2016 was quite the year for the UFC and some of its stars. Ownership changed, titles unexpectedly moved from one waist to another and fighters who were once labeled unbeatable felt their first taste of defeat. But for Mexico native and UFC’s newest and most exciting featherweight, Yair Rodriguez (9-1), it’s been nothing but a fast rise to the top ten of the division since winning The Ultimate Fighter Latin American at the end of 2014.
And Rodriguez will take that momentum along with undefeated record in the UFC all the way to the main event this Sunday night where he will face UFC Hall of Famer, BJ Penn (16-10-2) in the main event of the evening. “I really appreciate the UFC for letting me headline this fight,” said Rodriguez. “And of course there is a little bit of pressure but if you don’t feel that anymore you should stop doing it.”
Since making Chicago his home while training, Rodriguez wanted to be known for more than just the flashy striker and has focused a lot on his wrestling since moving his training camp to the Windy City. “Chicago is amazing,” said Rodriguez. “I feel comfortable there and can be more focused there. They have everything I need.”
Born in Parral, Chihuahua Mexico, and being friends with some of the other Mexico-born UFC fresh faces like Alexa Grasso and Irene Aldana, Rodriguez knows that he is a part of what the UFC has been trying to do with bringing more awareness to Hispanic culture in MMA. “We are all part of a big Mexican team,” said Rodriguez. “We are a part of something bigger coming up.”
On Sunday night, Penn will be Rodriguez’s biggest test to date in his career and as BJ is coming out of retirement for this fight, he knows he will have to share the spotlight in the main event and be ready for an always game BJ Penn. “Nothing is easy in life,” said Rodriguez. “BJ is the guy I looked up to when I was younger. I respect him, but I feel like it’s my time.”
Photo courtesy of UFC/Pinta