September 25, 2023

How to approach Alexander Volkanovski vs. Yair Rodriguez

International Fight Week culminates on Saturday night when Alexander Volkanovski takes on Yair Rodriguez in the main event of UFC 290.

Seeing Volkanovski’s greatness as he tries to unify the featherweight titles is the perfect way to close out the biggest UFC weekend of the year. The need to unify his world title with the interim title is solely a result of his dominance. With no challenges, Volkanovski climbed to 155 pounds to face current lightweight champion, Islam Makhachev, in his final fight. Volkanovski failed in his quest to dethrone Makhachev, but looked impressive enough in the defeat to leave the door open for a rematch.

First he has to get through Yair Rodriguez, who cut through Josh Emmett to win the interim title. Rodriguez has defeated four of his last five opponents, with his only loss to Max Holloway coming in a five-round unanimous decision. He will rely on his dynamic kickboxing to crack one of the most versatile champions in the sport. It’s hard to imagine anyone beating Volkanovski at 145 pounds, and the odds reflect the respect the current champion has earned in the betting market.

Let’s get the question out of everyone’s mind early on. Yes, Volkanovski is the rightful -350 favorite in this matchup. In my eyes, any value projected from Rodriguez’s part against these odds is for Rodriguez to take him down with a climax kick or a spinning elbow. In my view, the implied odds of just under 28% are a bit generous given the champion’s advantages in the fight. Just because Volkanovski deserves the price tag, it’s not the most advantageous way for us to go into battle.

Volkanovski has one of the best fighting IQs in the game and he is excellent at solving his opponents’ attack tendencies very early on. That’s one of the main reasons why its striking differential jumps off the page at 2.95 significant beats per minute. For comparison: Rodriguez comes out at 0.75. The stark difference becomes even more pronounced when you compare significant strike totals against recent common opponents.

Brian Ortega

Max Holloway

Chang Sung Jung aka “The Korean Zombie”

Rodriguez is an instant attack. He is very fluid with a penchant for producing deadly attacks from unorthodox launch points. There is no denying that he is dangerous. However, if he goes out of country, as the historical numbers suggest, he will be in trouble early on. The key is that Rodriguez needs to operate from a distance to be effective. While Volkanovski has had success picking opponents out of range, he doesn’t depend on fighting in a specific realm. He has the luxury of flipping the switch and dusting off his wrestling chops when he really wants to make Rodriguez uncomfortable.

Alexander Volkanovski returns to his corner during his fight against Islam Makhachev at UFC 284. (Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Alexander Volkanovski returns to his corner during his fight against Islam Makhachev at UFC 284. (Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

The gap between Volkanovski’s offensive wrestling and Rodriguez’s defensive wrestling is the biggest advantage the champion has. This is where the fight could end as Volkanovski gains top control and starts drafting his opponent. Rodriguez has done better defending takedowns in his last two fights, but he’s allowed at least one in each of his last four. One could be all for a fighter as technically proficient as Volkanovski.

I also wouldn’t be surprised if Volkanovski tries to close distance early, pin Rodriguez against the cage and do damage on the interchanges or in the clinch. Unless the fight takes place in the optimal condition for the challenger (remote), I don’t see a path for El Pantera to get upset. Against a less technical or less disciplined fighter I am more open to an unlikely result where a striker like Rodriguez can produce.

My eyes widened when I saw Volkanovski’s prize to win in the distance at +125 on BetMGM. Volkanovski sounds like a man obsessed with earning a rematch with Makhachev. The best way to convince UFC brass to take the fight is with an emphatic finish. I don’t think Volkanovski is wasting time forcing this fight at close range, wearing down Rodriguez and dragging him to where he is most vulnerable. From there I wonder if Rodriguez can survive with Volkanovski on top of him. My money is the champion is all business. He knows how crucial it is to get the job done without taking much damage in case he needs a quick turnaround to fight Makhachev. The bet: Alexander Volkanovski by KO/TKO, DQ or Submission +125

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