Preview: UFC Fight Night 197 ‘Holloway vs. Rodriguez’

Holloway vs. Rodriguez

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After back-to-back numbered offerings, the Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to the UFC Apex on Saturday in Las Vegas for what essentially serves as a one-bout show—at least from a star power standpoint. In terms of stakes, UFC Fight Night 197 revolves around the headliner, where Max Holloway looks to dispatch Yair Rodriguez and earn what feels like an inevitable third featherweight title fight against Alexander Volkanovski. Past that, some action potential exists. Miguel Baeza-Kalinn Williams could wind up turning into a violent affair, and Yadong Song should have a fun encounter with Julio Arce. While this may become an enjoyable event in practice, it clearly suffers from the hangover effect of the last 14 days.

Now to the UFC Fight Night 197 “Holloway vs. Rodriguez” preview:


#1 FW | Max Holloway (22-6, 18-6 UFC) vs. #3 FW | Yair Rodriguez (13-2, 8-1 UFC)

ODDS: Holloway (-650), Rodriguez (+475)

Holloway is on the short list of best fighters in the world, which makes it amazing that he is not the UFC’s featherweight champion at the moment. Holloway came to the UFC as a raw 20-year-old in 2012, and after a rough start to his UFC career—losses to Dustin Poirier, Dennis Bermudez and Conor McGregor have all aged well, to say the least—the Hawaiian went on an absolutely astonishing run, taking as many fights as possible and winning every time out. Holloway won four fights in 2014 and four more in 2015, establishing himself as a contender at the end of the latter year with one-sided wins over Charles Oliveira and Jeremy Stephens. With the 145-pound title itself in flux at the time, mostly due to the whims of then-champion McGregor, Holloway had to take the long road to a title shot, beating Ricardo Lamas and Anthony Pettis before finally facing Jose Aldo for what had shaken out as the undisputed championship belt. Both Holloway’s title win and the subsequent rematch felt like a passing of the torch, as the Hawaiian essentially cracked the code of Aldo’s style, relying on his pace and durability to eventually drown the all-time great and earn a stoppage each time out. Given the long lead-up to Holloway’s title win and his young age, his reign as featherweight king was surprisingly brief. After beating Aldo again, Holloway defended his strap against Brian Ortega and Frankie Edgar without much issue before temporarily moving up a division and losing an interim lightweight title fight to Poirier. Then came Volkanovski. Holloway and Volkanovski combined for two fights and 10 rounds of excellence, each of which saw the Australian narrowly walk away the victor and the champion. Normally, the UFC is loath to do a trilogy, but both Volkanovski and Holloway seem to be leaving the promotion no choice, given the nip-tuck nature of their head-to-head bouts and the performances each have put on since. Volkanovski had a successful title defense over Ortega in September, and Holloway is coming off a one-sided beating of Calvin Kattar on the UFC’s first card of 2021. It remains one of the best individual performances of the year. Holloway eschewed his usual slow start and immediately went about rewriting the record book for striking volume in a fight, at one point even winning striking exchanges without actually looking at Kattar. Holloway continues to retool and reinvent himself for this latest phase of his career, which figures to go down as one of the all-time greatest. Holloway is staying ahead of this latest generation of featherweights while, amazingly, still being one of the younger contenders in the division at just 29 years of age. A trilogy against Volkanovski seems inevitable, and it is up to Rodriguez to play spoiler.

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Expectations were not particularly high for the inaugural cast of “The Ultimate Fighter Latin America,” but the graduates have mostly done quite well for themselves, with Mexico’s Rodriguez leading the way. “El Pantera” won the featherweight bracket of the season, but even a modest test in Charles Rosa was considered too much too soon for Rodriguez at the time. However, he passed that test with flying colors and immediately went about establishing himself as one of the most exciting prospects in the UFC. Rodriguez’s fighting style is absolutely electric, built around flashy strikes and unorthodox combinations. Add in the UFC’s continuous search for Mexican stars, and Rodriguez got the full weight of the promotion behind him, racking up wins while getting showcased in main events against Alex Caceres and B.J. Penn. Even so, Rodriguez hit a clear wall once he got close to title contention, and it came in the form of a 2017 bout against Frankie Edgar. “The Answer” managed to wade through Rodriguez’s offense and get to his absolutely crushing top game, pounding on offense to the point that the fight was stopped after the second round. Since then, it has been a strange few years for Rodriguez, both inside and outside of the cage. Due to injury pullouts and his declining a few fights, the UFC and Rodriguez got at odds to the point that the promotion briefly announced that he was no longer under contract. As for his actual fights, Rodriguez’s eventual return in 2018 looked to be a losing effort to Chan Sung Jung until he pulled out one of the greatest finishes in UFC history, bending over with a backwards elbow that caught “The Korean Zombie” for a knockout in the literal last second of the fight. Then came a main event in Mexico City against Jeremy Stephens that ended in just 15 seconds due to an eye poke; it was quickly rebooked in what turned out to be a fun fight that saw Rodriguez hang on for the decision win. Due to inactivity—it has now been over two years since the Stephens fights, and Rodriguez has had only three appearances in the last four and a half years—“El Pantera” does not seem to have much momentum, but between his fighting style and the opportunity in front of him, he could change that in an instant with a win over Holloway.

This may not wind up quite as one-sided as Holloway’s win over Kattar, but Rodriguez still faces a clear uphill battle. Kattar is a relatively straightforward boxer, so with the varied options that Rodriguez brings, Holloway may not be able to get off to such a hot start, instead going back to his usual approach of building over the course of five rounds. That does provide some openings: Holloway tends to leverage his chin to find his path to victory, and while Rodriguez is not a particularly efficient fighter, his level of creativity could make him the man to knock out Holloway. Of course, Holloway has gone through about a decade of wars and has yet to even be knocked down over the course of his UFC career, so that represents a particularly low-percentage chance compared to what Rodriguez can usually accomplish. If this goes five rounds, Rodriguez might be able to find some success with his wrestling as the more physical athlete, but even then, that is not a particularly high-percentage approach and he would still likely have to hope he could find a finish. Holloway earning a third fight against Volkanovski feels so inevitable that it almost seems like a given that the fates will conspire against it, but a Rodriguez win would deservedly be a massive upset; Holloway and Volkanovski seem to be operating on another level from the rest of a deep division. Barring something spectacular from Rodriguez, this feels like the usual Holloway fight where he has tired out his opponent and is pouring on offense by the championship rounds. The pick is Holloway via decision.

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