LAS VEGAS — A week after Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler left jaws agape with their fierce battle at Madison Square Garden that seemingly locked up the 2021 Fight of the Year, Max Holloway and Yair Rodriguez delivered another classic that was every bit as thrilling and entertaining as the fight some called the best ever just a week ago.
Holloway and Rodriguez capped one of the best top-to-bottom cards of the year with a sensational, awe-inspiring performance. Holloway won a unanimous decision by scores of 48-47 twice and 49-46 Saturday at Apex which left the small crowd on its feet roaring its approval.
Neither fighter made it to the post-fight news conference. They spent 25 minutes battering each other and then hopped into an ambulance and made a trip to a local hospital for a precautionary examination. Rodriguez’s right foot was grotesquely swollen, as if it may be broken from all the kicks he threw. Holloway not only absorbed dozens of calf kicks, but he withstood a Rodriguez assault that included punches, kicks, elbows and knees thrown from every angle imaginable, all with vicious intent.
“Insane,” UFC president Dana White called the bout. “It’s one of the best fights I’ve ever seen.”
Holloway did what he usually does: Threw hundreds of highly accurate strikes, absorbed Rodriguez’s best shots as if they were taps and was dancing around afterward as if nothing happened.
He grabbed the microphone from television analyst Michael Bisping afterward and sang Rodriguez’s praises.
“Hey, UFC told me I could wait my ass [for a title shot] but you have guys like Yair, people are scared to fight because this guy’s a dangerous man,” Holloway said. “If you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. And the best is ‘Blessed,’ baby. But Yair, this guy is a beast. Viva Mexico!”
Rodriguez hadn’t fought in two years, but looked sharp as could be and stamped himself as a legitimate contender in the featherweight division.
There wasn’t much else he could have done to improve on his performance. He happened to fight a guy who not only is one of the best in UFC history, but who is as durable as anyone who has ever competed.
Rodriguez couldn’t complain afterward because he delivered an A+ performance against arguably the greatest featherweight ever.
“I came really prepared for this fight, but Max is just an amazing fighter,” Rodriguez said. “He has a lot of experience and he did an amazing job.”
Dean misfires again
Herb Dean is widely regarded as the best referee in MMA, but he’s developed some indecisiveness when it comes to stopping fights. In the co-main event on Saturday, he grabbed Marcos Rogerio de Lima around the waist and appeared to pull him off of Ben Rothwell after an opening-second blitz.
Dean then sort of appeared to change his mind, before de Lima looked at him and asked if he’d stopped the fight.
Dean then stepped in and made it official. But going halfway could lead to all sorts of problems, and White agreed Dean’s indecisiveness is becoming an issue.
“Herb needs to stop touching guys unless the fight’s over,” White said. “He goes in and grabs [de Lima] by the waist and then goes, ‘Oops, maybe I should let this go,’” White said. “The good thing about this one was, that fight should have been stopped when he stopped it. You didn’t see Ben jumping up and arguing about it.”
Night of finishes
Five of the six fights on the preliminary card were finishes, and the trend continued into the main event, where there were three finishes and two decisions. And one of those decisions was the Holloway-Rodriguez fight.
Da-Un Jung, Sean Woodson, Andrea Lee, Joel Alvarez, Song Yadong, Khaos Williams and de Lima got TKO victories. Rafael Alves put Marc Diakiese to sleep with a guillotine after hurting him with a knee.
— UFC (@ufc) November 13, 2021
“There were a lot of incredible things that happened on this card,” White said.
The Fight of the Night bonus went to Holloway-Rodriguez. Performances of the Night was awarded to Williams and Lee.
Williams is a guy I have to see more of. He’s got great power in both hands and he throws with vicious intentions. Miguel Baeza gave him a fierce battle, and had him in a heel hook in the first round.
Williams stayed calm and battled through it.
He has the look of a guy who with continued development can be a legitimate contender at welterweight.