LAS VEGAS — Yair Rodriguez has shown everything required to be a star of the highest magnitude in the UFC, with the exception of one thing. And that one thing is pretty significant.
Rodriguez hasn’t been able to make it to the post consistently, and as the old adage goes, out of sight, out of mind.
On Saturday (4 p.m. ET, ESPN+) at UFC Vegas 42 inside Apex, Rodriguez will return to the Octagon for the first time in 25 months to challenge former featherweight champion Max Holloway in what figures to be no worse than Gaethje-Chandler Light.
The reasons for his absences are myriad, but he admits one of them falls squarely on his shoulders. Not much can be done about injuries, but Rodriguez served a six-month suspension imposed by USADA for a whereabouts violation.
UFC fighters are required to keep USADA updated at all times on their whereabouts as they are subject to 24/7/365 drug testing. If a fighter isn’t where he or she says they’ll be, or if they fail to turn in their plans, it’s considered a whereabouts violation. Three whereabouts violations in 18 months is a guaranteed six-month suspension.
For Rodriguez, it’s been about growth both physically and mentally. He’s shown the talent to beat the best, but talent alone isn’t enough.
“What I’m feeling right now, what I perceive out of this is just more maturity,” Rodriguez said. “When I talk about fighting, I turned 29 last month. I’m still young, but I’m getting there. My body has become more like a man’s body. I feel a little bigger and stronger.
“Mentally, I’m a lot better. Coming into this fight, it’s just been an honor for me that I was almost like selected to fight Max Holloway. Max Holloway is a huge name out there and I’m really happy to have the opportunity to fight him. I finally understand that things have to be a certain way.”
Negligence led to the whereabouts violations, so in a bid to fix that problem, he hired his younger sister and put her in charge of that and other administrative duties that need to be done. As a treat to her, he’ll have her in his corner on Saturday.
He’ll need everything in order and have all the details just so if he’s to beat Holloway. Holloway is one of the elite fighters in the world and is the kind of guy who never loses when he’s a huge favorite. At BetMGM, Holloway is -750 and Rodriguez is a +500 underdog.
Holloway has lost six times in 28 fights, with all but one of them coming to a fighter who held a UFC title. He suffered back-to-back close losses to Alexander Volkanovski in featherweight title fights. He suffered two losses to Dustin Poirier, the second of which made Poirier the UFC’s interim lightweight champion. And he was beaten by Conor McGregor, who would go on to win featherweight and lightweight belts.
The only non-champion Holloway lost to was Dennis Bermudez.
The point of that is that Holloway isn’t going to make major mistakes that give the fight to Rodriguez. Rodriguez is going to have to earn it.
“At the level I want to be at, you have to be ready for anything,” Rodriguez said. “We were in Vegas for the last three weeks fine-tuning things and getting prepared for this huge fight.”
Getting past Holloway would, no doubt, make up for lost time, though the lost income from not fighting stings. Rodriguez already has big wins over the likes of Dan Hooker, Chan Sung-Jung, B.J. Penn and Charles Rosa.
He’s third in the featherweight rankings despite such a long layoff. If he defeats Holloway, he’d likely skip over No. 2 Brian Ortega to become No. 1 and would most likely get the next shot at Volkanovski.
Rodriguez doesn’t want to get caught up in what might be because the only thing important now is finding a way, any way, to get his arm raised Saturday.
“We’ve been on a roll lately with a lot of sick fights, and this one is another one of those that I love,” UFC president Dana White said.
White knows full well how good Holloway is, so have no doubt he’ll notice if Rodriguez comes up big.
He’s been in the UFC since 2014, but Saturday’s bout is in many ways like the start of a new era for Rodriguez. Win, and the sins of the past will be forgiven.
Lose, and well, he’ll have to start the climb over.
“I have done everything to get myself ready and give me the best chance to win this,” he said. “That’s what I plan to do.”