Late Sunday night, Yair “El Pantera” Rodriguez, put on a masterclass in taekwondo as he dismantled UFC legend BJ Penn with an obscene amount of kicks to the head. This fight marks Yair’s sixth straight win in the octagon and should be the first win in a huge year for him.
Going into this fight, Yair seemed like an exciting young prospect who still needed to face some high level level competition, but after this fight it seems like he may just be the real deal. I understand that the popular opinion will be that BJ is way past his prime and this fight was a layup for Yair, but BJ is still one of the best grapplers in MMA history and I still think that this was a great test for Yair.
Honestly, Yair looked so crisp and polished in that fight, you could have put almost anyone in the cage with him and it would have ended the same way.
His ceiling is really unlimited because the way he fights is so unpredictable. We have seen many taekwondo fighters in the UFC before, but Yair is on another level.
To quote Mike Goldberg, “His precision is so precise.” Yair has pinpoint accuracy and although he throws a lot of flashy strikes that seem like window dressing, he always seems to find away to end his spins with a foot or fist to the face. To go along with his accuracy, he also has some of the fastest strikes in MMA today.
In everyone of his fights, he comes out and blisters through the first round. If you have never seen one of his fights you would probably think that there is no way that he could carry that pace for a whole fight, yet like a Mexican terminator he comes right back out for the next round and never seems to get tired.
In my opinion, there is no other fighter at 145 pounds that mixes constant creative pressure with iron man cardio like Yair does. I would really like to see him in more five round fights because I think as the fight gets into the later rounds, his cardio would give him the upper hand on a lot of guys.
We have seen a lot of talented strikers in the UFC before, but what usually stops their hype train is their lack of grappling skills. It would be easy for people to assume that because Yair is such a strong striker that he lacks skills on the mat, but his jiu jitsu is actually a very underrated part of his game.
When you throw as many spinning strikes as he does, you are going to slip or get taken down and when that has happened to him, he has looked very comfortable on the ground. Granted, he still hasn’t gone to the ground with a world class grappler, but I think he has the skills to survive on the ground against more competent opponents.
One of my favorite examples of his underrated jiu jitsu game is this crazy rolling thunder/leg lock thing he does. He has shown this technique in many of his fights, where he goes for a rolling axe kick and then when he misses he grabs the leg and goes for a leg lock. He never locks up the submission, but he seems to use it more as a way to get his opponent to disengage from ground action which allows him to get the separation to stand back up.
It’s crafty stuff like that, that shows me that he has a mind for jiu jitsu and with more experience he could be a special talent on the ground.
What lies ahead for Rodriguez is uncertain. He will definitely jump up in the rankings, but who he will fight next will be an interesting discussion. He passed his latest test against a season veteran, so now I think it’s time to start considering putting him up against some top competition.
One of the popular picks for his next fight will be Cub Swanson, but I’m not a huge fan of that pick. Cub is coming off a war with another up and coming star, Doo Ho Choi, and I just feel it is a little disrespectful to just keep feeding Cub up and comers instead of letting him get a shot at a top five guy.
I would like to see Yair fight someone like Jeremy Stephens or the winner of the upcoming Dennis Bermudez, Chan Sung Jung fight. Those three opponents all provide a different style that I think would be interesting to see Yair deal with.
2017 is going to be a huge year for El Pantera. He is one of the most talented strikers in the UFC today and at 24 years old, there is no telling how big he could get. Even in a stacked featherweight division, he has the talent to kick his way past the loaded top 10 and into the discussion of a title shot.