Yair Rodriguez barely had a chance to celebrate the biggest win of his career.
This past Saturday’s UFC Long Island main event ended in awkward fashion after Brian Ortega suffered a shoulder injury with less than one minute remaining in the opening round. The official result was a win for Rodriguez by TKO (injury), which led to some debate over the validity and quality of the finish.
From Rodriguez’s perspective, there’s nothing controversial about his latest win.
“In the moment, I knew that I had the submission,” Rodriguez said Monday on The MMA Hour. “Of course, the attempt of the submission was there. That led to a reaction from Brian Ortega that led to his injury.
“For me, it’s a win, no matter what. Regardless, it’s a win.”
Once Rodriguez was in position for the submission attempt, he could tell Ortega was in trouble. Having since reviewed the finishing sequence, Rodriguez believes his opponent actually made a clear tapout motion before the bout was officially stopped.
“I felt that it was stretching, because I felt like I had it,” Rodriguez said. “I had it really tight, and then I put my knee on his belly and I tried to wrap my other leg around his face to try to get the armbar.
“He was pulling and as he was pulling, if you take a close look at the video, he tapped once. He tapped once, and then I realized that he tapped once, and he released the pressure so I let go. You can take a look at the video, and you’ll see the quick tap in there. I let go, and I saw he was in pain, so I didn’t want to punch or anything. It’s something, if he kept moving, the ref wouldn’t stop the fight, but I didn’t want to do anything else.”
Rodriguez entered Saturday’s event as the No. 6 featherweight in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings and will likely leap over Ortega in next month’s edition. However, he’s aware that there are those who will be reluctant to make him the No. 1 contender for champ Alexander Volkanovski after such a disappointing ending.
The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America winner has had a UFC career filled with starts and stops and missed opportunities, including a loss to former featherweight champion Max Holloway, a Hail Mary elbow victory over “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung, and a two-fight series with veteran Jeremy Stephens that is remembered for an accidental eye poke that ended their first meeting in just 15 seconds.
With everything he’s been through, Rodriguez isn’t surprised there are still those who question his credentials.
“Stuff like this has been going on in my career since the beginning of my career, because they speculate if I win by mistake, by luck, by accident, by whatever, I don’t know what else do I have to do in order for people to start believing that I’m for real,” Rodriguez said. “If they want to keep on believing that I’m not for real, if I haven’t earned their respect by this point, I don’t know what else to do. I think I’m just a really lucky guy and that’s why I got in the No. 1 contender spot.
“Actually, I’m really lucky, but I don’t think I’m that lucky that I haven’t put in any effort or shows, so it’s just crazy to believe that people still think I’m not for real or whatever. I’m OK with whatever, people are always going to talk and think or say or do things, but my job is to show them different all the time. That’s what I’m here for.”
Speaking at the event’s post-fight show, Ortega said that he felt he was “winning every minute of the fight” up until the point where he injured his shoulder, an assessment that Rodriguez wholeheartedly disagrees with.
“I think I was winning,” Rodriguez said. “I think I connected with the better punches. But whatever, like [UFC President Dana White] said, everybody thinks they deserve a title shot, everybody’s doing their best. I think I was winning the fight, he thinks he was winning the fight. It doesn’t matter, at the end of the day the result is the result.”