Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Featherweight prospects Yair Rodriguez and Andre Fili will scrap this Saturday (April 23, 2016) at UFC 197 inside MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
In just three fights inside the Octagon, Rodriguez has already made a name for himself as a fighter to watch. More than anything, that acclaim comes thanks to his flashy techniques, which frequently include a jump or spin and can be quite devastating.
Meanwhile, Fili is still looking to build his first win streak inside the Octagon. Coming off a dramatic head kick knockout, this is Fili's opportunity to topple a highly regarded foe and bring plenty of eyes to his own name.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for both men:
Key Wins: Charles Rosa (UFC 188), Dan Hooker (UFC 192)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: Rodriguez is a Tae Kwon Doe black belt ... and it definitely shows. The Mexican fighter routinely mixes in wild kicks into his attack, and he's been rather effective with them.
In addition, Rodriguez has been shoring up his ground game at American Kickboxing Academy.
In this bout, Rodriguez has to take advantage of his unpredictability and athleticism. Since Rodriguez doesn't have any clear technical advantage -- except perhaps in flying attacks -- it's important that he capitalizes on his unorthodox techniques.
Simply put, this has the potential of being a close fight that goes down to the wire. In such situations, a single memorable moment is often enough to win an otherwise razor-thin round. Rodriguez thrives at pulling off wild techniques in spectacular fashion, so even if he's unable to finish or hurt his opponent with them, his flashy strikes may be enough to shift the judging in his favor.
In addition, it helps provide a certain X-factor to Rodriguez's offense. Unexpected strikes tend to make opponents hesitate, which would also be a big bonus in terms of keeping Rodriguez ahead on the scorecards.
Key Wins: Gabriel Benitiz (TUF Latin American 2 Finale), Felipe Arantes (UFC 179)
Key Losses: Max Holloway (UFC 172), Godofredo Pepey (UFC Fight Night 62)
Keys to Victory: Fili is a rather well-rounded and especially aggressive Featherweight. While he's comfortable wherever the fight goes, Fili prefers to push the pace and throw his hands, which has led to eight knockout victories.
That should be his exact strategy for this fight.
While Rodriguez's style has been effective for him thus far, there are definite weaknesses to his game. Beneath all the hype, Rodriguez is essentially a distance kickboxer with some iffy grappling. That's to be expected -- "Pantera" is just 23 years old -- but the right strategy could definitely derail him.
In Fili's case, "Touchy" needs to focus on closing the distance. Historically, Fili's punches pack more pop, and that's an area he's comfortable in. Rodriguez, on the other hand, will be focused on maintaining his range and constantly trying to kick, a pair of exhausting tasks.
Fili's pressure will open up a few opportunities. For one, if he runs his opponent into the fence, he's in great position to score with either punches or takedowns. Alternatively, if Rodriguez is circling well, Fili can run him into low kicks and slow his explosive opponent down.
Bottom Line: It's a match up of very exciting prospects.
Thanks to his run on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) and subsequent victories, Rodriguez has a fair bit of hype behind him. With talent and a great camp, Rodriguez has the potential to be UFC's sought-after Mexican star. To continue down that path, however, Rodriguez needs to defeat Fili in this high-profile scrap.
On the other hand, Fili has had some ups and downs in his short UFC career. He's still looking for consistent wins, which are necessary to really establish himself as a major player at Featherweight. A victory over Rodriguez would go a long way toward that goal, as it would transfer much of his opponent's hype to Fili's corner.
While this is definitely an important bout for both men, a loss is not the end of the world. That's the benefit of being a young prospect: future opportunities will come up if this fight falls through. Regardless of the result of this bout, both men should be expected to make waves inside the Octagon before their careers are up.
At UFC 197, Yair Rodriguez and Andre Fili will open the main card with a Featherweight war. Which man will have his hand raised?