The Film Room: Yair Rodriguez

By Kevin Wilson Sep 18, 2019
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Yair Rodriguez will draw his first Octagon assignment of 2019 when he locks horns with Jeremy Stephens in the UFC Fight Night 159 main event on Saturday in Mexico City. Rodriguez has not competed since he authored one of the greatest knockouts in MMA history against Chan Sung Jung on Nov. 10, but a victory over Stephens could put him in position to make a title run at 145 pounds.

“Pantera” supplies the material for this edition of The Film Room.

Rodriguez is one of the most creative strikers in the sport today, and at only 26 years old, he still has plenty of time to round out his game and become known for more than just his unorthodox standup. Even so, his creativity will always be his biggest intangible. Whether it is jumping bicycle kicks or a soccer-style kick to the calf into a spinning backfist, Rodriguez is always looking to overwhelm his opponents with options. Something else interesting about his creative strikes is the accuracy he possesses, especially with his kicks. We saw with Michel Pereira at UFC Fight Night 158 that without accuracy, you end up just doing meaningless backflips that get relentlessly mocked on Twitter. However, Rodriguez has built his entire style around these unorthodox strikes and can land them with the same accuracy that an average fighter would land a rear straight. Every fighter can throw these strikes, but what makes Rodriguez so special is that he built his style around his creativity and then learned the basics of MMA, not the other way around.

Rodriguez comes from a taekwondo background, which means he has a kick-heavy attack by which he lives or dies. If his kicks are landing, it allows him to keep opponents at a safe distance, where he can use his reach advantage and generally force opponents to play it safe and fight at a slower pace. If he cannot land his kicks, he must rely on his boxing, which is severely lacking for someone at this level. He is also easily flustered when opponents pressure through his kicks or initiate grappling exchanges. Something else disconcerting about his kicks is how he always throws them as single strikes and rarely sets them up. Although his creativity can make it difficult to know what is coming, if he continues to throw kicks with no setup, fighters at the highest level will be able to time them. Stephens has developed into an elite counterstriker as he ages, and throwing no-setup kicks like this could get Rodriguez into trouble against one of the hardest hitters in the division.

Although Rodriguez is mostly a one-strike-at-a-time fighter, he has shown flashes of competent combination striking on the lead. He rarely uses his boxing to set up kicks, but when he does, he has shown fantastic hand speed and the ability to quickly move in and out of range. The main problem with his style is that he is just now hitting average levels of boxing, and he struggles when opponents can nullify his unorthodox strikes and force exchanges in the pocket. With that said, at 26, he is already a Top 10 fighter and on the cusp of being a title contender. If he continues to progress along the same trajectory, the rest of the division should be terrified at what a more experienced Rodriquez could become.

Rodriguez may be perceived as an elite striker, but he has some major faults that have been exploited in the past. The best way to take away kicks is to simply pressure through them to a point where he does not have the room to plant his feet and land clean. Rodriguez is easily flustered by pressuring fighters and often looks completely lost when his back is against the cage. He also does not offer much on the counter. If he can tighten up his footwork and learn how to take an angle while retreating, most of these faults would be fixed. That is easier said than done.

In his most recent fight with Chan Sung Jung, Rodriguez looked much improved despite being out for two years and taking the fight on short notice. He relied less on his unorthodox techniques and was comfortable in a normal striking bout. He was most likely on his way to losing a decision, but he was still going to come out of the fight looking good after putting on a war with Jung. However, before that could happen, his unorthodox instincts took over and he landed perhaps the most incredible knockout in UFC history. Not only was it a strike that few had seen used effectively, but it was also in the last second of a fight he was losing on the 25th anniversary of the UFC’s first event. It was truly a historic moment for the company and the sport.

Against Frankie Edgar, Rodriguez had no answers for the relentless takedown attempts and offered nothing off his back except for the occasional telegraphed triangle attempt. This was the first time we had seen him against a grappler, and his performance was concerning. As a striker, Rodriguez does not necessarily need to work much on his ground game, but he does need to be able to defend a takedown. We have seen in the last few years just how far a striking-heavy fighter can go with decent takedown defense. Joanna Jedrzejczyk held the strawweight title for two years with little grappling experience, but she had fantastic takedown defense. Other fighters such as Stephen Thompson, Robert Whittaker and Israel Adesanya have enjoyed success with similar styles and philosophies on how they approach a fight. Advertisement


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