In the sport of boxing, young fighters are usually carefully protected from savvy veterans until they are deemed sufficiently ready for the challenge. Part of this is for marketing reasons, as an undefeated record carries more weight in boxing than it does in mixed martial arts. However, a big part of that relates to the nature of the sport. In boxing, a tough young fighter often will have the heart to compete against the best but will not yet possess all the skills and tricks that are needed. There is always a danger that a young prospect can run into the wrong opponent and end up taking a prolonged beating that permanently alters his career trajectory for the worse.
MMA has a different philosophy. Young fighters are often given the opportunity to sink or swim against veterans with much more impressive resumes. If that young fighter is not ready, it will usually result in his getting caught in a submission or knocked out by a strike he did not see coming. They can learn from the experience and come back better, like a 23-year-old Georges St. Pierre did after a submission loss to Matt Hughes or a 22-year-old Wanderlei Silva did following his famous Ultimate Fighting Championship knockout at the hands of Vitor Belfort. However, there is always the risk that a young fighter takes the sort of beating that Yair Rodriguez absorbed from Frankie Edgar in Sherdog’s “Beatdown of the Year” for 2017.
Going into his fight with Edgar at UFC 211 on May 13 in Dallas, Rodriguez was one of the UFC’s most promising prospects. For years, the company has sought a Mexican superstar to help break into that market. It has tried with Erik Perez, but Perez appears to be a good fighter, not a great one. Alexa Grasso has not done as well as many expected when brought in from Invicta Fighting Championships. There are some excellent Mexican-American fighters, but they do not always connect as well as native-born sons and daughters. Rodriguez is likely the UFC’s best hope to come along.
Rodriguez seemed like he might be the real deal, with dynamic athleticism, a glowing 10-1 record and an exciting style that has produced four post-fight bonuses already at just 24 years old. Rodriguez’s demolition of B.J. Penn was sad to witness because of where Penn stood, but Rodriguez looked dangerous and precise. The UFC calculated that it was time to give Rodriguez an opportunity to test himself against the class of the division, pairing him with the great Edgar.
Edgar is not generally an opponent you want to test to make your fighter look good. From his UFC debut upset win over the then undefeated Tyson Griffin on, Edgar has been a tough obstacle for every fighter he has come across. He has been fighting the elite, fight in and fight out, for over a decade, and only three fighters can say they have defeated him: Gray Maynard, Benson Henderson and Jose Aldo. He avenged his Maynard loss; many felt he won one or both of his bouts with Henderson; and no one has ever stopped him. Edgar’s best trait is perhaps his gritty toughness. He just keeps coming at you, no matter what -- something Rodriguez discovered firsthand.
Rodriguez showed off some of his flashy kicks early against Edgar, but “The Answer” clinched about a minute in. It was all downhill from there for the young Mexican star. Edgar got Rodriguez down, and it became a wipeout. Edgar’s wrestling has always been underrated, and he has developed great power on the ground for his size. Edgar pounded Rodriguez with punches and elbows until he was barely recognizable. His left eye was completely swollen, his vision compromised.
In the second round, it was only more of the same. Edgar got another takedown and went back to work. It is hard to say the stoppage after the second round was merciful given how much punishment Rodriguez had taken over the course of those 10 minutes. Edgar generated 72 significant strikes during that time. For context, he averaged 75.4 significant strikes per each of the eight 25-minute decisions in his career. Edgar packed a five-round beating into a two-round timeframe, making it all the worse.
For Edgar, the fight with Rodriguez was just another win in a storied career. The bigger bout will come when Edgar meets Max Holloway for the UFC featherweight title and attempts to become a two-division champion sometime in 2018. The more pressing question involves what the fight meant for Rodriguez. It was a devastating loss, and he took a terrible beating. It is hard to imagine it will be good for his career, but the hope is that it will not constitute too much of a setback moving forward. He took a shot at rising to the top of the division and came up short. That is always the danger when a relatively untested young fighter challenges someone the caliber of “The Answer.”
Sherdog’s year-end awards were voted upon by a panel of Sherdog.com staff members and contributors: Jordan Breen, Tristen Critchfield, Chris Nelson, Mike Fridley, Brian Knapp, Eric Stinton, Todd Martin, Jordan Colbert, Josh Stillman, Jesse Denis, Edward Carbajal and Anthony Walker.