As it builds towards the crescendo of UFC 202 and the Conor McGregor-Nate Diaz rematch in a matter of weeks, the Ultimate Fighting Championship hands the torch to one of its most promising young featherweights.
The once-beaten Yair Rodriguez will meet Alex Caceres in the UFC Fight Night 92 main event on Saturday at the Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City. In the featherweight co-headliner, Dennis Bermudez collides with “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil” Season 1 winner Rony Mariano Bezerra. The rest of the six-fight main card features a welterweight clash pitting Santiago Ponzinibbio against Zak Cummings, a women’s strawweight affair matching Maryna Moroz with Danielle Taylor and a pair of middleweight battles, as Thales Leites locks horns with Chris Camozzi and Trevor Smith squares off with Joseph Gigliotti.
Let us take a closer look at each UFC Fight Night “Rodriguez vs. Caceres” matchup, with analysis and picks:
FeatherweightsYair Rodriguez (7-1) vs. Alex Caceres (12-8)
THE MATCHUP: Rodriguez is for many people the most exciting prospect in the featherweight division; and while Max Holloway might take issue with that, the reasons for Rodriguez’s rapidly growing fanbase are more than clear.
Rodriguez is a rare breed. The “grappler who kicks” is not an easy style to maintain. Rodriguez’s combination of double-leg takedowns and high-flying kicks is an extremely demanding one, requiring explosive speed, natural timing, excellent dexterity and stamina. Only a phenomenal athlete can pull it off. Fortunately for “El Pantera,” he is just such an athlete. Operating from long range, Rodriguez uses lateral movement, feints and dazzling kicks to keep his opponent from closing the gap. When that task becomes too much, he will quickly change levels and take his opponent to the floor.
Once there, Rodriguez displays a dangerous, creative grappling game. From his back, he rarely accepts a position, shifting his hips and throwing up his legs constantly. One of his specialties is to invert or dive for a leg from his back, only to sweep and wind up on top. He is no less aggressive from top position, sliding around in open space, eschewing bodily control in favor of fluid movement and constant offense. From either top or bottom, Rodriguez has a natural instinct for ground striking, using elbows, hammerfists and ramrod straight blows with expert precision.
Caceres feels like a lateral move for Rodriguez, more or less on par with his last opponent, Andre Fili, than a step up. There is nothing wrong with that, of course. Rodriguez is only 23 years old and just eight fights into his MMA career. Now is the time for him to develop, and creative craftsmen like Caceres are the perfect tests. It may be unfair to speak of Caceres in such terms, considering the near-blowout he staged in his last fight, a remarkable win over veteran Cole Miller -- and on short notice, no less. Caceres showed the same brilliant variety that has always made him a dangerous out, but with more discipline. He slid in and out of range, feinted constantly and pressed the attack more ruthlessly than ever before. Caceres also displayed some much improved wrestling, both defensively and offensively in the clinch, and comported himself well on the ground.
THE ODDS: Rodriguez (-275), Caceres (+230)
THE PICK: Despite all of the aforementioned positives, Caceres also ran into typical trouble with Miller, nearly succumbing to a submission in the third round. Caceres is capable of sudden comebacks, as in his win over Sergio Pettis, and sudden defeats; the only truly reliable thing about him is his unreliability. That does not negate the risk to Rodriguez. Caceres is good enough everywhere to test Rodriguez anywhere. This could be the fight where we finally see someone attack Rodriguez’s lackluster pocket boxing, stuff his takedowns or put him in danger on the ground. More likely: Rodriguez wins by third-round submission.
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