Yair Rodriguez has spent his whole professional MMA career training to fight for a UFC championship, so he is understandably concerned about the interim belt that will be contested at UFC 284.
Rodriguez faces Josh Emmett in the co-main event of UFC 284, while the featherweight champion, Alexander Volkanovski, moves up in weight to challenge Islam Makhachev for the lightweight title. While some fighters, like Justin Gaethje, have thrown away their interim championship belts after being crowned champions, others have sprung for joy at the opportunity.
Rodriguez, for his part, recognizes the significance of earning any UFC belt, but he acknowledges that only time will tell if this particular one will be regarded as 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. I don’t want to be disrespectful and say it’s not the true belt or whatever. It’s just 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.”
If Volkanovski is successful in becoming a two-division UFC champion, he has said on multiple occasions that he plans to defend both championships.
On the other hand, Makhachev is coming into Saturday night’s bout riding a 10-fight win run and as a 3-to-1 favorite, with his most recent victory being a submission victory over Charles Oliveira that cemented his position as champion.
Despite Volkanovski’s greatness at featherweight, Rodriguez predicts Makhachev will win the fight and retain his lightweight belt.
“I’m not counting out Alexander Volkanovski because I know he’s capable of doing a lot of things in there in that cage,” Rodriguez said.
“I just think Islam uses his weapons better.
“I think Alexander is going to have to be really, really smart in order for him to get the win. I think Islam has better chances to win, honestly, but I don’t count Alexander Volkanovski out of the fight.”
If you’re still standing at featherweight, you’ve got your work cut out for you between all the big fights already scheduled in the class, including the freshly announced bout between former UFC champion Max Holloway and Arnold Allen.
Some people thought British featherweight Allen deserved an interim title shot more than Rodriguez or Emmett, but an injury eliminated him from contention.
Rodriguez doesn’t care about that right now since he knows he eventually has to fight Emmett, Allen, and the rest of the top featherweights.
“The true answer to all of those questions is we’re going to fight each other,” Rodriguez said.
“We are all in the same division. We are all close to each other, and whoever is winning eventually is going to fight the top guys 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’s just a matter of time. That’s it.”