The mismatch to usher in the year 2017 left fans knowing what they already knew, B.J. Penn had no business competing against Yair Rodriguez at UFC Fight Night 103, which brings us to what is next for Rodriguez.
“El Pantera” is no stranger to flash and wreckage, in fact he is notorious for his wild and unpredictable spinning athletic attack. In spite of his clear talents, challenges remain on the horizon and these challenges possess a lot more danger than the past-his-prime BJ Penn. If one takes a look at the current rankings, there are some notable match ups that could present the young featherweight with a fast track to the top of his division.
Sitting at the number nine spot is Brian Ortega who currently owns a three fight winning streak, in which he TKO’d Thiago Tavares, submitted Diego Brandao and TKO’d Clay Guida last June. Ortega is 25 and has been on the sidelines for some time now, but his submission skills could pose an intriguing challenge to “Pantera.” Ortega’s chin has been tested and proven to be relatively strong, but Rodriguez can certainly put a change to that. Both men have proven to be stand up strong in skill and durability, and the answer of what happens when a meat and potatoes style fighter against a dynamic unconventional opponent can be rewritten in the next chapter of MMA history.
When discussing the answer for solving the puzzle that is an unpredictable striker, perhaps someone like Dennis Bermudez and his wrestling pedigree can provide for a stiff challenge. Despite being on a one fight win streak, the number 8 ranked featherweight his statistically managed to secure a 45% rate of take downs attempted. Bermudez is a lot smaller than Rodriguez and could prove to be another victim, however if he can successfully close the distance and consistently get a hold of the 5’11” up-and-comer, Bermudez can wind up shooting atop the division. Bermudez’s pace can be the difference in this potential battle, but Rodriguez’s wrestling under the tutelage of “Izzy” Martinez can hinder Bermudez’s game plan and turn the bout into a striking battle, which would heavily favor him.
Standing at the number seven position and coming off two submission losses is Charles Oliveira who is considered a big featherweight with substantial submission skills. Oliveira lost a fun battle against Anthony Pettis this past August, which provided a good portion of a back-and-forth stand up duel, in which “Do Bronx” held his own. Pettis has trained with Rodriguez and both mirror each others’ flashy style, which could foretell the competitiveness a bout between both Rodriguez and Oliveira could present. Oliveira possesses a potentially big name that “Pantera” would like to add to his resume, while “Do Bronx” could kill two birds with one stone by putting his two-fight losing streak behind him against a rising dangerous prospect who will likely be favored in this potential contest.
If a match maker is seeking a guaranteed exciting fight than look no further than the equally promising Dooho Choi who is coming off a classic back-and-forth three round skirmish against Cub Swanson at UFC 206. Choi is ranked 11th in the featherweight division, one spot below Rodriguez. The “Korean Superboy” was previously riding a three fight winning streak, which included three first-round knock outs, prior to his recent defeat. The 25-year-old screams performance-of-the-night candidate every time he steps into the octagon and pitting two future contenders of the featherweight division against one another will leave fans salivating. The potential tit-for-tat exchanges between both stand up specialists could preview of what is left to come over the years in the packed 145 division. Rodriguez and Choi’s paths are likely to cross at some point, and it could be in the UFC’s best interest to prolong the eventual scrap until they secure their status as top five in the division. Choi is coming off a tough loss, which could mean the UFC will search for an opponent who is stylistically tailored for the “Korean Superboy” as his star continues to grow. Rodriguez’s mismatch against the “Prodigy” could be a sign that the UFC is planning on grooming the Mexican star as their potential head of the Hispanic market.
Rodriguez’s second shot at headlining an event has proven successful in terms of the results, and it appears the UFC will continue this trend as the comparisons to past and current lethal martial artists are likely to grow. Rodriguez has managed to pass every test thrown his way thus far into his UFC career and at 24 years of age, there is no sense in rushing “La Pantera” who can potentially make 2017 his year. Whoever is next for Rodriguez will be in for a tough task, but it sure as likely won’t be tough to watch the youngster put his prowess on display.