Opinion: The UFC Shouldn’t Rush Yair Rodriguez

Yair Rodriguez
DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 10: (R-L) Yair Rodriguez of Mexico and Chan Sung Jung of South Korea react in the fifth round in their featherweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event inside Pepsi Center on November 10, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Yair Rodriguez recently defeated the re-surging “Korean Zombie” (AKA Chan Sung Jung) in what is being described by many as the greatest knockout of all time.

The Knockout That Changed it All

In a fight that Yair was losing, he was able to land a knockout blow at 4:59 of the 5th round. The strike that landed was an elbow thrown with an upward trajectory up behind his own back, while he was ducking under punches being thrown by The Korean Zombie. Astonishing.

This single blow re-established Yair’s reputation as a dangerous up-and-comer who could very well become the future of the UFC featherweight division. In his previous bout against Frankie Edgar, Yair had lost this exact aura after receiving a one-sided beat-down. What stood out as poetic in this victory was the fact that Yair took this fight on short notice after Edgar–the man who derailed his hype train–suffered an injury. There was talk of Edgar getting the next title shot had he beaten “Korean Zombie” on that night. Instead, Yair took center stage and walked out of the Octagon having left behind an indelible piece of combat sports history.

With the incredible knockout being the talk of the town, it’s easy to overlook the damage Rodriguez received prior to winning. Make no mistake about it; this was a hard-fought victory. Yair passed the test, but he didn’t pass with flying colors. It’s as if he was failing a math test in high school, but impressively answered the extra credit question that nobody else could figure out.

You Can’t Rush Greatness

The big question surrounding Yair is “who should he face next?” I’ve seen a lot of talk about Rodriguez facing Zabit Magomedsharipov. I’ve even heard some of the top-5 featherweights in the world being mentioned as potential opponents. As compelling as those match-ups sound, I think it would be wise for fans to temper their expectations.

Edgar displayed a hole in Yair’s defensive grappling in their bout. This is something that I would like to see corrected before he competes against the elite grapplers at the top of the division. More importantly, I don’t wish to see Rodriguez in tough battles like the fight against The Korean Zombie.

It’s true that there is a clear path to the title if Rodriguez avoids high level wrestlers.  He has proven that his stand-up is dangerous for any foe. But he also has shown susceptibility to being hit. The kind of damage heaped onto Yair in his fight against The Korean Zombie will follow him for the remainder of his career. While he could potentially get the win against top talent at this stage, he could also receive an ungodly amount of punishment in the process. Developmentally, a few tune-up fights could be just what Yair needs. It’s hard to argue that it wouldn’t extend his competitive longevity.

Potential Opponents

No. 14-ranked Darren Elkins would be a great test. Elkins is as tough as nails and has a wrestling pedigree. Yair has room for growth in battling fighters with both of those attributes. No. 13-ranked Ricardo Lamas, who recently TKO’d Elkins, is an option as well. Lamas is no walk in the park, and I believe Yair would have his hands full.

The UFC has a special fighter in Yair Rodriguez. He’s only 26 years old, he appeals to the Latin American market, and he has a highly entertaining fighting style. Let’s try to avoid seeing all his potential squandered by impatient match-making.

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