Now this is a classic young gunslinger with a growing reputation taking on the aging sheriff who is still fast but is aware that father time is catching up to him. Yair Rodriguez is an exciting young fighter who looks like a future champion. While Frankie Edgar is the tough gritty former UFC champion who is trying to get one more chance to have Dana White put that gold UFC belt around his waist.
This is one of the most intriguing matchups for me this year. In Edgar, you have one of the most classically complete fighters in MMA. It starts with his wrestling base, bolstered by some bona-fide boxing, and is then held all together by some often underrated jiu-jitsu. While Rodriguez represents the new breed of MMA fighter. One who is also able to fight in all facets of the sport but his moves elicit words like electrifying, explosive, wild, creative, and unpredictable. He starts with a Taekwondo base, and flows out from there into a myriad of elements that merge together resulting in one of the most dangerous and exciting fighters in the UFC.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Frankie Edgar the veteran
When it comes to strengths, Edgar’s reads like a list of what you would want to create an ideal MMA fighter. The Wrestling is the base but we usually see the Boxing first and when needed he rolls out the jiu-jitsu. Then there is the constant Pressure and Pace he brings and it is all done with constant technical perfection. I also need to mention he has excellent Timing with his strikes and takedown attempts. He is also strong and quick.
Then there are the intangibles; Edgar has the heart of the champion, a strong will, a strong desire to win, a hunger to improve, the ability to come back in a fight, the ability to recover from a big blow, and the ability to adapt during a fight. And, there is that constant movement.
Edgar is 20-5-1 overall and 15-5-1 in the UFC. Of the five losses, four are close, three extremely close, and those four are to UFC champions in Benson Henderson and Jose Aldo. Many people feel he won the second fight with Henderson. The other loss to Gray Maynard he avenged later.
When they fought the first time, Maynard took Edgar down nine times in three rounds. Since that fight he has allowed only 10 takedowns in 72 rounds and that includes another nine rounds with Maynard. During that stretch he landed 49 takedowns of his own. Edgar did this against some of the best fighters in the UFC lightweight and featherweight divisions.
When it comes to weaknesses…it is difficult to really think of many real weaknesses. I guess you could go with, unable to beat Aldo, but he does not make many mistakes. Edgar has struggled against fighters who have strong jabs, front kicks up the middle, and Aldo also had success catching Edgar as he was coming in.
Yair Rodriguez the flashy upstart
That could be a big problem for him against Rodriguez who has an excellent Jab with both his right and left hands. When it comes to Kicks he has a multitude of them. He is also a master of catching his opponents as they come in. Striking is a clear strength of Rodriguez. As Joe Rogan has informed us, Rodriguez has a Taekwondo base. A martial art that is heavily kick oriented and one that includes a lot switching of stances. Rodriguez, like Edgar, is also strong and very quick, maybe quicker.
However, it is not Rodriguez’ highlight reel striking that has me excited. Okay, it does get me all a tingle watching the wild kicks he throws, and lands. It is the grappling side that separates him from being merely an exciting striker into a true contender.
Whether he is striking or grappling, Rodriguez is constantly attacking, putting pressure on his opponents. Rodriguez is strong off of his back attacking all areas with submissions, legs, arms, legs and arms at the same time, and chokes. He flows from one to other while mixing in strikes even from the bottom.
It is not just the jiu-jitsu but also the improvements he has made in his wrestling since wining TUF Latin America. As both Rogan and Brian Stann have informed us, Rodriguez made the move to Chicago to work with MMA wrestling guru Izzy Martinez. That move and the subsequent hard work he put in says a lot about Rodriguez. Many fighters would have been content with his striking and jiu-jitsu skills. But, if you have dreams of being a champion in today’s UFC you need to also have some wrestling skills.
To be a champion in the featherweight division right now you will likely have to deal with Edgar. Unless you are Conor McGregor. Otherwise, you are going to face Edgar to get to the belt and to defeat him and the other top contenders you better have some strong wrestling and Rodriguez checks that box.
His overall record is 11-1 and he is off to an impressive and exciting 6-0 start in the UFC garnering two Fight of the Night bonuses and two Performance of the Night ones. Edgar has a total of 10 of them himself during his UFC career. You are starting to see why this fight has me and others so excited.
When it comes to weaknesses for Rodriguez he has shown few. And, like Edgar, he works on them between fights. He slowed down a little against Leonardo Morales in the TUF Latin America finale but had no problems going five rounds with Alex Caceres.
Paths to Glory
For Edgar, it is a simple one, be the best version of himself we have seen. To win this fight he will have to use his movement, impeccable footwork, timely wrestling, and underrated jiu-jitsu. Edgar will have to avoid Rodriguez’ jabs, wild kicks, find a way to get inside to land and get out, and he must win the grappling exchanges. Sounds pretty simple does it not?
