Yair Rodriguez opens up about abrupt departure from UFC

It wasn’t long ago that Yair Rodriguez was earmarked as the UFC’s next featherweight star.

A 25-year-old with Mexican roots and a flashy, fan-friendly fighting style, Rodriguez had been hailed as one of the premier rising talents at 145 pounds since he entered the UFC in 2014 fresh off a victorious run on The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America. That vast untapped potential made it all the more stunning last week when the UFC abruptly cut “El Pantera” from the organization. At the time, UFC president Dana White explained the decision as a response to Rodriguez allegedly turning down two fights for UFC 227: One against veteran contender Ricardo Lamas, and another against fellow prospect Zabit Magomedsharipov.

And according to Rodriguez, those claims simply aren’t true.

Rodriguez appeared Monday on The MMA Hour to explain his side of the story regarding his unexpected release from the UFC.

Rodriguez, who hasn’t competed since a May 2017 loss to Frankie Edgar, attributed much of his year-long absence to personal matters that he had to resolve with his family back home in Mexico. Rodriguez said it wasn’t until February that he was once again settled enough in his life to start fielding fight offers for a potential return to the Octagon.

“I got to talk to (UFC matchmaker) Sean Shelby and I told him I was able to fight Josh Emmett in February in Orlando, Florida, to headline that event (UFC on FOX 28),” Rodriguez explained Monday on The MMA Hour. “And I accepted. I stepped up, and I learned that Josh Emmett wouldn’t accept the fight, or I don’t know if the UFC didn’t want to give it to me or whatever, then I was replaced with Jeremy Stephens. Jeremy Stephens took that fight.

“Then, after that, we sat again with the UFC and talked about a few other opponents. I talked to Sean Shelby and he told me, ‘What do you have in your mind?’ I told him I think I at least deserve a top 10 [opponent]. No matter what happens, I think I deserve a top 10 [opponent] just because of what I already showed in the UFC. I’m 6-1 in the UFC. Not all the fighters in the UFC have the same record as me. I know I’m still a rising star for the sport or whatever, but I know I have done a lot already. I know [how many] fans I have inside the sport and I don’t think I have to show anybody that I’m not afraid.”

Rodriguez claimed that during the time of these conversations, he personally reached out to White to offer his services to rematch Edgar on short notice at UFC 222 after featherweight champion Max Holloway withdrew from the event due to injury. “El Pantera” said that once the offer didn’t pan out — Edgar ended up losing to Brian Ortega at UFC 222 — he returned to the drawing board to resume discussing potential opponents with UFC officials.

“They said Ricardo Lamas, then I said yes to Ricardo Lamas,” Rodriguez said. “I accepted to fight Ricardo Lamas, but then I later learned that he didn’t take the fight with me. He decided to fight (Mirsad) Bektic instead. Then, during that process, the Zabit fight was causing a lot of hype on social media. … I was like, alright, this is going to be great. I started looking at the big potential for this fight. And it was kind of my fault that I — like a week after Lamas declined the fight, Sean Shelby called me again and he said, ‘Hey, the Lamas fight is still back open. It’s back open for you to fight.’ And after I was asking for any top-10 [opponent] and they didn’t want to give it to me, and then Lamas took Bektic instead of me, I was kind of disappointed. Just kind of disappointed, I’ll say that.

“I started looking at this other fight with Zabit. It was making a lot of sense for me because of the stylistic matchup and stuff. We saw big potential of renegotiating my contract. There was a negotiation that if they wanted me to fight him in LA (at UFC 227), which, I said I’ll fight him in LA, of course, but [only] if you pay me more, because I had saying for the last year that I wanted to fight a top 10 [opponent]. I’m not picking my opponents. I’m just saying I deserve a top 10. Anyone. I actually asked for ‘Korean Zombie’ as well, but they told me he wasn’t ready, even though he posted some stuff on Twitter saying that he wanted to fight Frankie.

“I was like, okay, I’ll fight Zabit if you give me more money in LA, because I understand how big of an event it is, and they said no,” Rodriguez continued. “I was like, okay, if you don’t want to give me more money to fight him in LA, why don’t you give [the fight] to me in Russia, and there’s no need to do any negotiation for that. I want him in Russia. Why? Because he was calling me out. I’m the guy who, I never say much, I just act. I don’t have to be talking about this on my social media.

“They didn’t even want to give it to me in Russia. Then I was like, okay, you don’t want to give me more money to fight him in LA, you don’t want to give me a top-10 [opponent]. Now I’m looking — now I see how the things are going.”

