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Christian Rodriguez: Raul Rosas Jr. has potential, but ‘there’s still a lot of holes in his game’

Christian Rodriguez still has faith that 18-year-old prospect Raul Rosas Jr. can develop into a legitimate threat in the UFC. But his fast rise may have been too much, too soon.

Earlier this month at UFC 287, Rodriguez survived a harrowing first round, defending takedowns and several submission attempts to storm back and dominate Rosas before winning a unanimous decision. Heading into the card, all eyes were on Rosas as he became the youngest fighter on the entire UFC roster and mapped out plans to break Jon Jones’ record as the youngest-ever to capture UFC gold.

After spending 15 minutes in the cage with Rosas, Rodriguez was impressed by his opponent. He also realized Rosas still had some work to do.

“I feel there’s still a lot of holes in his game, as in his whole MMA skill set,” Rodriguez said on The MMA Hour. “Not that it’s bad, but I think he needs to [get] more comfortable with his striking and stuff like that.

“I don’t think it’s bad idea if he fights out of the UFC, because the UFC is the highest level. It’s the highest level of MMA, so it’s hard.”

Rosas joined the UFC roster just a few weeks shy of his 18th birthday as a contract winner on the promotion’s Contender Series. He made quite an impression in his debut, dispatching Jay Perrin with a first-round rear-naked choke at UFC 282.

Heading into UFC 287, Rosas touted his main card spot on pay-per-view and bragged about past training sessions where he said he got the better of reigning bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling.

The validity of those claims are unknown, but Rosas looked the part of a future UFC champion — until he ran into Rodriguez. The Milwaukee native resisted submissions early and then battered his teenage opponent in the second and third rounds.

“In the first round, I knew he was going to rush me, but I didn’t think he was going to rush me right away,” Rodriguez said. “He caught me really unprepared. I thought we were going to get in the octagon and kind of figure each other out, but he went straight for the takedown. He took advantage of it. In the second round, now I know what I need to do, and I need to be fully prepared.

“Strength-wise, I did feel a little bit of a difference. I did feel I was stronger than him, but a fight always feels like a fight to me. It doesn’t matter the age or anything, it’s always so chaotic in there.”

While the spotlight was on Rosas all week long, Rodriguez never felt like he was being set up to lose by the UFC. If anything, he knew he had impressed UFC executives during his own appearance on Contender Series, and that led to him being matched up against Rosas in a battle of top prospects.

“Throughout time, I just started thinking I don’t think they care [who wins],” Rodriguez explained. “Just because when I fought on [Contender Series], I did know that Dana [White] and Sean [Shelby] were a fan of my style. So then I was like, they just want to see who can be a bigger star.”

Rodriguez is now anxious to move forward in his own career, and he likes the idea of fighting at the upcoming UFC 290 card in July, which caps off International Fight Week for the promotion in Las Vegas.

Rodriguez mentioned 22-year-old bantamweight Cameron Saaiman as a potential matchup if the UFC is interested.

Rodriguez also isn’t ready to shut the door on Rosas’ future just because of one loss. But he knows there’s still a lot of room for the youngster to grow, especially after he reached the UFC at such a remarkably young age.

“I see [the potential],” Rodriguez said. “He’s young. He’s very, very young. To be in the UFC at that age is one of the most rare things to do. The kid is good.

“I did a full 15 minutes with that kid, and I do have a lot of respect toward him. I just think he needs to take his time and take the right fights.”

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