Yair Rodriguez steps in on short notice. (Photo: Jeff Bottari/Getty Images)
Yair Rodriguez returns for the first time since the summer of 2017 when he takes on “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung in the main event of UFC Fight Night 139. Rodriguez was briefly released from the Ultimate Fighting Championship earlier this summer for allegedly declining too many fights and now has the chance to show fans why he was so highly touted coming into the UFC.
The most interesting aspect of Rodriguez’s game is the creative striking that quickly made him a fan favorite. Whether it’s jumping bicycle kicks or a soccer style kick to the calf into a spinning back fist, Rodriguez is one of the most creative strikers to ever step inside the Octagon and his opponents never know what to expect. Something else interesting about his creative strikes is the accuracy he possesses, especially with his kicks. Nearly everybody in the UFC knows how to throw a spinning back kick, but few can land it with the accuracy that Rodriguez does.
Coming from a taekwondo background, Rodriguez has a kick-heavy striking style that he lives or dies by. If his kicks are landing it allows him to keep opponents at a safe distance where he can use his reach advantage and generally forces opponents to play it safe and fight at a slower pace. If he can’t land his kicks,he must rely on his boxing, which is severely lacking for someone at this level and is 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’s coming, if he continues to throw them with no setup, fighters at the highest levels will be able to time them.
Although he is mostly a one strike at a time fighter, he has shown flashes of brilliant 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 ability to quickly move in and out of range. Rodriguez hasn’t fought in almost two years so it will be interesting to see if he has worked on his boxing during his time off.
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 where they don’t have the room to land clean. Rodriguez is easily flustered by pressuring fighters and often looks completely lost when his back is against the cage. If he can tighten up his footwork and learn how to take an angle while retreating, most of these faults would be fixed. Easier said than done, however.
The other major hole in Rodriguez’s game is his grappling. Against Frankie Edgar, Rodriguez had no answers for the relentless takedown attempts and offered nothing off his back expect the occasional telegraphed triangle attempt. As a striker, Rodriguez doesn't 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 and fantastic takedown defense and other fighters such as Stephen Thompson and Israel Adesyana have had success with similar styles and philosophies on how they approach a fight.