clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Fight Night 103’s Yair Rodriguez resident fighter analyst -- and aspiring professional fighter -- Andrew Richardson breaks down the mixed martial arts (MMA) game of UFC Fight Night 103 headliner Yair Rodriguez, who looks to continue climbing toward the strap this Sunday (Jan. 15, 2017) inside Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Arizona.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Taekwondo black belt, Yair Rodriguez, will face off with former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight and Welterweight kingpin, B.J. Penn, in a Featherweight match up this Sunday (Jan. 15, 2017) at UFC Fight Night 103 inside Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Arizona.

Rodriguez is one of the fastest climbing prospects in the sport. After winning The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): “Latin America” following just four professional fights, Rodriguez was quickly thrown into the fire against a seriously tough task in Charles Rosa.

“Pantera” jumped and spun past his first test.

Since then, Rodriguez has continued to improve and put together a trio of wins. He’s already No. 10 in the rankings, so a win over the former champion — regardless of how old he is now — will help push the Mexican athlete closer to the title mix.

Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:


Rodriguez is without a doubt one of the most unique strikers in the sport. There may be some flaws to his approach, but his success has been undeniable, as Rodriguez mystifies foes with wild kicking techniques that few can match.

To make full use of his range game, Rodriguez maintains lots of distance between himself and his opponent. Rodriguez stays light on his feet and switches stances often, 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. The fact that he doesn’t hide them with punches is an issue, but Rodriguez minimizes that issue by using feints and angles to set them up. In addition, 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 Taekwondo 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. Against an opponent pushing forward carelessly, a kick straight to the knee will immediately disrupt offense.

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.

On that note, one of Rodriguez’s most common wild punches in the spinning back fist/elbow. I took a look at that strike and some of Rodriguez’s set ups in the video below.

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. While his opponent is trying to figure out how to get close, “Pantera” is exploding into leaping, spinning, of even flipping techniques (GIF).

He may look a bit silly when he whiffs on a crazy kick, but no one wants to get hit by a shin sailing through the air.

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 effectively. In fact, Rodriguez slipped a couple of times while trying to kick from his back foot.

However, in the second round, Rodriguez landed a jab to the eye on his pressing opponent, which sent Fili backward 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).

It’s also worth mentioning that Rodriguez has shown a reasonably strong clinch game as well. For example, Daniel Hooker tried to pressure him into the fence, but Rodriguez would create enough space to land hard knees to the body before breaking away and resetting.

Rodriguez’s last bout — his first main event opposite Alex Caceres — answered some interesting questions about the prospect. The bright side of his performance was that Rodriguez displayed some insane conditioning, as he continued to flip and spin through the Octagon even in the fifth round of a pretty grueling fight. He may have been a bit slower, but he was still effective, whereas most athletes would be thoroughly exhausted trying to fight like him for that long.

However, there were some down sides. Against an opponent who didn’t rush into his counters or hang around to be kicked, Yair Rodriguez looked a bit lost at times. He doesn’t have a truly functional boxing game yet, and that led to some ugly exchanges. While he certainly has time to grow in that aspect of the sport, he could run into some real problems if a composed boxer is able to force him into exchanges.


Rodriguez’s wrestling has come a long way since he first joined 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 bout opposite Fili, as Rodriguez was able to change levels and run through a pair of double legs. The double legs themselves weren’t particularly remarkable technique, but Rodriguez timed the takedowns perfectly to put a solid grappler on his back.

The biggest improvements have come to Rodrgiuez’s takedown defense. His movement and range leave few easy openings for shots, and he’s proven to be rather sound at defending any clinch trips or throws.

That said, he’s still possible to drag to the mat, but a large part of that is due to his style. Rodriguez is more than willing to throw kicks that turn his back or even land him on the mat. What’s more, when he’s tired, Rodriguez is easier to shove into the fence and has a more difficult time controlling range.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Rodriguez is one of those submission players who is dangerous because of aggression more than anything else. 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 can lock up the choke, great, but Rodriguez will also use his legs to hunt for an arm bar or stand up. The bottom line is that he stays incredibly active, and that makes it difficult for his opponent to get anything done from top position.

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.


As a Mexican prospect with a rather exciting style, it isn’t hard to understand the reason(s) Rodriguez is headlining his second straight event. This is a match up made for him to look good against a name opponent, and it could really bring him more recognition. Provided Rodriguez doesn’t slip up and allow “The Prodigy” onto his back, a victory over Penn could be Rodriguez’s breakout performance.


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.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the MMA Mania Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your fighting news from MMA Mania