Yair Rodriguez could be the UFC’s marquee star in Mexico, but first, he has to notch a victory over the legendary BJ Penn.
When “El Pantera” enters the cage at UFC Phoenix, he will have the opportunity to pounce on a breakthrough performance against one of the legends of the sport in BJ Penn. Yair Rodriguez is already one of the most talented young stars in the organization, and a victory would propel him to even greater heights if he can get another highlight reel stoppage.
For Rodriguez, his headlining opportunity against Penn is more than just another main event. A winner of The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America, Rodriguez also had a knockout of the year candidate for his flying kick stoppage over Andre Fili. Similar to Rory MacDonald and Michael Bisping before him, Rodriguez has the unique opportunity of becoming a breakthrough star for the UFC as it continues to expand to the foreign markets.
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Mexico has a rich history in combat sports. But while the UFC has shown a commitment to expanding their reach in the country, they have struggled to produce the star they can capitalize on as with MacDonald in Canada and Bisping in England.
Cain Velasquez is a highly regarded name, but his inactivity has made it difficult to promote him. Érik “Goyito” Pérez, while notable for being an analyst on the UFC’s Spanish-language broadcasts, has been up and down in his career before his recent three fight win-streak.
The UFC has already seen fighters grow from local stars to huge pay-per-view draws, Conor McGregor and Georges St-Pierre most notably. While still young in his career, Rodriguez is visibly on the track toward being built as the next top prospect and future title challenger.
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Quite simply, Rodriguez is different. With his unorthodox style that incorporates his vaunted Tae-Kwon-Do, he is poised to become one of the rising stars in the sport with a win over Penn. But while “El Pantera” has drawn comparisons to a young Anthony Pettis, he’s also facing one of the greatest legends in the history of the sport.
At UFC Phoenix, “El Pantera” will look to pounce on a legend.
“The Prodigy’s” legacy as the greatest lightweight champion of all time remains intact. With his boxing and world-class jiu-jitsu, he became one of only three fighters to ever win titles in two different weight classes. While Rodriguez is the new breed of mixed martial artist, he is nothing Penn hasn’t seen in his illustrious career.
That said, Penn has not had a fight since 2014 and has not even won a bout since 2010. When he was last seen in the Octagon, he had an unsuccessful run at welterweight where he was dismantled by Rory MacDonald and Nick Diaz. He returned to the UFC after a two-year hiatus to fight Frankie Edgar in a featherweight bout where his once phenomenal boxing appeared worse than it had in his entire career.
Now 38-years-old and after a nearly three-year hiatus, Penn has never been more vulnerable. The time is perfect for Rodriguez to get the biggest victory of his career. His knockout win was followed up by a decision over Alex Caceres. While his boxing still has room to grow, he showed impressive stamina in maintaining an aggressive pace for five rounds.
The intangibles don’t favor Penn, whose boxing and jiu-jitsu were not very effective toward what was believed to already be the end of his career. In fact, many pundits believe that it is not in Penn’s best interest to return in the first place. He pulled out of two scheduled returns in 2016 and many wondered if he would even make it back to the Octagon.
All of this bodes well for Rodriguez. If he is able to pounce on an opening left by Penn, then he could well be on the way to becoming a legend himself.