Still riding high from an epic night of fights at UFC 268, the UFC keeps the fight train rolling with an afternoon fight card this Saturday. The UFC Fight Night: Holloway vs. Rodriguez main event can only be described as a showdown between two of the most elite strikers in the sport of mixed martial arts. Max Holloway is the self-proclaimed best boxer in the UFC, and Rodriguez has shown time and time again that he can orchestrate combinations that leaves fans with pulled muscles from just watching his dexterity. Holloway currently sits as the number-one ranked contender at featherweight, and Rodriguez is only two spots behind him at number three. The winner of this clash will have a very strong case that they deserve the next crack at Alexander Volkanovski’s featherweight belt, even with Holloway having come up short twice against Volkanovski in the past.
The heavyweight division is highlighted in the co-main event with long-standing UFC veteran Ben Rothwell taking on Marcos Rogerio de Lima. Rothwell turned 40 back in October and hasn’t shown many signs that he is slowing down. He scored a submission win over newly minted fan favorite Chris Barnett in his most recent outing. De Lima is also coming off a win, scoring a unanimous decision over Maurice Greene the last time he stepped foot inside the cage.
Also on the main card is a women’s featherweight fight between Felicia Spencer and Leah Letson. Spencer has dropped two straight, coming up short against Amanda Nunes in a title opportunity and then falling via unanimous decision to Norma Dumont. Letson has just one professional loss and had a successful UFC debut by notching a split-decision win over Julia Stoliarenko.
UFC Fight Night: Rodriguez vs. Holloway airs in its entirety on ESPN+ with the prelims starting at 1 p.m. ET, followed by the main card at 4 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela preview the fight card in this week’s edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Former featherweight champion Max Holloway returns to action for the first time in almost ten months to take on Yair Rodriguez; does Holloway continue his climb back to the top with a victory or does Rodriguez secure the biggest win of his career?
Sumian: If you have seen the movie Undisputed 2, be prepared for an epic main-event showdown that closely resembles the final fight of this thrilling mixed martial arts story. The main character, who is a former boxing champion with sensational skills, takes on a dynamic and flashy kickboxer capable of knocking out any of his opponents with one strike. This fight will mirror exactly that and will showcase one of the highest levels of mixed martial arts striking we have seen in some time.
Holloway has undoubtedly established himself as the second best featherweight in the world, despite dropping two back-to-back decision losses to current champion Volkanovski. The Hawaii native boasts some of the best mixed martial arts boxing in UFC history and has the ability to pick apart any opponent who stands across from him. He put an absolute beating on surging contender Calvin Kattar back in Jan. 2021 and looks poised to earn a rematch with Volkanovski for a trilogy fight, if he is able to take out the always entertaining Rodriguez.
After an incredible finish over the “Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung, which came by way of a last-second elbow, Rodriguez faced Jeremy Stephens twice in a row to continue his climb up the featherweight rankings. The first bout ended in a no contest due to an accidental eye poke by Rodriguez, while their second showdown resulted in a “Fight of the Night” victory for the Mexico native. Rodriguez is a flashy, fluid and lengthy striker, who quickly established his dominance by keeping his opponents at bay with long jabs and sharp front kicks. A win over Holloway can easily earn Rodriguez a shot at UFC gold.
This bout represents matchmaking at its finest with both competitors bringing incredible striking skills to the table. Holloway will need to get on the inside of Rodriguez’s length and fire off his quick combinations to the head and body to slow his opponent down. Rodriguez will do the opposite and aim to keep Holloway on the outside to gradually land clean shots and control the center of the Octagon. After an incredible five rounds, that results in another possible “Fight of the Year” contender, Holloway will earn a split decision victory over a very game Rodriguez and earn himself another title shot. The performance of Rodriguez will also earn him another shot at a top contender to promote the Mexico native’s star power.
Petela: That last-second elbow finish over the Korean Zombie is going to be at the forefront of Holloway’s mind when he takes on Rodriguez. Rodriguez can pull a rabbit out of his hat at any second, especially when he needs it the most. Being hyper-aware of this, Holloway will do everything he can to keep this fight as traditional as possible, capitalizing early on big movements by Rodriguez to pick his opponent apart over the first round or two. That will slow down “El Pantera” and force him to recalibrate his game plan, reverting to a more classic Muay Thai style of striking against the technically superior Holloway. It won’t look good for Rodriguez heading into the “championship” rounds, and he and his corner will know that they are well behind on the scorecards.
That’s when things will change in the blink of an eye. Rodriguez will flip the switch and go back to his wild and unorthodox striking in the fourth round. It is there that he will take a few misses before he finally catches Holloway with the heel of his foot or the point of his elbow and forces the former champion to steps backwards. From there, a flurry of punches followed by one more emphatic strike that comes in at a weird angle will drop “Blessed” to the canvas and force the referee to step between them. Holloway’s hopes to march towards reclaiming the title will be halted in an instant, and Rodriguez will put the upper echelon of the featherweight division on notice. He will do the unthinkable, and he is a threat to anyone standing across the Octagon from him until the final bell rings.
