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Fortunes changed for five at UFC Fight Night 92

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Saturday night's UFC debut in Salt Lake City seemed from the start to have one purpose: establishing Yair Rodriguez as a star.

The 23-year-old Rodriguez was the winner of the first season of The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America, which was a big hit on Televisa in Mexico. He was the focal point of the show's promotion. UFC used Saturday to put him in his first main event. Alex "Bruce Leroy" Caceres seemed like a good showcase opponent, someone who would give Rodriguez an entertaining fight.

Rodriguez brings a flashy style of crazy kicks, from his taekwondo background. In some ways, he's reminiscent of a young Cung Le. Being born in Mexico, he fits a key demographic for UFC. Because Mexico has a long history in supporting both boxing and pro wrestling, Dana White has always noted the feeling UFC could explode in that country, even though it took longer than they originally anticipated to get in.

But now they are established and run regularly. While at times the shows have drawn good television ratings and Cain Velasquez is a legitimate star in that country, Velasquez was born in the U.S. Erik Perez was first pushed in that role as the top native star, and got good play in the Mexican media. Rodriguez is younger and stylistically stands out more, plus got great exposure on the reality show.

Rodriguez (9-1) defeated Caceres (12-9, 1 no contest) via split decision in a main event that delivered 25 minutes of a largely entertaining fight. The split decision was shocking, since most besides the judges seemed to think Rodriguez was cruising to a win. Of the 19 reporters scorecards on, all had Rodriguez winning, with 18 of them having him already clinched the fight going into the final round. Yet, had Caceres won the last round, he would have won what would have been perhaps the most disputed unanimous decision of the year.

Even though Rodriguez outstruck Caceres in all five rounds, Caceres did get on top in a scramble and did damage in round three, and won that round. After that, perhaps one could argue a close fourth round, one all three judges gave Caceres yet virtually nobody else did. Rodriguez nearly doubled the number of significant strikes in the fight, 120-62, and only the fifth round, which Rodriguez had a 29-22 edge according to stats, was even close.

The Derek Cleary scorecard of 49-46 in favor of Caceres was one of the most perplexing of the year. It was such that it was heavily speculated it must have been either a clerical error, or he mixed up the fighters. But his giving Rodriguez round two, the round he was most dominant in, as well as giving Caceres round three, indicates the latter wasn't the case. And historically, Cleary is not a bad judge. Thus far in 2016, he's judged 34 UFC and Bellator fights that have gone the distance, and in every case but this one, he never had a dissenting card.

The fact that Rodriguez could have lost a fight on the cards that he should have won is concerning, but in the end, he did win and it will be forgotten about. The question is not only did Rodriguez not finish Caceres, but at no time in the fight was he even close to finishing. He landed from unique angles, but didn't show knockout power. In his five UFC wins, he only has one finish, the UFC 197 win over Andre Fili which was clearly the performance that led to UFC thinking they potentially had someone special.

In the end, he won, and his upward mobility wasn't hurt. But the performance lacked the exclamation point at the end of the sentence. It was there and was fine. It was exposure in a main event, but he didn't make people think about the possibilities of a fight against one of the division's elite.

Saturday's show was very much a featherweight showcase. The top two fights on the main card, Rodriguez vs. Caceres and Dennis Bermudez's win over Rony Jason came in that division. From a name and rankings standpoint, the biggest fight on the show wasn't the main event, but the Fight Pass featherweight bout where Cub Swanson (No. 5 contender) defeated Tatsuya Kawajiri (No. 14).

This leads to a lot of potential new fights in the division, so let's look at how Fortunes Changed for Five from Saturday.

YAIR RODRIGUEZ - There are three very different directions you could go with Rodriguez. Gray Maynard (12-5-1) is a name fighter and former title contender at lightweight. Rodriguez would figure to be a strong favorite in such a fight. Darren Elkins (21-5) would be an interesting test, a grinder, who, like Maynard, would establish if Rodriguez can beat the better wrestlers in the division, something he'll have to be able to do to hang at the top.

As far as an out-of-the-box fight that insiders would look forward to and could make him a star stylistically, former title contender Chan Sung Jung (14-4) would be the way to go if that fight was feasible. Chan is expected to return by the end of this year from two years of military service in his native South Korea, and it's been three years since he last fought.

It's the kind of a fight you could put as a television main event, and could produce the kind of fight that would have people talking when it's over. The idea should be to test Rodriguez at least one more time before getting him in with the top tiered fighters in the division.

DENNIS BERMUDEZ - Bermudez (17-5) rebounded with his second straight win after losses to Ricardo Lamas and Jeremy Stephens took him out of title contention. The first thing he did after winning was challenge Frankie Edgar in Madison Square Garden.

When he first issued the challenge, it came across as challenging someone asking way above his level, since most would have Edgar as the division's third best fighter behind Conor McGregor and Jose Aldo.

It was the right call-out to make. Edgar, being from Toms River, N.J., makes perfect sense to be one of the stars on the Nov. 12 Madison Square Garden debut. Bermudez fights out of Lindenhurst, N.Y., so he's also local. A win over Edgar is a career-maker for him. Edgar has other options, but unless he's changing weight classes, those would be people like Lamas or Jeremy Stephens. Edgar vs. Max Holloway at this point only risks Holloway as a contender without making a contender since Edgar isn't fighting for the title so soon.

CUB SWANSON - Swanson (23-7), looked tremendous in a tough win over Kawajiri (35-10-2). This was another strange judging call, as judges Dan Furse and Tony Weeks had it 30-27, while of 17 media scores, 15 had it 29-28 for Swanson and two had it 29-28 for Kawajiri. That would indicate everyone except two of the judges gave Swanson the first round, which it appeared he had clearly won.

Swanson took the second and that Swanson seemed to pull out the win latter stages of the third round. It was the kind of a fight where both competitors looked good in. It exemplified just how good Holloway and Edgar are, because of how dominant they were over Swanson.

For Swanson, the direction I'd go would be Doo Ho Choi (14-1). That's a fight where whoever wins makes a major statement. Choi has earned that level of opponent with his three straight first round knockouts and eight straight knockouts.

THALES LEITES - Leites (26-6), came into his fight with Chris Camozzi as the No. 11 contender, and dominated the entire fight on the ground before putting Camozzi away with a choke in the third round.

Leites was coming off losses to Michael Bisping and Gegard Mousasi, so he's going to be more likely to face someone outside the top tier contenders. Robert Whittaker (16-4) or the winner of the Sept. 17 fight with Derek Brunson (15-3) vs. Uriah Hall (12-6) would make sense.

TERUTO ISHIHARA - Ishihara (10-2-2) is probably best known as the guy who says he's in it for women and money. He's yet another featherweight who scored a second straight UFC knockout. Most of the people at his level in the division are already booked, so Lucas Martins (16-3) seems like someone at his level who is also looking for an opponent.

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