Soon after, White told the LA Times that the fight between Rodriguez and Magomedsharipov was set for UFC 227. Given that White’s claims were untrue, Rodriguez tweeted out the hashtag “#FakeNews.” Rodriguez was promptly cut from the promotion. Later that week, White told the LA Times that he had “no use” for Rodriguez. He alleged that the young prospect turned down the Lamas and Magomedsharipov offers.

Rodriguez, however, disputes that he ever turned down the Lamas fight.

He said that his demands were simple: He either wanted a top-10 opponent, like Lamas; he wanted to challenge Magomedsharipov in Russia at UFC Moscow; or he wanted to renegotiate his contract before accepting the Magomedsharipov fight for UFC 227.

“I told them I will accept anyone in the top 10,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t need a negotiation for a top-10 [opponent]. This guy was No. 13 when I was No. 7. I just got beat by Frankie. It’s just one fight. I’m 6-1 in the UFC. I just think that’s what I deserved, and they didn’t want to give it to me. That was more about respect, respecting myself.

“This, for me, was an eye-opening experience.”

As it stands now, in light of the UFC’s surprising decision to cut him, Rodriguez has effectively become the hottest free agent on the MMA market.

Rodriguez said that there has already been substantial interest in securing his services and he is hoping to compete as soon as possible.

“I can’t talk too much about it, brother, but there’s been offers,” Rodriguez said. “There’s been really good offers on the table, but you’ll hear soon about what’s going to happen next with me.

“I’m happy,” he added. “Of course, you always want more because you think you deserve more. It’s just the way that it is. Nobody is happy with whatever they have. But … I’m really happy with the offers right now. I’m happy with what is on the table right now. I’m just being smart, I’ve been waiting to see all the offers, and I know my next move is going to be really important for my career and my life.”

Rodriguez said that he never got a chance to thank White or any UFC officials for the four years he spent in the promotion, but he nonetheless wanted to do so. He said that he reached out to White’s assistant but never heard back.

Either way, despite how things played out, Rodriguez repeated several times that there are no hard feelings — at least on his side — regarding his UFC exit. He enjoyed his time there and is looking forward to penning the next chapter of his MMA journey, wherever it comes.

“No hard feelings,” Rodriguez said. “You’ve got to move on from things. People live in the past too much. They live the past. I’ve been learning, this is one of the things that I’ve been learning: If you are living in the past, you’re depressed. If you are living in the future, you have anxiety. If you live in the present, you are happy. So I’ve just been slowly learning how to be here and live in the moment, live in the present, and don’t let any little stuff bother me. I cannot let little stuff bother me for the rest of my life.

“This doesn’t stop here. This is the just the beginning of something greater.”


All of this is bullshit

Yair should be in the UFC. I think it’s a little bit odd for Yair to ask for more money considering he just lost, however it should be standard that when you take a short notice fight, it’s NOT just an "opportunity" for a fighter to earn money, as the UFC likes to pitch it. It’s also an opportunity to destroy your potential future earnings by looking horrible or just losing.

To have him released over this is just stupid. This is just a pissing contest where Yair lost more than the UFC, but both lost anyways.

How did the UFC lose? Explain % of lost revenues from him not being on the roster. The media latched onto this but up until this story nobody was asking "where's Yair".

the UFC loses credibility

and match ups, and shit like this adds to the general malaise going on in the sport

don’t be willfully obtuse

in all reality the UFC loses nothing

Yair isn’t a draw or a title challenger. He might be one day, but realistically there is no downside to cutting him at the moment.

Outside of hardcores who will watch anyway, this is a non-issue.

They lost a potential star and a hot prospect

They’ve also been trying to get into the Mexican market for a while.

I’m not saying this guy is a sure thing. He might not actually live up to the hype. But the UFC does need guys like him. He may not be selling tickets now, but he could be selling tickets when guys like Aldo, Edgar and Stephens have retired.

That’s why he’s keeping it respectful and saying no hard feelings, he’ll be back in the UFC within a couple of fights for sure.

I doubt that. Dana holds grudges for a while.

He doesn’t like to lose a pissing contest.

He and the UFC totally shit the bed on this one. White lies so much about what plans are and what’s been offered, it’s probably a daily occurrence, and fighters are just expected to shut up and deal with it. When Yair exposed his lie, that was it.

To answer how does the UFC lose by losing Yair? Lost credibility (as someone said), especially among other fighters and the Mexican market. This is just one more bullshit move by the UFC that fighters can stack onto the massive pile of reasons why they need to unionize.

The arrogance in his tweet got him released.

Yair should have known who he was dealing with in Dana. Whether they like it or not, Dana has that type of power.

