Yair Rodriguez’s focus remains the UFC title, but the work required to get to his goal has changed.
The featherweight contender has made major adjustments to his fighting career. He returns to the cage Saturday in the UFC on ABC 3 main event. Rodriguez (15-2 MMA, 7-2 UFC) takes on Brian Ortega (15-2 MMA, 7-2 UFC) in a key matchup that could determine the next challenger for champion Alexander Volkanovski.
And ahead one of the toughest and biggest fights of his career, Rodriguez has put aside sparring – something that to most fighters is a crucial part of training camp.
“(I’m not sparring), and that’s something I’ve been saying for many years now,” Rodriguez told MMA Junkie in Spanish. “I’ve shared it with my coaches and my training partners, and I always tell them, ‘Don’t you dare touch my face. If you hit me, I’m going to hit you.’ That’s how injuries start. That’s the reason why you don’t make it to the fights, because you go in there, and you want to show off in the gym with someone else and then there are injuries.
“So no, I’m not interested in taking hits during training. They don’t pay for that. They pay me to fight once I’m up in the cage. I try to save myself from as much impact as I can possibly have to my head.”
Now prioritizing his health much more than he did in his younger years, Rodriguez’s training looks much different than that of most other fighters.
“El Pantera,” who’s been working at the famed Centro Ceremonial Otomi training center outside Mexico City, mainly is focused on his technique and making sure he’s in shape come fight night.
“I’ve been strengthening my body a lot more, lifting more weights, doing better conditioning in ways that don’t put too much wear on my body,” Rodriguez said. “That’s my main focus. I’m not going to forget how to fight. I have many, many years in combat sports – I’ve been in this since I was 5 years old across many sports. So now I just focus on the technical, tactical and physical. It’s basically knowing what to do, what not to do and building up my endurance for the fight.”
Rodriguez looks to be the first man to put away Ortega with strikes in MMA. This desire doesn’t come in animosity against Ortega or wanting to send a message to the fans and fighters in the featherweight division. It again boils down to preserving his health.
“I don’t look to send a message to anybody,” Rodriguez said. “For me, this is very personal. Everything that I do is for me. I don’t do things to prove something to people or anything like that. The only motive I have to finish this fight is so I don’t have much impact on my body and I could return much quicker to competition.
“If I continue to take damage to the head and body, I’m going to have to keep taking time off, and I don’t have much time on my hands. I turn 30 years old this year and would like to start finishing my fights as soon as possible.”
For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC on ABC 3.