.
“I think [Emmett] doesn’t think I have a lot of power, which I really do,” Rodriguez said. “I have power. I’m quick. I’m quicker than what everybody thinks until it’s time to go and they are not able to see any of my punches [and] when I throw kicks.
“I expect [to finish] the fight. That’s what’s in my head. I can see different ways to do it. I visualize myself finishing the fight. It’s going to be a matter of what’s there in the moment.”
The power Emmett has shown in his seven-year UFC career is uncanny when compared to other featherweights. Emmett’s upset victory over Ricardo Lamas and thunderous knockout over Michael Johnson are prime examples of elite talent not being able to withstand Emmett’s onslaught.
For Rodriguez, the strategy in neutralizing this attack is quite simple. And if he can execute it on Saturday, he doesn’t see any other outcome than his hand being raised.
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“All of them are unique challenges,” Rodriguez said of his previous opponents. “They have similarities, but everybody is different, so you can’t approach everybody the same. Josh Emmett has a unique style of fighting; he’s quick, he’s powerful and he’s strong.
“The art of contact sports is punch and don’t get punched. So basically, it’s that for this fight. Punch and don’t get punched, be quick in there, elusive, keep my movement going and take advantage of every opportunity I have to maximize my power shots.”
UFC 284: Makhachev vs Volkanovski took place live from RAC Arena in Perth, Western Australia on February 11, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive all the action on UFC Fight Pass!