Yair Rodriguez is UFC’s interim Featherweight champion and his future is looking bright. But, that wasn’t always the case. For awhile, it looked like “El Pantera” was going to be one of the great “What Ifs” of combat sports after UFC unceremoniously released him in 2018.
At the time, UFC President, Dana White, said it was because Rodriguez refused to fight Zabit Magomedsharipov. Rodriguez recently admitted it wasn’t so much about the opponent, but the pay.
It’s a tale as old as time.
Cooler heads eventually prevailed and Yair would be back in the UFC fold soon after. And according to recent Hall of Fame addition, Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, he played a part in that.
“Yair Rodriguez, that’s my dude,” Cerrone said during a media scrum at UFC San Antonio (via MMA Junkie). “Him winning the interim title made me so happy.
“I remember training with him before he was in the UFC,” Cerrone continued. “And yes, he’s hard to deal with. I went to bat with him on two different occasions with Hunter [Campbell, UFC CBO]. Like, ‘That’s my dude, let’s figure it out.’ He lost his passport, he couldn’t get a visa. It was a whole bunch of – but he means business. When he goes out there, you see him throw and be ready, and like wow, he’s the one.”
That wasn’t the only snag Rodriguez has hit over the years. He was suspended for six months by United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) for failing to keep them informed of where he’d be. And when UFC offered him an interim title fight against Josh Emmett, he had to be convinced to take it.
He’s been much easier to work with when it comes to his friends. Cerrone praised Rodriguez for always being there for him during fight camps. In turn, “Cowboy” taught “El Pantera” how to blow off steam outside of the training room.
“He was just always like my No. 1 fan,” Cerrone said. “He was always there, riding bikes with me, lifting with me, swimming with me. Whatever I wanted to do, he was there and in return, I taught him how to have fun and enjoy the journey. So, it’s cool that it worked, and he listened and enjoyed it, and now look at the motherf—ker, right?”
Rodriguez is expected to fight Alexander Volkanovski to unify the Featherweight titles at UFC 290 in July, 2023, in Las Vegas, Nevada.