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Yair Rodriguez looking to overtake Canelo Alvarez’s popularity with Mexican fight fans

Top UFC featherweight Yair Rodriguez has his sights set on becoming the best fighter possible, and along the way, a massive star in Latin America.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Rodriguez vs Penn Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It took years for the UFC to dip their toes in the Mexican combat sports market. Despite hosting a number of notable Latino fighters over the course of their several hundred events (including Diego Sanchez, Miguel Torres, and Tito Ortiz) the promotion has never quite seemed to find the right person to get a firm foothold in a country known for it’s love of boxing.

At one point, Cain Velasquez was groomed to be the fighter that would lead the UFC into Mexico, but a series of injuries, and a general reluctance for the public eye have largely laid those plans to rest. Instead, as has so often been the case with the UFC when looking to expand, the Ultimate Fighter has been their point of entry.

TUF Latin America season 1 was seen as something of a blunder at the time of it’s airing. Following close on the heels of the abysmal TUF China and its failure to produce meaningful talent, the idea of a Latin America show seemed like another overly ambitious waste. Instead, it was the proving ground for a new top fighter and potential star, Yair Rodriguez.

Rodriguez, then a 22 year-old Taekwondo black belt with an uninspiring 4-1 pro record ran through the show’s competition and has yet to stop, even as he faces exponentially better opponents. Now standing at 10-1, and coming off an admittedly mismatched beating of former lightweight champion B.J. Penn, Rodriguez is setting his sights high.

In a recent interview with MMA Junkie, the top-ranked featherweight spoke about his drive and ambition as he heads into a potential no. 1 contenders bout against another former lightweight champion, Frankie Edgar.

“What is happening to me, this is not luck,” Rodriguez said ahead of his bout with Egar. “I work hard every day — like, really, really hard. My coach is here; he would slap me in the face if I lied. Every single aspect of my game, I work on every (expletive) day. I wake up thinking about it, I eat thinking of it, and I train thinking all my life is around just one thing, and that’s to become the best fighter in the world. That’s it.”
“I can be bigger (than Alvarez),” Rodriguez said, when asked about the potential of becoming as famous as Canelo Alvarez in his home country. “Mexican people, they already have a lot of boxing stars. But they don’t have an MMA star in Mexico. It’s just me. I’m going to be that star. I’m already a star in Mexico, but I’m going to be even bigger than that, because I have all the Latin American market behind me, and part of the United States market. I have all these advantages.

“A lot of people from Brazil and Russia and Europe, they follow me; they send me messages and follow me. I feel blessed.”

And as for his plans for Frankie Edgar? Yair said that he’s looking to be the first KO loss on Edgar’s record, going so far as to lambaste fans who suggest that Edgar’s chin is too good. “He doesn’t have an iron brain. C’mon, guys. Wake up. I don’t mean to be rude, but c’mon guys.”

Rodriguez and Edgar are set to face off on the PPV portion of UFC 211 this coming Saturday, May 13th, in Dallas, TX. The card will be headlined by a pair of title fights with Stipe Miocic defending his belt against Junior dos Santos, and Joanna Jedrzejczyk defending her strawweight title against Jessica Andrade. Whether the card is Yair’s springboard to stardom remains to be seen.

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