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Fightweets: Yair Rodriguez and what the UFC’s doing right

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UFC 197 Media Day Photos
Yair Rodriguez meets Frankie Edgar at UFC 211 in his biggest test to date.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

No big fancy intro this week. Let’s get right into it ...

Yair Rodriguez and the featherweight division

@thefightersblog: Does winner of Edgar/Rodriguez get the no. 1 contender spot, and fight winner of Aldo/Holloway?

It’s become fashionable to bash the UFC for their decision making in the WME era (and I’ve certainly done my fair share of the bashing). We’re almost too eager to look for evidence the new ownership regime is eschewing sporting traditions in favor of a fast buck, and at times, it seems the new ownership is eager to supply it.

But when the UFC announced the fantastic Frankie Edgar vs. Yair Rodriguez fight on Thursday, it also occurred to me that as much as we’ve fixated on the negative, they haven’t completely lost leave of their senses.

True, there’s a big dropoff in star power beyond Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey at the moment, which is why there was the sudden impulse to get Georges St-Pierre back in the fold.

But the UFC is also making a real effort to get the next generation of stars up to the next level. In theory, Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson should have created the next lightweight star, but fell out due to reasons beyond the promotion’s control. At UFC 208 and 209 fight weeks, the company had media days for Michelle Waterson and Francis Ngannou, respectively, coming off their recent high-profile wins.

Those moves won’t make the fighters huge stars overnight, but it’s a chance to get up-and-comers in the limelight building off their recent big wins (over Paige VanZant and Andrei Arlovski, respectively), and it shows that WME is learning as it goes along, and that counts for something.

Which brings us back to Edgar vs. Rodriguez, at the ridiculously stacked UFC 211. Rodriguez is near the very top of the list of young fighters who could become a star. His work in the cage is crisp. He’s been brought along at the correct pace, off winning the first Latin American season of TUF, dating back to the Zuffa era. His skills are tremendous, he’s inventive and creative, and he looks better each time out, usually against increasing levels of competition. He’s got charisma and seems willing to embrace the role of potential Mexican MMA superstar in a manner with which Cain Velasquez, a Mexican American, was never quite comfortable.

Rodriguez’s Jan. 28 win over B.J. Penn drew 1.6 million viewers. And while hardcore fans knew what was up with that fight, the casual fan who tuned in simply saw Rodriguez look like a world-beater against a fighter they remember as one of the best. This time, not only is Rodriguez fighting another popular name and former champion in Edgar, but one who can still go in the cage.

One more top-notch win in front of a big audience, and Rodriguez is made. And yes, you can pretty much consider Edgar-Rodriguez, followed a few weeks down the road by Jose Aldo vs. Max Holloway, as almost a 145-pound mini tournament. Featherweight remains stacked and exciting in the cage, with or without Conor McGregor. And while not every potential star like Rodriguez is going to break through to the top, we should at least acknowledge they’re making the effort.

What next for “El Cucuy?”

@jdvaldez2: Ferguson vs. Nate Diaz? Will it happen in order to justify the trilogy against Conor?

I’d absolutely love that fight, but Nate seems to have made it clear that he’s perfectly content to sit on the giant paydays he made from his two fights with Conor McGregor and wait until another big payday comes along.

In a way, that’s a shame, because McGregor accepted Diaz as a short-notice replacement and elevated him into superstar position after Diaz had toiled for a decade in the middle class of the sport’s pay scale. But Diaz is under no obligation to help make anyone else, and you can’t blame him, either, for not taking a fight that wouldn’t command Conor-level pay. So Ferguson is likely going to have to take whatever reasonable fight comes his way after the UFC took the technically legal-but-PR-boneheaded move of stiffing him a big chunk of his show money after the Nurmagomedov fight fell out due to no fault of Ferguson. That leaves a very short list of opponents who make sense for Ferguson, which is why I have a gut feeling when all’s said and done we’ll get a fourth attempt at making Nurmy vs. Fergy, the great white whale of lightweight fights.

Woodley-Wonderboy scoring

@jaredlf777: How in the world can anyone score that fight for Woodley? Maybe I missed something but it was clearly 3-2. Thompson.

Immediately after UFC 209, my take was that any time spent arguing over the scores in the Woodley-Wonderboy rematch was time that prevented us from moving on. But the subject persists, so ... I agree. I had 1, 2, and 4 for Thompson, and 3, and 5 for Woodley. While Woodley’s finishing burst scored him round five, it wasn’t the sort of dominance that merits a 10-8. And I’m not a fan of 10-10s in either the old system or the new. I’ve been over it a few times before, but the basics of it are: Judges are here to pick a winner in a round. 10-10s are a copout. Anyway that’s more time than I wanted to spend thinking about this fight. Moving on ...

Mackenzie Dern

@connorjdillon: thoughts on Dern's inconsistency with weight? Do you think it'll hold her back?

I saw where Dern said she wants to be the next Conor McGregor. That’s a fine goal to have, but, of course, McGregor makes weight, and Dern missed by five pounds heading into her Friday night fight. It might seem a bit unfair, since the minor leagues are where you’re supposed to learn how to be a professional, and Dern is very much in the early phase of her career. It wasn’t all that long ago Henry Cejudo had weight-cut issues, after all, and he’s adapted as he’s gone along and gotten it down.

What concerns me more, though, are the comparisons to Ronda Rousey. Dern is a two-time World Jiu-Jitsu Championships gold medalist. That’s great, but the next Rousey, from an in-ring standpoint, simply isn’t going to happen, because the women’s game has moved beyond one-trick ponies just as fast as the men’s game evolved beyond Royce Gracie. So while it’s good the grappling standout is aiming high, maybe it’s time to slow the hype train a little bit.

No love for Buffalo?

@aron_41d: Why, why, why no love for #ufc210

Oh man. I’m not going to make fun of Buffalo, here -- you guys brought the world buffalo wings and you’ve got Niagara Falls just down the way, and that’s enough to forever make your city good with me. But unfortunately, you’re catching the tail end of the fallout from that super-stacked run in November and December -- where UFC 205 had three title fights, UFC 207 two, and even the cards in between had more title fights (Demetrious Johnson vs. Tiim Elliot at the TUF 24 Finale) or more big names (Paige VanZant and Urijah Faber both competing in Sacramento).

Since then? You know the story by now. The original UFC 208 in Anaheim was canceled (oops, I mean “postponed”). A women’s featherweight title fight minus the one woman who should be wearing the belt was created for UFC 208. UFC 209, on paper, should have been awesome, but wasn’t. And not only was the timing not quite right for UFC 210 in Buffalo, but we’ve run out of Anderson Silvas to add at the last minute.

Part of this is plainly because there’s no more Uncle Lorenzo to persuade fighters to accept bouts and fight dates as favors was the company really needed it. Most of it is just the circumstances. Hopefully WME will learn as it goes and better plan out the events around their supercards so we don’t have another stretch like the one we’ve endured the pas couple months. That might not be much consolation for Buffalo, but hey ... you can do worse for main events than the Daniel Cormier-Anthony Johnson rematch. Just cross your fingers it makes it to the cage.

UFC 211, though

@auggie85: How awesome does 211 look though? Hell of a card

You mean the May 13 show in Dallas with Stipe Miocic vs. Junior dos Santos; Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Jessica Andrade; Edgar-Rodriguez; Demian Maia vs. Jorge Masvidal; Eddie Alvarez vs. Dustin Poirier; and Henry Cejudo vs. Sergio Pettis? That one? Yeah, this is the best card since UFC 207. I’m willing to pretend 2017 doesn’t officially start until this card if y’all are. And with that, let’s also not speak of it again until May 13.