Yair Rodriguez has worked his whole career to eventually compete for a UFC title, but he admits to having conflicted feelings about the interim belt up for grabs at UFC 284.
With reigning UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski moving up to 155 pounds to challenge Islam Makhachev for his lightweight title, Rodriguez is matched up against Josh Emmett in the co-main event at UFC 284. While some fighters have celebrated an interim title win, others like Justin Gaethje have gone as far as discarding the belt because it’s not consider an undisputed championship.
Rodriguez cannot deny the achievement that comes with any UFC title. But only time will determine if this will become the true belt.
“I mean, the journey’s been long,” Rodriguez said at UFC 284 media day. “It’s been like 10 years for me to get here to this point finally. It’s the belt, but I’m not trying to disrespect it. It is what it is.
“If we’re being honest, if I get to fight for the actual [undisputed] belt, then that will be the belt. If the actual champion [Alexander Volkanovski] decides not to come back to 145 pounds, then the champion of the division is whoever has the interim belt. That’s it. That’s the way it is.”
Volkanovski has stated numerous times that he wants to defend both titles if he’s successful in becoming a two-division UFC champion.
The odds are against him, however, with Makhachev riding a 10-fight win streak and sitting at around a 3-to-1 favorite heading into Saturday night — a streak which includes his dominant performance to capture the title with a submission over Charles Oliveira.
As great as Volkanovski was at featherweight — Rodriguez thinks Makhachev will get the job done in his first lightweight title defense — though he doesn’t rule out the possibility of an upset.
“I don’t count out Alexander Volkanovski, because I know that he can do a lot in that cage,” Rodriguez stated. I just believe Islam is more adept at using his weapons.
“I think Alexander is going to have to be really, really smart in order for him to get the win. Although I believe Islam has a better chance of winning, I still consider Alexander Volkanovski to be a viable candidate .”
Whoever is left standing at featherweight will have plenty of challenges ahead of them, especially with marquee fights already booked in the division, like the recently announced matchup pitting ex-UFC champion Max Holloway against Arnold Allen.
Some argued that Allen deserved an interim title shot ahead of Rodriguez or Emmett, but ultimately an injury prevented the British featherweight from even being considered.
None of that matters to Rodriguez right now, because he knows in the long run, he’s going to have to face Emmett, Allen, and every other top featherweight in the division.
” The true answer to those questions is that we are going to fight one another,” Rodriguez stated. “We are all in the same division. All of us are close to one another, so whoever wins eventually will be fighting the best players in the game. It’s like a mix. You’re always going to have tougher opponents in front of you.
“It doesn’t matter if I’m not fighting Max Holloway or Arnold Allen right now, or any other guy in the division. I think eventually it will happen. It is only a matter time. That’s it.”