Agreed and he's trying to have us believe

That he was cut for no reason. Yeah right….

Yeah how dare him say he's not signed for a fight

Dana is known the hold grudges but..

He’s also buried them and had guys like Barnett, Tito, BJ Penn, etc come back to either fight or into the Hall of Fame and those guys did and said a lot worse than Yair.

If Yair lives up to his potential and keeps winning in spectacular fashion, my guess is he’ll be back after a couple of fights.

Sheez, I think you need grudge pills

Dam Right!

Hindsight bias is fairly strong

Against Edgar, this was a "changing of the guard" type fight. Had Yair won (and if whatever situation he had at home not happened), he would be the hot shit fighting against the top 145 guys. Very few people can beat Edgar, a win against him would of been huge for Yair.

The story changed after and Yair was considered to have been thrown into the lion’s den too quickly. After 1 year of absence, sure it’s fair for you to forget about him. That does not change the fact that

1) The UFC already invested in him, and cutting him basically removes another TUF winner from their roster. You can shit on the TUF series, but it is the way they enter new markets.
2) Mexico is (or at least was) an important market for the US. Who is there that is from Mexico that can headline a card?
3) Young stars : 25 or younger stars (or in the making), who is there to fill that void? All the previous ones not only lost, but they lost to people they were "not supposed" to lose to. Yair was 6-0 before Edgar, and losing to him certainly does not derail any hype train.
4) Exciting fighters : win or lose, Yair is an exciting fighter. Rather than have 40 year old Maia headline a card against a wrestler who, while dominant, is boring, Yair could be headlining anywhere in South America and entertain the fans.

So yes, the UFC lost by cutting Yair. Huge loss? Certainly not, but to somehow think it was a good move because they were going to spend 50K more (or something like 0.5% to 1% of their payroll) on a co-headliner to headliner is just insane.

I've stopped watching TUF myself.

But you can’t deny that it’s responsible for bringing in a number of guys who have developed into some of the best in the world such as Gastelum, Whittaker and Ferguson.

Still sounds like

he turned down fights. He doesn’t come out and say it outright but hints that he did in fact turn down Lamas when offered a second time. Seems a little harsh to cut him for turning down 2 fights. Also Zabit was #13, Yair didn’t want to fight anyone not in the top 10, so rankings aren’t meaningless I guess.

But he IS saying he turned down the Lamas fight and then he is saying he turned down the Zabit fight

….when he says, " I wanted to renegotiate to fight Zabit at 227 and they said no"

Well, IF you are under contract(have fights left) and haven’t fought in a year and your last fight was a brutal loss…… That is not at all the time to try to renegotiate. They don’t need to renegotiate on a loss. The time to renegotiate with before Frankie beat your ass or after you win your next fight.

The way the UFC sees it and the way I see it as well is the same as Tony wanting big money to fight Khabib long ago when the Conor lottery was there for the winner. Tony felt like he already did enough to secure the Conor fight but Khabib was undefeated. So Tony was essentially saying, "I want to get paid NOW because i might not beat Khabib and then I lose out on the Conor money. So I want to renegotiate to fight Khabib.

Same with Yair.

IF you believe you can beat Zabit then you fight him and beat him and THEN renegotiate. But if you dont believe you can beat Zabit then you better try to get more money and a better contract before you are two in the hole.

If anyone thinks the UFC doesn’t see this as a stone cold reality…. .they deal with negotiating all the time and they damned well know that this is why fighters on a loss who have not fought in a while come at them to renegotiate before their next fight.

Most people realize this reality and just take the damned fight on their contract because its a contract. But those who try to play this get paid now before I lose again game…. like Dana said, They dont have time for it.

Agreed... fighters who don't fight are no good to the UFC or the fans

He had a contract and played a game and lost. Maybe it works out good for him, if he gets more money, fighting easier opponents else where.

Not ideal circumstances to negotiate in, but...

I can’t blame him for wanting more money for fighting in LA where there’s a sizable Mexican population.

I can and do blame him. Nonsense theory

You can't see

why he would ask for more money to fight in a location where he would be a big draw? it’s wrong to ask for money that’s more in proportion to what you could be bringing in for the company?

He's within his rights to turn down fights

And the UFC were within their rights to cut him.

Sucks for fans, but it works both ways


He seems to be dancing around it here and blowin’ smoke.
Dana and co can be dicks we can all agree, but there’s noway they would just cut him for what he tried to lay out as his side of the argument here. I think Yair got a little too delusional about his power, stability and position within the company and it backfired like a motherf*cker on him.

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