As early as just one year ago, Yair Rodriguez was one of the UFC’s most hyped potential stars.
However, that all changed in jaw-dropping fashion on May 11 when word dropped from UFC President Dana White that he had abruptly released the flashy striker.
After six straight wins to start his career, ‘Pantera’ earned a bout with legendary former champion Frankie Edgar at last May’s UFC 211 – a fight he clearly wasn’t ready for. After a dominant, one-sided doctor’s stoppage from ‘The Answer,’ Rodriguez seemingly went into hiding in order to shore up his all-around game for his next fight. But when he was reportedly presented with bouts against longtime veteran Ricardo Lamas and rising star Zabit Magomedsharipov, he allegedly turned them down and was released for it.
Today Rodriguez finally opened up in detail about the surprising scenario on The MMA Hour, offering the revelation that he wasn’t only recovering from the Edgar loss over the past year, but also dealing with personal problems surrounding his family in Mexico.
When those were sorted out earlier this year in February, he said, he offered to fight Josh Emmett in Florida but was rebuffed by UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby:
“I got to talk to (UFC matchmaker) Sean Shelby and I told him I was able to fight Josh Emmett in February in Orlando, Florida, to headline that event (UFC on FOX 28).
“And I accepted. I stepped up, and I learned that Josh Emmett wouldn’t accept the fight, or I don’t know if the UFC didn’t want to give it to me or whatever, then I was replaced with Jeremy Stephens. Jeremy Stephens took that fight.
“Then, after that, we sat again with the UFC and talked about a few other opponents. I talked to Sean Shelby and he told me, ‘What do you have in your mind?’ I told him I think I at least deserve a top 10 [opponent]. No matter what happens, I think I deserve a top 10 [opponent] just because of what I already showed in the UFC. I’m 6-1 in the UFC. Not all the fighters in the UFC have the same record as me. I know I’m still a rising star for the sport or whatever, but I know I have done a lot already. I know [how many] fans I have inside the sport and I don’t think I have to show anybody that I’m not afraid.”
‘Pantera’ then revealed that he had indeed accepted the fight with Lamas, but ‘The Bully’ chose to fight Mirsad Bektic instead after Rodriguez admittedly let it slide when some social media heat became generated between him and Magomedsharipov:
“They said Ricardo Lamas, then I said yes to Ricardo Lamas,” Rodriguez said. “I accepted to fight Ricardo Lamas, but then I later learned that he didn’t take the fight with me. He decided to fight (Mirsad) Bektic instead. Then, during that process, the Zabit fight was causing a lot of hype on social media. … I was like, alright, this is going to be great. I started looking at the big potential for this fight.
“And it was kind of my fault that I — like a week after Lamas declined the fight, Sean Shelby called me again and he said, ‘Hey, the Lamas fight is still back open. It’s back open for you to fight.’ And after I was asking for any top-10 [opponent] and they didn’t want to give it to me, and then Lamas took Bektic instead of me, I was kind of disappointed. Just kind of disappointed, I’ll say that.”
Rodriguez claimed he said he would fight Magomedsharipov if he was given a raise given it was supposed to be at August’s UFC 227 pay-per-view from L.A. He said he didn’t want to take the fight without more money because he the Dagestani was ranked outside the top 10 and the fight was on a huge card.
When that wasn’t granted, Rodriguez asked to fight the Russian bulldozer in the UUFC’s debut in his own country this fall:
“I started looking at this other fight with Zabit. It was making a lot of sense for me because of the stylistic matchup and stuff. We saw big potential of renegotiating my contract. There was a negotiation that if they wanted me to fight him in LA (at UFC 227), which, I said I’ll fight him in LA, of course, but [only] if you pay me more, because I had saying for the last year that I wanted to fight a top 10 [opponent]. I’m not picking my opponents. I’m just saying I deserve a top 10. Anyone. I actually asked for ‘Korean Zombie’ as well, but they told me he wasn’t ready, even though he posted some stuff on Twitter saying that he wanted to fight Frankie.
“I was like, okay, I’ll fight Zabit if you give me more money in LA, because I understand how big of an event it is, and they said no,” Rodriguez continued. “I was like, okay, if you don’t want to give me more money to fight him in LA, why don’t you give [the fight] to me in Russia, and there’s no need to do any negotiation for that. I want him in Russia. Why? Because he was calling me out. I’m the guy who, I never say much, I just act. I don’t have to be talking about this on my social media.
“They didn’t even want to give it to me in Russia. Then I was like, okay, you don’t want to give me more money to fight him in LA, you don’t want to give me a top-10 [opponent]. Now I’m looking — now I see how the things are going.”
Rodriguez insisted he was not being difficult and would take any opponent in the top 10, something he felt he deserved with a 6-1 record in the world’s leading MMA promotion. He then confirmed it was about respect for him, and he soon saw how the UFC did business:
“I told them I will accept anyone in the top 10,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t need a negotiation for a top-10 [opponent]. This guy was No. 13 when I was No. 7. I just got beat by Frankie. It’s just one fight. I’m 6-1 in the UFC. I just think that’s what I deserved, and they didn’t want to give it to me. That was more about respect, respecting myself.
“This, for me, was an eye-opening experience.”
Finally, Rodriguez said he had some good offers coming in but couldn’t discuss the specifics yet. The still-potential star said he was happy with offers he had seen but was waiting to see all the offers before he made a decision. With some good money offers coming in, Rodriguez claimed he didn’t have any ill will towards the UFC because another great step was still coming in his career:
“I can’t talk too much about it, brother, but there’s been offers,” Rodriguez said. “There’s been really good offers on the table, but you’ll hear soon about what’s going to happen next with me.
“I’m happy,” he added. “Of course, you always want more because you think you deserve more. It’s just the way that it is. Nobody is happy with whatever they have. But … I’m really happy with the offers right now. I’m happy with what is on the table right now. I’m just being smart, I’ve been waiting to see all the offers, and I know my next move is going to be really important for my career and my life.
“No hard feelings,” Rodriguez said. “You’ve got to move on from things. People live in the past too much. They live the past. I’ve been learning, this is one of the things that I’ve been learning: If you are living in the past, you’re depressed. If you are living in the future, you have anxiety. If you live in the present, you are happy. So I’ve just been slowly learning how to be here and live in the moment, live in the present, and don’t let any little stuff bother me. I cannot let little stuff bother me for the rest of my life.
“This doesn’t stop here. This is the just the beginning of something greater.”