Ben Rothwell recently celebrated his 40th birthday and has won three out of his last four fights; does he continue his career resurgence by defeating Marcos Rogerio de Lima?
Petela: Yes. Ben Rothwell is a tricky opponent for anyone he faces. He has unconventional striking and almost goofy footwork that must be difficult to replicate with training partners. That will pose problems for de Lima, especially with Rothwell holding a three-and-a-half-inch reach advantage. It will take the majority of the first round for de Lima to get a read on the movement of Rothwell, and, in the process of figuring it out, will take significant, if not devastating, damage. The longer the fight goes, the closer the striking contest will get, but Rothwell has an ace up his sleeve.
For years, Rothwell has been an underrated grappler and a phenomenal submission artist. He holds the distinction of being the only person to ever submit Josh Barnett, one of the best catch wrestlers of all time. He has an incredible ability to lock up his patented “gogo choke”, which is a 10-finger guillotine. Once this fight gets to the second round, and de Lima has developed a read on Rothwell’s striking patterns, Rothwell will close the distance and get the fight to the canvas. From there, it won’t take long for Rothwell to sink in a submission, especially against someone who is susceptible to being tapped, having five losses by submission, all by way of choke.
Sumian: My colleague’s assessment is true. Rothwell is the better mixed martial artist between the two and will sink up a slick submission victory over de Lima, who, as Matt stated, has five submission losses on his record already. Rothwell still has some juice in the tank and should provide an array of entertaining bouts prior to his retirement.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Petela: Felicia Spencer. She has lost two straight fights and three of her last four. She also fights in the women’s featherweight division, which barely even exists outside of champion Amanda Nunes. A loss by Spencer this weekend might see her wind up on the outside of the UFC, looking in, as the promotion struggles to find new challenges for Nunes.
Sumian: Cortney Casey. The Arizona native has turned in an underwhelming 5-8 UFC record thus far, and she is riding a two-fight losing streak. Another loss, courtesy of Liana Jojua, will certainly send “Cast Iron” to a lesser promotion.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Sumian: Miguel Baeza versus Khaos Williams is a welterweight showdown that most hardcore fans have had circled on their calendar since its announcement. The fact that this bout is not slotted as the co-main event is quite baffling after how entertaining these two have been thus far in their careers. The pair combine for 15 professional finishes, 13 by way of knockout, and they will throw hands once locked in the cage. This bout is the only competition to Holloway and Rodriguez for “Fight of the Night” and should prove to be a memorable one.
Petela: Kennedy Nzechukwu vs. Da un Jung. Nzechukwu has looked better than ever in his last two fights, spoiling both the UFC debut and perfect record of Carlos Ulberg, and then following that up with a bonus-winning knockout over Danilo Marques in his last outing. For his part, Jung has picked up 10 of his 14 pro wins by knockout, and 2 more by submission. These up-and-coming light heavyweights are both on the right side of 30 and have the potential to start knocking on the door of contendership sooner rather than later. The winner of this slugfest takes a big step forward.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Petela: Kyle Daukaus. His first fight with Kevin Holland barely got started before a clash of heads started the bout down a path that would ultimately lead to it being declared a no-contest. For as long as that fight lasted, Daukaus looked very impressive and he will pick up right where he left off this weekend. With Holland injured and out of the bout, he gets replacement opponent Roman Dolidze. Expect him to pick up his ninth submission victory and stay on track for a rematch with Holland early in 2022.
Sumian: Ben Rothwell via first-round submission. The former top-ranked heavyweight will make short work of de Lima and earn himself a well deserved bonus for his services.
Pair this card with…
Sumian: Martial arts films. The main event is a classic striker versus striker showdown, with each combatant possessing more proficiency with their kicks or punches. Expect a Way of the Dragon-style clash as Holloway uses his lightning boxing to counter Rodriguez’s flashy kickboxing. This bout could have been a co-main event for a pay-per-view in the near future, but, instead, both men get the spotlight and will not fail to deliver.
Petela: Tres Leches. The classic Mexican cake is the perfect pairing for this fight card that will see Yair Rodriguez pick up the biggest win of his career. While the recipe is relatively simple, and Rodriguez’s striking repertoire is anything but, celebrate with a classic Mexican dessert as “El Pantera” surprises fans worldwide by becoming the first fighter to stop Max Holloway with strikes.
Main Card (ESPN+, 4 p.m. ET)
FW: Max Holloway vs. Yair Rodriguez
HW: Ben Rothwell vs. Marcos Rogerio de Lima
Women’s FW: Felicia Spencer vs. Leah Letson
LHW: Philipe Lins vs. Ovince Saint Preux
MW: Roman Dolidze vs. Kyle Daukaus
BW: Song Yadong vs. Julio Arce
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 1 p.m. ET)
LW: Thiago Moises vs. Joel Alvarez
Women’s FlyW: Cynthia Calvillo vs. Andrea Lee
WW: Miguel Baeza vs. Khaos Williams
FW: Sean Woodson vs. Collin Anglin
Women’s FlyW: Cortney Casey vs. Liana Jojua
LW: Marc Diakiese vs. Rafael Alves
LHW: Kennedy Nzechukwu vs. Da-Un Jung
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