Edgar has a tough fight in front of him. As I mentioned earlier, some of the things he has struggled with at times are things that Rodriguez does well. One example is the jab. Aldo used it effectively in his wins over Edgar and Rodriguez’ jab is excellent from both stances. He’s particularly good at catching opponents as they are trying to get inside. This is also something that Aldo used against Edgar landing some devastating knees in their second fight.
Once again, as I started to get inside of this fight, the more I came away impressed by Rodriguez. I know as the old guy I should be skewed towards the veteran but I have to go with what I see and feel. Certainly Edgar is capable of winning this fight but I find myself seeing more ways for Rodriguez to win.
One of Edgar biggest strengths is his ability to get better as the fight progresses. He is like a computer reading his opponent; analyzing them and figuring out the best way to attack them. His timing gets better as the progresses and the longer the fight the better for him. The issue for him in this fight is trying to analyze a tornado.
Beating B.J. Penn
When B.J. Penn fought Rodriguez earlier this year he was in a unique position to be perfectly prepared for him. Penn was training with Greg Jackson who had worked with Rodriguez and cornered him for several fights. Rodriguez’ current head coach is Mike Valle, who comes from Jackson’s camp as does Izzy Martinez. They brought in Caceres who had spent five rounds fighting Rodriguez and also throws unpredictable techniques.
None of that mattered as Rodriguez dominated him. As the fight progressed, Rodriguez’ timing got better and better. Often his strikes stung Penn and left him looking befuddled. The combo that sent him to the canvas was a beautiful one. First came the right kick to the head followed by the right hand. It is a sophisticated combination showing a high degree of technique. Sure, Penn is no longer the legend, but it was devastating display of destruction.
Will you be served or will the veteran teach a lesson
When it comes to the wild kicks and punches he throws the problem is that he also lands them. He is fearless and will seemingly throw any technique that comes to mind during the fight. This makes it difficult to get a read on him during the fight. Then you add in the fact that he will throw sophisticated complicated combinations, will attack the legs, body and head, and you have nightmare facing you as his opponent.
Two of the fighters that people like to compare Rodriguez to are Jon Jones and Anthony Pettis. I get it, like Pettis, Rodriguez has the Taekwondo background and they both like to throw exciting highlight reel worthy strikes. With Jones the comparisons are; the speed, the size and reach for the weight class, the athleticism, the Jackson connection, and the ability to fight effectively at all ranges.
Edgar has to first find a way past the dangerous outer range. That means avoiding the jab, the oblique kick to the knee, aka the Greg Jackson special, the myriad of kicks and spinning attacks. Early in the fight once he is inside of that range targeting the body will be a key as will landing leg kicks on the exits of at the end of combinations like he did against Aldo in their second fight.
Another attack that could be effective for Edgar will be able to read the spinning attacks to get inside to get a takedown. By grappling as much as he can with Rodriguez and attacking the body, Edgar can slow him down and take away some of his power.
One of the problems will be getting a read on Rodriguez. Many of the strikes, kicks, jumping attacks, and even spinning ones will have no setup or windup. He can explode instantly into a jumping knee if the opening is there or into a somersault kick to Dan Hooker’s stomach while Hooker is laying on his back. Then he will throw a right hand, left hand, into a hard leg kick that landed solidly.
The leg kick could be another key for Rodriguez. In the past Edgar has looked to catch leg kicks and turn them into takedowns. He often does this after they have landed. That could be problematic for Edgar against Rodriguez who likes to use a lower kick to the calf. He knocked both Hooker and Fili off-balance with them. They are a little more difficult to catch because they are so much lower. Edgar has to be careful to not duck into a knee or kick trying to catch a leg kick.
Rodriguez has also been good at letting his opponent run into a strike. By staying balanced and being able to flow into the different stances as he moves makes him dangerous at all times. This means that Edgar has to fight an almost perfect fight.
In each fight, Rodriguez seems to fix the weaknesses from earlier ones. His cardio has improved since his début, his wrestling is stronger and his striking is even sharper. This is a big jump up in competition for Rodriguez. Edgar will be the most complete, gritty, technically sound, and toughest opponent that Rodriguez has faced. Meaning that we will learn if he is ready to move into the true title contender roll, or that he is still a fight or two away from it.
Youth served again
Once again I find myself leaning towards the younger fighter. I know as an old guy I am so to embrace the technically sound veteran to whip the young flashy upstart. On the surface Rodriguez looks flashy, a lot of style over substance but once you look close you see there is much more there. The highlight reel moves are available to him because of his technical soundness.
I can still see Edgar winning this fight but he has to fight near perfectly. Rodriguez looks to be the faster fighter and has the reach on Edgar. But, Edgar has the footwork and timing to offset those slight advantages. He has used them effectively to become the UFC featherweight champion and compete for the lightweight title.
We will learn much about each fighter in this fight. Is Rodriguez ready to challenge for the title? Does Edgar have one last run left in him? The stakes are slightly higher for Edgar, a loss here and his title hopes at featherweight start to fade. If he wants a shot at a UFC title he will likely have to move down to bantamweight. While Rodriguez is young enough that a loss would only be a slight setback in his career.