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Fightweets: What to make of Yair Rodriguez’s sudden UFC departure?

Yair Rodriguez

It was as if, in the wake of the wild UFC 223 fight week, there was just not enough drama going into a Saturday night which features both UFC 224 and Bellator 199.

So along came out-of-the-blue news late Thursday night that Yair Rodriguez, one of the UFC’s brightest up-and-coming stars, was no longer with the company.

There. Now it feels more like a big MMA week.

We’ll get into the featherweight’s departure, the UFC’s new deal with ESPN+, this weekend’s fights and a whole lot more in a jumbo-sized edition of the returning Fightweets.

UFC cuts Yair Rodriguez

@MP2310: What is there to make of the UFC’s release of Yair?

I have to start off with a disclaimer: I’m writing this Friday afternoon Pacific time and as of now, we simply don’t have the full story about Yair Rodriguez’s departure from the UFC. What’s know as of now is that UFC president Dana White cut Rodriguez for allegedly refusing fights with both Ricardo Lamas and Zabit Magomedsharipov at UFC 227 in Los Angeles.

With this move, at least based off what we know at the moment, Rodriguez instantly becomes the face for the sort of mistakes WME/Endeavor has made over when, why, and how they push fighters since the company purchased the UFC from Zuffa. First, they pushed him too fast because of his potential, then they gave up on that potential too fast just to prove some sort of point.

Go back to the time when Rodriguez was booked to fight Frankie Edgar. The UFC 211 bout was signed just months after longtime matchmaker Joe Silva left and WME fully took over and asserted its vision for the product.

This was around the period when UFC 207 hype was all about Ronda Rousey, and bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes was completely invisible, and then the company had no idea how to move forward when Nunes blasted WME’s golden child in 48 seconds. (Then seven months later, White basically went out and all but publicly called Nunes a coward, and between this and the handling of the Rousey fight, people debated this week why Nunes can’t draw, as if it’s some giant mystery, but I digress).

It was also around the time when the push for the likes of Paige VanZant and Michelle Waterson went into overdrive. And it was when the UFC took one of their most marketable potential prospects in Rodriguez and booked him way too soon into a horrible beating against Edgar. Does an Edgar-Rodriguez fight get made under the old regime? Probably not until Rodriguez got at least a couple more wins under his belt.

When a news item popped up about the Magomedsharipov fight, not only did Rodriguez tweet “#FakeNews,” but Magomedshapirov’s manager, Ali Abdelaziz, tweeted surprise at the report. So that implies the bout wasn’t anywhere near official, and White was just trying to get the idea planted in the media to make it happen.

The other name Rodriguez apparently turned down was Lamas. Which he should have, because that’s a ridiculous fight for a competitor who has nowhere near Lamas’ level of big-fight experience, coming off a 14-month layoff following a nasty loss, should be taking. The mere fact it was even being considered should set off alarm bells about the UFC’s flawed rankings system.

At least in Z-man’s case, Rodriguez would have been fighting an opponent who had a similar body of work, unlike with Lamas, which is why it would be in Yair’s best interests to break his silence on the matter.

So here’s where we are: A young potential star with a 10-2 record and an exciting offensive arsenal is gone. Maybe Dana White is tired of fighters turning down fights and was sending a calculated message. Maybe that message is worth getting rid of one of the few guys who can potentially fill that 20,000-seat arena in Mexico City some day. Maybe a guy with a nine-figure bank account can still get triggered by something as simple as a “#FakeNews” tweet. Either way, cutting Rodriguez was a move straight out of 2008, which White can do because in 2018 the fighters still haven’t organized.

As for Rodriguez, he’s already had suitors. If Combate Americas, which is quietly racking up solid numbers on Univision, wants to make a splash, they were just handed their best opportunity. Maybe Bellator or RIZIN or ONE signs him. Whatever you think about the manner in which Rodriguez became unemployed, he’s not going to stay that way long.

What to make of ESPN+ deal?

@spacebawz: Does the ESPN deal bode well for the future of MMA?

In the short-to-medium term, the UFC’s five-year deal with ESPN+ is absolutely good news for the sport. ESPN is paying $150 million per year for the right to stream what amounts to the UFC’s C-level, Fight Night-type programming, as well as the best content idea UFC has had in quite some time in the Contender Series. That dollar figure on its own is almost as much as the UFC is getting from its entire FOX deal this year. And that’s before we factor in wherever the number lands for the big network/cable deal, which still remains to be seen.

If you were afraid this sport was heading for the iceberg, exhale. The sheer amount of money being put into new deals is an assurance that it will be given every chance to succeed.

And for all the ongoing hand-wringing about the lack of the next star along the lines Conor McGregor or Rousey, guess what? Five years at this type of money buys a hell of a lot of time to develop those next ones, and it only takes a couple of them to hit to make this thing soar again.

Is 15 of these cards per year too much, though? There’s validity to that question. We don’t know how many events per year the UFC is planning on staging under its new structure. Ideally, the final guaranteed television money total should be enough to cut the annual pay-per-views in half, thus making less financial demands of the fans and making the PPVs special again by giving them the biggest shows time to build.

Beyond that, I’ve had a bit of an epiphany since the news was announced on Tuesday: The parameters we use to judge “how much is too much?” is way outdated. I’ve been guilty of it, myself.

