It’s been two years since Yair Rodriguez stepped into the octagon, and the first test of his return is against a featherweight many believe to be the all-time best at 145 pounds. He wouldn’t want it any other way.
“We already know how to swim, so let’s swim in the deep waters,” Rodriguez said Wednesday on The MMA Hour in advance of his UFC Vegas 42 headliner on Saturday against Holloway. “I’ve been putting myself in bad scenarios, and all I can think about is growth, growth inside myself, outside myself, my body, my mind. I don’t really care about anything. I don’t care about winning this specific fight. I just want to see what I’m capable of doing after this layoff of two years, because I’ve been training for this fight or any other fight for so long. I want to see how I’ve improved, and what needs to be improved. This is more than anything for myself, for my growth.
“Max Holloway is going to be a great teacher. It’s going to be great, because he has all this experience that I’ll be able to absorb that night, and my career is just going to take [off]. It doesn’t matter what happens. I don’t care what happens. I’m just going to go there and give my all, as always. That’s what you guys will see - a true f*cking warrior, two f*cking warriors getting to f*ck each other up, and that’s it.”
Holloway chose not to wait for another shot at the title when an injury to delayed an original booking with Rodriguez at UFC Vegas 31 in July. Giga Chikadze tried to goad Rodriguez into being a replacement opponent, but for “El Pantera,” there was no other opponent he wanted to face.
“It doesn’t even make sense for me to fight somebody like him or any other guy,” Rodriguez said. “It’s not specifically him. You’ve gotta remember this – I’m not against anybody specifically. If you have a problem with me, then we’ll have a problem. But if not, I don’t have problems.
“I’m looking to fight the best guys in the world. Max Holloway is one of the greatest in history. That’s it. I want to prove myself against one of the best, and I don’t say no to a fight, if we have to fight on the street or whatever, we’ll do it. But talking about sports, this is what’s best for my career, and I will make the best decisions for my career, or what my team thinks is best for me. We think Max Holloway is great, huge step for my career, and that’s all my focus right now. I have no one else in mind.”
Holloway has touted himself the greatest boxer in the UFC, a challenge for a creative and unpredictable striker like Rodriguez. The main goal for the 29-year-old Mexican is not to commit to any one particular path to victory, but instead to present the best version of himself.
“He may be [the best boxer], I don’t care,” Rodriguez said. “This isn’t a boxing match – it’s an MMA match. He could be. I can say I’m the best kicker in UFC history, as well, but that doesn’t mean anything. We’re fighting in MMA, not f*cking boxing or taekwondo.”
And when Rodriguez says he doesn’t care about a win, that’s not entirely true. He predicts that he will emerge victorious and cement himself as a contender at featherweight. The division is now ruled by champ Alexander Volkanovski, who’s beaten Holloway twice and recently outpointed two-time title challenger Brian Ortega. Volkanovski will undoubtedly be watching Saturday’s fight to get a good look at what could be his next opponent.
Rodriguez believes that’s going to be him. At this point, however, he only promises to give Holloway an opponent unlike any other.
“Nobody goes in there to lose,” he said. “But I don’t care. If I lose, I won’t take it hard on myself. It’s a tough opponent, and it’s a hard task. I like to put myself in those situations. Right when you’re scared to jump, that’s when you jump.”