Yair Rodriguez takes the superstar leap and what’s next for Islam Makhachev

Yair Rodriguez takes the superstar leap and what’s next for Islam Makhachev

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  • February 12, 2023
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What were the greatest moments at UFC 284 in Perth, Australia? Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Sam Bruce share their final thoughts after Down Under’s 12-fight map.

Rodriguez is now an interim champion and his growth as a fighter is clear

Yair Rodriguez is perhaps the most exciting fighter on the UFC roster and he’s been in this conversation for quite some time. He’s an absolute must on TV with his creativity, his kicks, his knees, his elbows and so on. There was a time when Rodriguez was just that: an action fighter. But that is no longer the case. There’s another word for him now: Champion.

Rodriguez and his team, led by coaches Mike Valle and Izzy Martinez, deserve a ton of credit for his massive improvement. We all know Rodriguez can win fights with twisting techniques and rear elbows. But hitting a guy as tough and persistent as Josh Emmett off the back with a triangle choke? That was absolutely amazing, winning the UFC Featherweight Title.

Rodriguez has undoubtedly improved significantly. And the best part is that he has kept all the things that made him so phenomenal to look at and turned it into an elite fighter. He’s a nightmare to fight because you never know what punches he’ll throw or what angles he’ll throw them from. And now he’s turning in boys from below too? My goodness. That’s almost not fair. It’s almost reminiscent of Anthony Pettis’ progression from the guy who threw the “Showtime Kick” to the all-round fighter who knocked the insubduable Benson Henderson off his back to win the UFC Lightweight Title.



Yair Rodriguez wins UFC interim featherweight belt

Yair Rodriguez sets up a title shot shot against Alexander Volkanovski by defeating Josh Emmett and winning the interim featherweight title.

One more thing to note here: This is Mexico’s second UFC championship win in as many months, and it comes just days after the UFC announced that its next Performance Institute will be held in Mexico City. Brandon Moreno became a two-time UFC Flyweight Champion at UFC 283, beating Deiveson Figueiredo. Rodriguez will have a chance to fight for the undisputed title against Volkanovski in the future, but this is not an insignificant victory.

There were no Mexican-born UFC champions until Moreno in 2021. Before this year is over, the country has a chance to have four when Alexa Grasso fights for the UFC women’s flyweight title next month against Valentina Shevchenko and Irene Aldana, who is likely to compete next for UFC Amanda Nunes, world champion in Women’s Bantamweight. The Mexican MMA renaissance is upon us. – Raimondi

Okamoto: What’s next after UFC 284 with the top stars?

Alexander Volkanovski (left) put on a show in front of his home crowd at UFC 284 on Saturday night. Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Islam Makhachev, Lightweight Champion

Who should be next: Beneil Dariush

The UFC is considering booking Dariush against former lightweight champion Charles Oliveira in May. Honestly, if the company decided to scrap those plans and just wait to book Makhachev against Dariush, I’d be all for it. Of course I’d love to see Dariush fight Oliveira, it’s a great duel, but Dariush already deserves a title shot. Oliveira just lost the belt to Makhachev. I feel like booking this in May although it’s great because we want to see it’s unnecessary. But if they pull through (Makhachev will be taking time off due to Muslim observance of Ramadan), Dariush is the obvious contender for the next lightweight title challenger.

Wild Card: Winner of Justin Gaethje against Rafael Fiziev on March 18th

This lightweight matchup is co-headlining UFC 286 in London. The winner isn’t guaranteed the next title fight due to the situation with Dariush, but could skip the line if Dariush fell against Oliveira. Even if the winner of that fight has to wait for Dariush to get his shot, I could see them waiting all the way for the winner. Gaethje in particular has come to a point in his career where he will no longer fight just to fight. And if Fiziev comes out with the win, he will be a legitimate title challenger with nothing else added to the resume.

Alexander Volkanovski, world featherweight champion
Yair Rodriguez, Interim Featherweight Champion

Who should be next: Anyone else

There are no wildcards here. This is the fight, and it was already last year’s fight before Volkanovski accepted the challenge to gain weight for Saturday’s main event. If that hadn’t happened I think we would have seen Volkanovski defend his title against Rodriguez at UFC 284. i love this fight I’ve always believed in Rodriguez’s potential (I know I’m not the only one). But especially lately I’ve seen a level of confidence and mental preparation to match the skills he’s always had. The same goes for Volkanovski, to be honest. We’ve talked a lot about where Volkanovski is right now as a champion and a competitor, the confidence that he has, Rodriguez has that too. Rodriguez represents a threat not many others in the division possess. His finishing ability is violent and creative. These two are currently working at the highest level. Volkanovski is preferred but Rodriguez is a real challenger. I see it happening at International Fight Week in July.

Jack Della Maddalena, welterweight

Who should be next: Ian Garry

There are so many fun potential matchups at welterweight. The UFC can have a lot of fun with this division in the years to come. Della Maddalena looks like a juggernaut early on, and if he continues down this path, he’ll rise very quickly. Garry is another prospect gaining momentum. He just booked a March 4th fight against Song Kenan. If he wins, I say, do that fight next.

Well, that might go against the traditional mindset that if you have two guys who are gaining popularity, don’t burn one by bringing them together. But in this case, I think the storyline that goes in – two prospects come in, one goes – would create hype for both. Stylistically, it’s a lot of fun. I like this idea. Let’s go.

Wild Card: Winner of Daniel Rodriguez vs. Gunnar Nelson on March 18th

Two recognizable names and a fair step forward in the competition. Rodriguez is a punching boxer and this duel could produce fireworks. Nelson is a veteran with a tricky and elusive style on his feet. He would also test him in grappling. Both fighters would present a real challenge for Della Maddalena and would offer plenty of advantages if he won.

Jack Della Maddalena is unbeaten in the UFC so far and ready for a bigger challenge in his next fight. Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Believe the hype. Della Maddalena has that certain something.

Della Maddalena improved his perfect UFC record to 4-0 with a devastating combination of punching and wrestling, handing Randy Brown in just two minutes and 13 seconds of the first round. The overwhelming victory left the 26-year-old savoring every second of admiration in front of the hometown crowd at Perth’s RAC Arena.

While he’s now planning a short layoff, Della Maddalena wants to be back in the Octagon in the first half of 2023, and he’s called for a top 15 opponent worthy of his welterweight talent.

Who’s willing to step in and mix it up with a man whom former UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping called a “champion-to-be” who has the “best boxing in the UFC” remains to be seen. But one thing’s for sure, Della Maddalena’s star really is on the rise.

While it’s still early days, he appears poised to take the same steps as compatriots Robert Whittaker and Alexander Volkanovski to become Australia’s third UFC champion. – Bruce

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