Exactly how high Yair Rodriguez will climb in the featherweight division remains to be seen.
But the 23-year-old proved one thing in his latest performance — he can definitely keep up a pace for 25 minutes.
Rodriguez (9-1) improved to 5-0 in the UFC on Saturday, defeating Alex Caceres via split decision in the main event of UFC Fight Night at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City. Two judges scoring the featherweight bout had it 48-47 in favor of Rodriguez, and the third somehow saw it 49-46 for Caceres. ESPN.com scored it 49-46, Rodriguez.
Known for an ultra-aggressive, flashy style, Rodriguez lived up to his reputation. In his first five-round bout — which also took place at high elevation — Rodriguez attempted 431 total strikes according to Fightmetric, 101 of them in the final round. Caceres, by comparison, attempted 246.
“This was a great experience for me,” Rodriguez said. “It was a good opportunity for me to see where I’m at in my division. My cardio and technique could go for five rounds.”
A former winner of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series, Rodriguez flew across the cage at Caceres for the majority of the opening two rounds. He launched into spinning wheel kicks, flying knees, backfists, heel kicks to the legs. In the second round, he threw four or five roundhouse right kicks to the body that appeared to stun Caceres a bit.
In the third, his spinning attempts seemed to slow down, which opened the door for Caceres to land several hard counter shots. Caceres scored a knee to the body and won a scramble to spend some time in top position. He landed a hard right hand out of Rodriguez’s guard.
Originally from Chihuahua, Mexico, now fighting out of Chicago, Rodriguez reclaimed momentum in the fourth. The kicks to Caceres’ legs and body appeared to have a cumulative effect, as Caceres was slightly less mobile in the later rounds. Although Caceres answered at times with counter shots, Rodriguez’s volume stole the rounds.
Rodriguez is the most promising Mexican prospect on the UFC roster. Four of his five wins in the Octagon have come via decision, although he did score a spectacular head-kick finish against Andre Fili at UFC 197 in April.
“I don’t know man,” said Rodriguez, when asked whom he’d like to fight next. “That’s [UFC matchmaker] Sean Shelby and [UFC president] Dana White’s work. I’m going to let them pick my next opponent. I just have to be ready.”
Bermudez takes decision from Bezerra
Bezerra nearly came up with a comeback in the final two minutes, as he took Bermudez’s back and looked to sink a rear-naked choke. Bermudez remained calm and eventually escaped the position. It was really the only scary moment of the fight for Bermudez, who more or less dominated otherwise.
As usual, Bermudez used a high pace to wilt Bezerra early. He opened a cut on the Brazilian’s forehead in the opening round and kept a constant pressure on him from start to finish. Bezerra landed a handful of clean counter shot, but they were few and far between. Bermudez improves to 9-2 in his last 11.
Swanson gets the better of Kawajiri
Fighting out of Jackson-Wink MMA, Swanson surrendered several takedowns in the bout but showcased his exceptional scrambling ability. After giving up mount in the first round, Swanson reversed a takedown in the following frame and nearly submitted Kawajiri via rear-naked choke. He also landed an illegal knee to a downed opponent, but it was deemed accidental and referee John McCarthy did not take a point.
Both veterans landed good punches in the pocket, although it was Swanson usually getting the better of it. He wobbled Kawajiri with a left hook in the last round and repeatedly caught him with the lead right. The victory was Swanson’s second win in a row.