Now that Yair Rodriguez has a UFC title, he feels that undisputed status isn’t far away, no matter what happens next with Alexander Volkanovski.
UFC 284 saw Rodriguez and Volkanovski both involved in high-stakes fights, with Rodriguez putting on a career-best performance against Josh Emmett in the evening’s co-main event to claim an interim featherweight title, and undisputed champion Alexander Volkanovski closing out the show by falling just short of toppling lightweight king Islam Makhachev.
One could assume that Volkanovski would return to the 145-pound division to unify the titles, but that may not be the case as Volkanovski has publicly stated he would like to rematch Makhachev. Rodriguez now awaits word of whether UFC 284’s main event will be run back or if he will be Volkanovski’s next challenger; either way, he has the very top of the featherweight division in sight.
“Nothing,” Rodriguez said on The MMA Hour when asked if he had heard anything from the UFC’s matchmakers. “I think it’s just too soon to hear something like that. But whatever, at the end of the day, if he decides not to defend the title, that would make me the undisputed champion. Why? Because I’m going to defend the belt against somebody else, and what’s going to happen? I’m going to be the undisputed champion.
“If he decides to come and fight at 145 pounds again, then whoever wins that fight will be the undisputed. So regardless of the situation, it’s one of those situations that are, like, you have to fight again. That’s why I didn’t want to take the Josh Emmett fight, because he’s a beast. You need to be really smart in this game because everybody’s tough in this game, everybody’s tough. … Now, if Alexander Volkanovski decides not to go down to 145 pounds, then I have to fight again to get the undisputed belt.”
Rodriguez hasn’t been the most active fighter over the past few years, with just one fight each in 2021 and 2022. Following UFC 284, both he and Emmett were hit with six-month medical suspensions, though such suspensions can typically be lifted with clearance from a physician.
Should Rodriguez receive a clean bill of health soon, he hopes to be back in action no later than five months from now.
“I think I’ll be OK with whatever comes first,” Rodriguez said. “I have to talk to the UFC. I was trying to push for Mexico City because that would be amazing and the people, of course. But I’ll be happy with May, June, or maybe even International Fight Week in July. July would be awesome too. Whatever the UFC wants me to do, I’ll be happy to do so. I’m just here, just waiting to hear news and then move on.
“It’s just one of those things where, OK, I have the belt now. It’s amazing, don’t get me wrong. It’s beautiful, it’s an amazing feeling, people around me, everybody looks at me like a true champion. But OK, what’s coming next? I always say this: You’ve got to move on from your losses fast, but from your wins you’ve got to move on faster. Because OK, I already won, that’s it, it’s not a big deal, what’s next?”
The Mexican star admitted that he and his team have thought about the matchup with Volkanovski, the reigning champion who was 12-0 in the UFC and on a 22-fight win streak before losing a decision to Makhachev.
High-profile bouts against Max Holloway and Frankie Edgar did not go well for Rodriguez in the past, but he’s optimistic that Volkanovski will see the best version of “El Pantera” should they cross paths.
“It’s just like flashes of, ‘OK, he does this, he does that,’” Rodriguez said. “I start visualizing the pros and cons of doing things that I do, stop doing some stuff, start doing some other stuff without saying anything specific. It’s just a matter of strategy. At the highest level, I think it’s just a matter of strategy, who can pull out the best strategy.
“He doesn’t have many holes in his game, he’s really good, he’s well-rounded. I have a lot of holes in my game that I need to work on. I can’t be focusing too much on him. The focus has to be on myself, to get better. Myself. If I can do that, then I’ll become a better version of myself. A version that can beat Volkanovski.”