Tae Kwon Doe specialist, Yair Rodriguez, is set to battle with fellow kickboxer, Alex Caceres, this Saturday (Aug. 6, 2016) at UFC Fight Night 92 inside Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. Rodriguez’s rise has been very impressive. The Mexican fighter ran through The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) house, winning that particular international season with a strong performance in his Octagon debut.
Since then, Rodriguez showed serious flashes of brilliance in his next two fights, a pair of decision victories. It all came together in Rodriguez’s most recent match up, as he scored a highlight reel head kick knockout. Now, Rodriguez looks to crack the 145-pound Top 10 rankings and announce himself as a player in the division.
Let’s take a closer look at the skill set of the rising star:
Rodriguez seems to be the most promising kicks-and-submissions fighter since Anthony Pettis was running through the WEC. On his feet, Rodriguez is incredibly explosive at range with a series of flashy kicks.
In order to make full use of his range game, Rodriguez maintains lots of distance between himself and his opponent. Rodriguez stays light on his feet, bouncing away from his opponent and feinting very actively. While he’s fresh, Rodriguez does a nice job of avoiding being trapped along the fence, switching directions quickly when his opponent tries to cut him off.
To start, Rodriguez attacks with lots of hard low kicks. While he doesn’t hide them with punches, Rodriguez uses feints and stance switches to accomplish the same effect. Additionally, he will step deep into the kick, knocking his opponent out of stance and making the counter difficult.
Those leg kicks serve wonders in preventing his opponent from pressuring. After absorbing a low kick from "Pantera," it’s difficult to simply keep moving forward. Usually, his opponent must reset his stance, giving Rodriguez the opportunity to move away or attack as he chooses (GIF).
While it would be easy to simply group all of Rodriguez’s flashy kicks into one category, it’s important to note that they do serve different purposes. For example, many of his kicks help him maintain the distance that is pivotal to his style.
Some of these kicks, like his spinning back kick, undoubtedly come from his Tae Kwon Doe background. However, he has also added straight kicks to that knee that are common of many Jackson-Winkeljohn fighters, and he’s been quite effective with them.
Rodriguez isn’t much of a boxer, but he is more than willing to throw his hands. Whenever his opponent does get inside, Rodriguez will plant his feet and throw hard punches, primarily the Southpaw check hook. Even if his punches can be a bit wild, it’s hard to walk through swinging punches without being deterred just a bit.
Similarly, Rodriguez uses missed kicks to his advantage. If his opponent catches or parries a kick and tries to move in, Rodriguez will quickly spin with an elbow or punch. Whether it lands or not, this is another effective way to may his opponent hesitate before attacking (GIF).
All of this focus on maintaining distance is not without reason. When allowed to work from his range, Rodriguez is very tough to deal with. He simply has so many different kicking techniques that he fluidly switches between that it confounds most men, making it a priority to close the distance.
Rodriguez’s most recent bout is a good example of why closing the distance is such a priority. Against Andre Fili, Rodriguez did a nice job of landing reactive takedowns, but the stand up exchanges were fairly even. Fili was putting lots of pressure on his opponent, which prevented Rodriguez from really uncorking his kicks.
However, in the second round, Rodriguez landed a jab to the eye on his pressing opponent, which sent Fili backwards trying to clear his vision. With the space to work -- and a wounded opponent -- Rodriguez leaped into a bicycle kick and finished the fight (GIF).
Lastly, Rodriguez showed in his bout opposite Dan Hooker that his clinch game is pretty strong as well. As Hooker tried to pressure him into the fence, Rodriguez would create enough space to land hard knees to the body before breaking away and resetting.
Rodriguez’s wrestling has come a long way since he first joined the UFC. Under the tutelage of Izzy Martinez, Rodriguez has shored up that hole in his game quite a bit.
Offensively, Rodriguez has really showed two paths to the takedown, and both are designed to work against opponents trying to close the distance. For one, Rodriguez is very slick with his overhook trips and throws. As his opponent pushes in the clinch, Rodriguez uses his length and their momentum to crank on the overhook and potentially reverse position (GIF).
At the very least, it often allows him to break free of the clinch.
Additionally, Rodriguez does a nice job of scoring reactive takedowns. This was most notable in his last fight, as Rodriguez was able to change levels and run through a pair of double legs.
Defensively, Rodriguez has come a long way, though he’s still not impossible to takedown. A large part of that is due to his style, as Rodriguez is more than willing to throw kicks that land him on his back.
However, Rodriguez’s cage awareness becomes a bit sloppier when he’s tired. In that situation, it’s easier to get in on his hips and drag him to the mat. He’s an exceptional grappler from the bottom, but that’s a trait that could plague him in the future.
Rodriguez is a very explosive and aggressive grappler. Though he’s only secured one submission finish on his professional record, "Pantera" has shown a few grappling techniques that he commonly relies on.
From his back, Rodriguez is all about throwing his legs up for the triangle. There’s nothing overly complicated about his approach; Rodriguez is long and quick and throws his legs up with the intention of trapping an arm and neck.
If he sinks in the choke, it’s game over.
Besides that, Rodriguez loves leg locks. These holds serve a pair of purposes for him, as they can help him escape bad positions and scramble to his feet. For example, Rodriguez’s spinning attacks leaves him at greater risk of having an opponent latch onto his back from the clinch. In that case, Rodriguez will often roll for a knee bar or into the 50-50 position. He hasn’t finished a hold from there yet, but it usually allows him to scramble into top position or back to his feet.
Similarly, Rodriguez will lace up his opponent’s legs from his back, as he can use the leg lock to drive his opponent away and gain a better position.
In one interesting exchange, Rodriguez used the threat of the leg lock to pass Fili’s guard. After leaning back and beginning to grip Fili’s ankle, Rodriguez waited for his opponent to try and kick him off. When that happened, Rodriguez used that space to move around his opponent’s leg in something similar to a smash pass.
At just 23 years old, Rodriguez is one of the hottest names in the sport. UFC is aware of it, which is the reason he’s in the main event slot. If "Pantera" can continue to win with his incredible fighting style, he’s destined to be a star, particularly in Mexico. There’s a lot on the line each and every time Rodriguez fights, as he could reach heights that many other fighters couldn’t hope to match.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is an undefeated amateur fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport's most elite fighters.