When we ask “how can the fans keep up with all this?” it’s like we’re assuming it’s still 2007, and there’s one monthly PPV, occasional fight night cards and nothing else. We’ve stuck with this hardcore bubble mentality as the company has grown and evolved into what it is now. We’re still waiting for the day to return where we can analyze and dissect a big card for weeks, every fight from top to bottom. That day is never coming back.

Does the NBA assume that every fan is watching every minute of all 82 of their local team’s games, never mind every game on the slate every night? No, they don’t. Nor do the other major sports, and with this next deal, that’s what the company is moving toward. The NBA has league pass, for which the most insatiable fans can indulge in the entire season. You can pay for cable and get your local games and the big national games on TNT and ESPN. And even if you’re not feeling cable anymore, you still get showcase games free over the air on ABC.

Don’t think the team sports analogy is correct? Fine. Do you think the tennis tour people lose sleep wondering if fans are literally watching every single first-round match of the Australian Open or Wimbledon, much less Indian Wells or smaller tournaments? They don’t. Hell, boxing is undergoing a major resurgence and they barely give their undercard a thought.

So let’s lose this outdated notion the UFC needs to make it so the fan base will follow every fight on every card. The hardest-core fans will, and that’s great. They’ll pay for Fight Pass and ESPN+ and all the rest. Others will pick and choose smaller events and tune in for the big ones. Others will only show up for the biggest events, and those are the ones that bring in the most money. But we’ve been barking up this “there’s too much, fans can’t keep up” tree for years and one giant ESPN check just rendered it all irrelevant.

Of course, the flip side of this is that, should the UFC indeed end up increasing their schedule, or standing pat on their overall number of events, will there be enough bodies to make it work? They’re having enough trouble with that now as is. But that’s another long-winded answer for another time.

Nate Diaz doesn’t sound thrilled by the idea of fighting Georges St-Pierre, but we’ll see.

GSP vs. Nate?

@chjobin: Other than setting up another lightweight fight against Conor or Khabib, why would GSP fight Nate? He destroys him 5 times out of 4...

Well, Nate Diaz went and apparently threw cold water on the idea of fighting Georges St-Pierre at UFC 227 with a social media post Friday. But these are the Diazes we’re talking about, here, so we should never say never. I’m fine with the idea of the fight, should it actually get pulled off. The UFC is pretty obviously loading up on a pair of back-to-back summer blockbusters with this following the spectacular UFC 226, which will go down right around the time television contract negotiations should be coming to a head. Big names move the needle.

In this case, if you book GSP vs. Diaz, you are not holding up any divisional schemes to make it happen. GSP going down to 155 is an interesting hook. Diaz coming out for revenge for brother Nick’s loss is such an obvious storyline, Hellen Keller should be able to promote it, and she’s been dead for 50 years. Would a Conor McGregor fight with either be bigger? Sure, but everyone’s getting old and gray waiting for him to make his move. So I say go ahead and book it, even if Diaz right now is saying no.

Under the radar at 224?

@jackhmara: What fight on the undercard of 224 are you looking forward to watching? Mina vs Emeev or Ferreira vs Roberson for me.

I think you nailed this pretty well. Alberto Mina is 13-0 overall, 3-0 in the UFC welterweight division, and all but one of his wins are by finish. Ramazan Emeev (16-3) has won five straight and has 10 career finishes. Meanwhile, Cezar “Mutante” Ferreira has won four of his past five and seems like he’s finally putting it all together; Karl Roberson is a Contender Series guy who is 6-0 with first-round finishes in his past five. Bottom line, UFC 224 is one of those sneaky-deep cards worth tuning in early.

UFC or Bellator?

@philmcmasters: On Saturday, Bellator is running a decent card, and Loma v Linares is a great fight. If you had to pay out of pocket like us would you skip 224 like me?

Well, I’m in Los Angeles, where, unless I head over to Marc Raimondi’s place where he has DirecTV, I’m getting the Bellator West Coast tape delay feed starting at 9 p.m. local time, two hours into the UFC, so that answers that one for me. It really is beyond mind-boggling that in 2018, when there are few television properties more highly valued than live sports, that Viacom chooses to tape-delay an event to millions of potential viewers.

But anyway, even if I’m on the East Coast I’m still going with 224. Like you said, Bellator 199 is a decent offering, but UFC 224 is sneaky deep. UFC live and Bellator on DVR is how I’d go this weekend even if I had to pay for it.

Boise strikes gold

@hunt5588: Does Dana owe money to the Idaho Potato Mafia? Is he in deep with the Albertson’s family? Is his son tryin to get a scholarship at Boise state? These are the only reasons I can think of for the Boise Card to be SO much better in comparison to Fight Night Salt Lake City. Thoughts?

Man, you are not kidding about UFC Boise on July 14. Junior dos Santos vs. Blagoy Ivanov, Cat Zingano vs. Marion Reneau, Paul Felder vs. James Vick, Chad Mendes vs. Myles Jury, and appearances by Darren Elkins and Liz Carmouche. And those are simply the fights that have been announced to date.

That’s already a better lineup on FS1 than most of the recent UFC on FOX cards. I don’t think I need to put a lot of deep brain power into this one: With the UFC running as many events as they do, and having as many fight fallouts as they do, it’s a crapshoot as to the fight card quality you’re going to get, whether it’s a PPV, a UFC on FOX, or a Fight Night. Sometimes you pay premium PPV prices and get the infamous UFC 149 in Calgary. Sometimes you get the winning lottery ticket on a Fight Night. So I say, don’t question *why* you’re the winner, just cash it in and enjoy the show.