Ahead of the five-round fight on Saturday, Rodriguez on Monday told The MMA Hour that the promotion has assured him a win on Saturday will put him next in line for a shot at reigning champion Alexander Volkanovski.
“Yes, that has been said to me,” Rodriguez confirmed about the title shot opportunity. “Yeah, that’s what we’re looking for.
“First things first, I’m going to win this fight and then give the champ some time to heal and yeah, go for it. For now, let’s take it step by step, first things first, July 16, Brian Ortega, that’s for now.”
Rodriguez comes into the fight off a unanimous decision loss to Max Holloway in his previous outing, which put his record at 2-2 with one no-contest over his past five appearances.
Still, an impressive win over a highly ranked opponent like Ortega seems to be enough for Rodriguez to vault to the front of the line in which Volkanovski doesn’t have a definitive No. 1 contender.
Of course, Josh Emmett would argue otherwise as he’s rattled off five straight wins, including a victory over Calvin Kattar in June. But at least for now, Rodriguez is competing under the assumption that a win will put him next in line for a title fight.
While his focus remains on Ortega this weekend, Rodriguez was very impressed by what Volkanovski did in his trilogy with Holloway; the Australian dominated the fight with arguably one of his best performances to date, winning a lopsided decision.
“S*** wow – wow, that’s all I can say,” Rodriguez said about Volkanovski. “He looked amazing. It was eye-opening for me. I better get ready for that if I want to be the champion. If I want to be the champion, I’m going to have to do some work, because he’s tough. He’s really tough.
“On his last fights before [the win over Holloway], he didn’t like that [good]. This fight, he looked so quick, explosive, smart, the strategy was [good], everything. He showed why he’s the champion.”
Even with a position near the top of the rankings in the past few years, Rodriguez has never cemented himself as a true threat to the champion. But he hopes to change that with his fight against Ortega.
Rodriguez knows even with a win on Saturday, he’ll still have a lot more homework to do if he expects to get past somebody like Volkanovski, who has seemingly been getting better and better with each passing fight.
“He looked so much better,” Rodriguez said. “Everybody was surprised. Like my family and friends they were like, ‘What do you think?’ I think he’s great, I think he’s good, and I think I’m going to have to put on a lot of work if I’m going to beat him.”
Before he can worry about Volkanovski and the title, Rodriguez can’t ignore the difficult task ahead, because Ortega has consistently been one of the best fighters in the entire featherweight division. He considers Ortega a friend, so fighting each other isn’t ideal. But he admits that given the stage – a main event on ABC – and a title shot on the line, it was too good to pass up on.
“We didn’t want to fight each other unless we had to,” Rodriguez explained. “Now this is an opportunity for both of us, and we have to fight each other. As I’ve said before, it’s not the opponent I wanted, but the opportunity I wanted. Here we are facing each other with this big opportunity. It’s an important fight.”