Anytime exciting fighters like Max Holloway and Yair Rodriguez get paired together, the natural assumption is fireworks. But there's a little bit more than the potential for entertainment on tap when these two featherweights square off in the main event of Saturday's UFC Fight Night card from Las Vegas.
With both fighters ranked in the top three at 145 pounds, the winner could very much find themselves in the driver's seat for a shot at Alexander Volkanovski's title, which would mark the third time Holloway would be facing the champion in the past two years. But Holloway (22-6) isn't focused exclusively on the potential prize of avenging his two close defeats to "Alexander the Great" should he be victorious this weekend.
"At the end of the day, I have five title wins. Would I want my sixth title win against Alex? Sure. But UFC discussed with us a bunch of stuff," Holloway said at Wednesday's media scrum. "I have a win over the 155-pound champ [Charles Oliveira] right now. I'm on the short list for Conor McGregor, always. I'm the best boxer in the UFC. In the times like these, with these wild fights being made, use your guys' imagination. That's all I am going to say about it."
Regardless of Holloway's grand ambitions, the 29-year-old former champion from Hawaii knows the danger that comes from fighting Rodriguez (13-2, 1 NC), even if the native of Mexico enters following a two-year layoff -- which included a six-month USADA suspension -- as a large betting underdog.
Holloway has compared Rodriguez's dangerous striking style to that of former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis, whom "Blessed" defeated by TKO for the interim featherweight belt in 2016.
"I think Yair is a little bit more spinny and jumpy," Holloway said. "He's super explosive and you have to respect that."
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Rodriguez, 29, enters the fight with a record of 10-1 since 2013, which includes eight wins inside the Octagon and just a single loss when he was stopped by Frankie Edgar four years ago. Yet despite his glossy record and exciting style, he has yet to have fully capitalized upon his bright potential.
"I want to prove myself against Max Holloway because I know what kind of a fighter he is," Rodriguez said. "I am sure that the title shot is going to be in front of me, but first I have to win against Max. Anything can happen from there and I am not focused on that.
"I know Max is a fighter that can keep up a good rhythm of fighting, but I think I am going to break that will and not let him. I have to finish him. I have to go there and get him."
The two fighters were originally scheduled to fight in July before Holloway was forced to postpone due to an injury. Holloway's team forced him to undergo a mini-training camp to test the injury -- which remains undisclosed -- before they would greenlight him accepting a new date.
"All of my coaches were nervous," Holloway said."They said I better do a mini camp to see if the injury could handle the stress. It did and then we actually went into a real camp. Somebody is going to have to pay for that and Saturday night I have the perfect victim."
Although Holloway respects Rodriguez, he preferred to downplay the stakes while speaking to the media, saying, "It's just another fight. We have been there so many times." He went on to say that had it not been Rodriguez in front of him for this fight, it could've been anyone and he would've been fine with that.
"The saying is simple -- everyone, every time, anywhere," Holloway said. "There are a lot of guys at the elevator and they all want to go straight to the top. Since UFC doesn't have a tournament structure, the line is super long. I ain't about the elevator life. You can find me at the stairs. I have been running up and down that bad boy, wherever we got to go. The UFC did tell us we didn't have to take [Rodriguez] but I sat down with my coaches and we all agreed that we are not elevated divas.
"If you believe you are the best fighter in the world, that's what you should be doing."
Stakes aside, the expectations for the combination of violence and drama remain strong, which has fight fans of all kinds licking their lips in anticipation.
"I tell you guys all the time that if you have friends, family or colleagues who you are trying to get into MMA to watch UFC, make them tune in on Saturday," Holloway said. "You are going to get new fans and you are welcome in advance because you are going to have a new buddy to watch fights with."
Below is the rest of the fight card as well as the latest odds from Caesars Sportsbook.
Fight card, odds
- Max Holloway -650 vs. Yair Rodriguez +475, featherweights
- Ben Rothwell -170 vs. Marcos Rogerio de Lima +145, heavyweights
- Felicia Spencer -300 vs. Leah Letson +240, women's featherweights
- Song Yadong -135 vs. Julio Arce +115, bantamweights
- Miguel Baeza -150 vs. Khaos Williams +125, welterweights
Date: Nov. 13 | Start time: 4 p.m. ET
Location: UFC Apex -- Las Vegas
Rodriguez's 2018 victory over Chan Sung Jung is the perfect example of what makes him so dynamic and dangerous. Down on the scorecards in the closing seconds of their five-round thriller, Rodriguez bent forward and connected with an upward reverse elbow to knock "The Korean Zombie" out cold and produce one of the most viral and improbable victories in UFC history.
Yet, for as dangerous as Rodriguez is, he can be just as mercurial -- both in and out of the Octagon. It's part of why he isn't regularly talked about in the overall 145-pound title picture despite being highly ranked with such an impressive record.
Rodriguez will simply need to be more than just dangerous to finish Holloway, whose combination of length, volume striking and an iron chin make him altogether the worst type of matchup for Rodriguez to excel against.
Expect Holloway to try and keep Rodriguez on the outside using his jab and quick combinations to build off of his virtuoso shutout decision over Calvin Kattar in January, which set multiple UFC records for striking and might go down as the most impressive performance of Holloway's surefire Hall-of-Fame career.
While Rodriguez is plenty dangerous enough to win this fight by stoppage if Holloway isn't careful, it's hard to imagine he's skilled or patient enough to defeat the former champion over the five-round distance should it extend that far. For everything Holloway has accomplished, he's still on the right side of 30 and is fresh off some of the best work of his career, including in his disputed decision loss to Volkanovski in their 2020 rematch.
Pick: Holloway via UD5
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