Rani Yahya is one of the best pure grapplers to ever enter the octagon and expects to excel in his UFC Vegas 21 bantamweight clash with Ray Rodriguez, scheduled for Saturday night in Las Vegas.
Yahya, an ADCC gold medalist and multiple-time champion on the jiu-jitsu circuit, has submitted 20 opponents in 26 professional MMA victories, half of those under the UFC and WEC banners. Rodriguez has picked up eight of his 16 wins by submission, but also been made to tap three times, including his UFC debut against Brian Kelleher.
“I don’t think he had much sense of strategy against Kelleher because Kelleher has great guillotines and he went straight for his leg, exposing his neck,” Yahya said in an interview with MMA Fighting. “He’s explosive and has good moments when he manages to get his opponent against the cage to land combinations. He’s got some knockouts like that and has some submissions up his sleeves as well, but there are many holes in his game, many opportunities for my game to match up well with his.”
Being a jiu-jitsu wizard is no guarantee in a MMA fight, especially inside the octagon, but Yahya still feels his grappling credentials put fear in his opponents’ hearts.
“When someone is about to face a fighter with a jiu-jitsu history like myself, Demian [Maia], Rodolfo [Vieira], you spend your entire camp training takedown defense and getting back up, even though I think your instinct speaks louder during the fight,” he said. “[Rodriguez] doesn’t shy away from a grappling match on the ground. If he makes a mistake, I’ll catch him.”
The American Top Team 135-pounder will make his return to the eight-sided cage almost one year to the date of his latest appearance, a majority draw with Enrique Barzola in his hometown Brasilia, Brazil. Feeling like he’s “in a good moment” after treating a lower back injury that has been affecting him since his camp for Ricky Simon in the first months of 2019, Yahya refuses to look past Rodriguez.
“I know it’s cliche to say I only think about this fight and nothing else, but that’s really it,” he said. “I wanna focus on this fight because I haven’t had my hands raised for two fights in a row — I mean, my hands were raised last time but my opponent’s were, too [laughs]. We depend on the result in this sport, so my goal is to give my best.
“I know I depend on the result, but I won’t put this pressure over myself. I don’t let this pressure get inside my head. I’m bulletproof in that sense. I’m doing all I can to perform at my best Saturday. We know how the UFC works. It’s the biggest organization in the world and we know that results and performance are very important in this sport.”