The Severe Spotlight: Yair Rodriguez

Game planning is a vital part of the MMA makeup. Defining a set of techniques and an approach to utilise those techniques that a fighter and their camp believe will highlight the weaknesses in their opponent’s skillset and gameplan, and ultimately lead to their fighter being successful in winning a fight.

Yair Rodriguez from second one of his contest against Josh Emmett on Saturday showed the power of a successful gameplan. It started with footwork and patience. In previous fights Yair has been known to throw caution to the wind, to trust in his own skill set and to invest in his high octane kicks too early, and with reckless abandon. Here he prods and probes at Emmett with two early back leg teeps – safe and measured. The first strike that draws a reaction from Emmett and a strike that proves to be pivotal in the bout is the outside low kick to the left leg of Emmett, who hops away and is forced to shake his leg out.

Rodriguez then goes about executing his vast kicking game to take an early lead in the first. A kick heavy game is difficult to execute effectively, it takes a brilliant understanding of range, of timing and of spatial awareness. Being able to stifle the offence of an oncoming opponent, or push them back and make them second guess their own offence due to not being able to penetrate this carousel of shins. Rodriguez offered teeps, low kicks, and roundhouse kicks to all heights and from both stances, smattering in a seasoning of straight right hand follow ups right behind the kicks.

The two kicks that offered Emmett the most problems in this early going was the low kick as mentioned, but the left body kick from Rodriguez to the right side of Emmett. Rodriguez would use a switch of his stance from orthodox to southpaw as a fake to the low kick, and instead use it to generate power for the body kick from the left leg.

This causes Emmett to freeze a little, he is unsure as to whether a kick is coming to the rib, to the thigh to the calf, and to which leg? When does that kick travel from the thigh to the chin? If I throw caution to wind how fast does the teep come to my midriff? Rodriguez managed the spurts of penetration from Emmett well by circling his footwork, travelling out of range on non-linear lines, zigging and zagging, back through stances and opening up to a square hip when he always had an exit channel. The square hips of Rodriguez became an offensive tool, a trap for Emmett to believe he had caught the footwork off guard. Bounding forward Rodriguez would play matador and swipe Emmett to the cage with a leaping left hook.

Emmett to his credit is a tough, and brave fighter. That toughness and that bravery is what caused Rodriguez problems. At times in the first Emmett would bite down on his mouthpiece, walk through the carousel and saddle a horse. Riding those kicks until he found the chin of Mexico’s Rodriguez. An interesting adjustment of Emmett was born from the stifling of his own gameplan. He was reduced in this first round to three options: bravely rushing through fire and finding a short explosion of shots, putting right hands out into the ether in case Rodriguez closes the distance, or the one that was discovered – allowing Rodriguez to circle and circle until he circled himself into boxing range with Emmett whereby he could unload.

Those high-octane exchanges were and have been in the past the route to success for Emmett, but they come with their risks. A bull to matador exchange begins with a low kick by Rodriguez as he backs up, Emmett crushes forward with a right hand, that Rodriguez slips and lands a hammer fist to the back of the skull driving Emmett momentarily into the cage. Emmett squares back up and is greeted to a left high kick that he blocks. That block becomes a piston right hand as he falls back toward the cage wall. That right hand wobbles Rodriguez who backs up quickly. Emmett smells blood and advances. Rodriguez takes a right hand to setup a plum clinch knee, but Emmett’s counter right has already left the chamber and Rodriguez goes down. 1:30 left in round one, as Emmett shadows over Rodriguez. Emmett uses a Rodriguez up kick to slide by the legs and pass to side control, landing a huge elbow. Rodriguez is looking to attack triangles, but Emmett smartly stacks him and forces a turtle position.

Rodriguez takes some shots but turns in and advances to an R-guard position. R-guard looks similar to half-guard but with the legs and the frames reversed. A big elbow from Emmett causes Rodriguez to attempt to high leg, Emmett hits a lovely thigh drag, Yair does a good job of tying up frames and getting back to a side-guard, before returning to closed guard and being offensive off his back in the same manner used recently by Roman Dolidze.

3:10 left in the second-round see’s Rodriguez’s closing sequences begin. Two hard kicks to the right rib cause Emmett some problems. Emmett advances hard on the next beat in which a huge right hand. The camera angle makes it difficult to see whether that over-extension caused issues or whether a short left hook to the rib caused the issue, but the body language of Emmett changes immediately. Rodriguez notices it and swarms, double wrist grips and lands a short right elbow causing Emmett to stumble. Through gritted teeth Emmett pulls a right hand out that misses and Rodriguez tees off, punctuated by a knee. The stanza continues but Emmett is hyper-aware of anything coming toward that right rib, which gives the space for a gorgeous lean-in question mark kick to right hand from Rodriguez.

Rodriguez finds himself grounded after throwing and landing a jumping knee. Emmett takes, and catches the knee, turning it to a single leg mat return quickly. Yair now oscillates between controlling both arms with his left, a bicep pinch and a wrist grip, and same side wrist grips with elbows to open Emmett up. The triangle is the primary objective for Rodriguez as you see him prime his hips and attempt to push the left arm of Emmett through the legs to throw up his triangle. Wise to this situation Emmett defends well, so Rodriguez uses a fantastic misdirect of an armbar to force Emmett to react.

Rodriguez drapes his left leg over the shoulder, as he tries to punch the left hand of Emmett between his legs, as Emmett rips out his left arm from the grips of Rodriguez, he must leave his right hand in to post. Yair grips this and swings his hips to lock up an armbar – knowing that to defend the armbar, Emmett must withdraw his right arm and is likely to place his left arm into or near the entanglement of the legs. Emmett takes a thigh drag grip with his left hand as he withdraws his right arm. Rodriguez takes a wrist grip of this as he re-positions his left leg to be over the right shoulder, and he locks up a trap triangle.

A couple of shots from the bottom cause Emmett’s posture to be broken and allows Yair to turn the corner a few degrees and lock up his triangle fully. The shoulder of Emmett is still in the choke, and generally that makes triangles harder to finish. But Rodriguez moves swiftly between pulling the left arm of Emmett consistently through the choke, as he drags the head of Emmett down into the choke, before making a final switch to his shin. Emmett is forced to tap.

Fluidity, maturity, and situational awareness from Yair Rodriguez was shown in abundance. A performance not without its mistakes, but an awareness and a calmness to rectify those mistakes on the fly wins him a 145lb Interim UFC title.

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