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UFC Vegas 26 card: Michelle Waterson vs Marina Rodriguez full fight preview

UFC 257: Rodriguez v Ribas Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) women’s Strawweight veterans Michelle Waterson and Marina Rodriguez will clash TONIGHT (Sat., May 8, 2021) at UFC Vegas 26 inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Waterson proved a lot of doubters wrong in her last bout, more willingly engaging from the pocket opposite Angela Hill and scoring the split-decision nod as a result. The odds are still long on the 35-year-old “Karate Hottie” capturing the UFC title, but a last-second main event opportunity certainly doesn’t hurt her ability to build some momentum. Rodriguez is just a year younger, but she’s a far newer face inside the Octagon. Six fights into her UFC career, Rodriguez could very arguably be unbeaten, but she has an odd habit of winning and losing rounds dominantly in the same fight! That’s created some odd scorecards, but the Brazilian eliminated such doubt in her last bout with a second-round knockout win.

Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each woman:

Michelle Waterson

Record: 18-8
Key Wins: Karolina Kowalkiewicz (UFC on ESPN 2), Angela Hill (UFC Vegas 10), Cortney Casey (UFC on FOX 29), Felica Herrig (UFC 229) Paige VanZant (UFC on FOX 22), Jessica Penne (Invicta FC 5)
Key Losses: Rose Namajunas (UFC on FOX 24), Joanna Jedrzejczyk (UFC Fight Night 161), Carla Esparza (UFC 249), Tecia Torres (UFC 218)
Keys to Victory: Waterson is a well-rounded veteran and former Invicta champion. She’s crafty at range, particularly since she seemingly fixed her habit of throwing from too far away last time out, and Waterson is one of very, very few women who is actually great at the classic headlock throw.

I don’t know if the importance of the takedown can be overstated here. Waterson is a former Atomweight, and the last time Rodriguez held a significant size advantage over her opponent (Tecia Torres), she threw her around from the clinch and landed dozens of nasty knees.

Waterson does not want that at all.

Instead, I’d like to see Waterson carefully managing range until the opportunity to change levels emerges. Rodriguez cannot control her own aggression, and it consistently leaves her vulnerable to takedowns. In addition, she tends to stay on her back once put there, so Waterson’s jiu-jitsu experience could really come into play if she’s careful in finding her way to top position.


Marina Rodriguez

Record: 13-1-2
Key Wins: Amanda Ribas (257), Tecia Torres (UFC Fight Night 156), Jessica Aguilar (UFC on ESPN 2), Maria de Oliveira Neta (DWTNCS Brazil Season 1)
Key Losses: Carla Esparza (UFC Fight Island 3)
Keys To Victory: Rodriguez is a very violent woman (see here in action here). Her Muay Thai background is instantly obvious when she fights, as Rodriguez frequently ends her combinations with punishing kicks and is quick to attack the clinch given any opportunity.

In this bout, Rodriguez has to be careful of two Waterson weapons: the reactive double leg takedown and the headlock throw. Waterson executes both takedowns quite well, and if Rodriguez winds up on her back, she’s likely stuck there.

Typically, I’d advise the taller and longer woman to hang back and establish her distance strikes to avoid the wrestling. In this match up, however, Rodriguez should still pursue the double-collar tie. So long as she’s aware of the threat of the hip toss, the clinch is a major strength of Rodriguez, particularly with her size advantage.

In close distance, Waterson’s speed matters little. Rodriguez can wear on her opponent and break her down with knees and elbows. After a few minutes of damage, that throw becomes less threatening and more desperate.


Bottom Line

This is an important fight for both athletes.

Waterson has a major promotional push behind her. She’s popular, well-spoken as an ESPN talking head, and managed by the company that owns UFC. If she score a second main event victory in a row, that’s likely enough to earn her another chance against a Top Five-ranked opponent.

Between the two athletes, Rodriguez is riding more momentum in this main event opportunity — her knockout over Ribas was TREMENDOUS! If she can pull off similar violence against Waterson, Rodriguez may find herself in the cage opposite a major name like Joanna Jedrzejczyk next.

Put Rodriguez in the cage with a high-level striker, and the result is guaranteed fireworks.


Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 26 fight card this weekend right here, starting with the ESPN+/ESPN “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+/ESPN at 8 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 26: “Waterson vs. Rodriguez” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

At UFC Vegas 26, Michelle Waterson and Marina Rodriguez will go to war in the main event. Which woman will remain standing when the dust settles?