In the Clinch: "El Pantera" needs to deliver against Holloway, UFC Fight Night 197In the Clinch: "El Pantera" needs to deliver against Holloway, UFC Fight Night 197In the Clinch: “El Pantera” needs to deliver against Holloway, UFC Fight Night 197Yair Rodriguez needs to make a statement Saturday against former champion Max Holloway.

Both fighters are 29 years old. But Holloway (22-6-0) has fought almost twice as much in the octagon than Rodriguez (13-2-0, 1NC).

Rodriguez, the TUF Latin America winner known as “El Pantera,” debuted in the octagon almost seven years ago at UFC 180 in November 2014. Since then, he’s fought only 10 times and hasn’t fought since October 2019. Saturday will be his 11th appearance.

Yet, “El Pantera” has done well enough to be currently ranked No. 3 in the featherweight division and with a big win Saturday night, can be undeniable in the title shot conversation.

Things could be worse.

Meanwhile, Holloway, also known as “Blessed,” is 2-3-0 in his last five bouts, but they have been against top notch competition, with several losses hotly contested against the current titleholder Alexander Volkanovski. He is currently the No. 1 contender at 145 pounds.

“Blessed” looked in fine form in his last bout against Calvin Kattar. Saturday will be his 25th appearance in the octagon since debuting in 2012.

Rodriguez does have the flair for the dramatic. In a fight he was losing, he produced a dramatic elbow to finish off the Korean Zombie Chan Sung Jung. And the recent battle with Jeremy Stephens seemed to reinvigorate his game.

While I do think Holloway would be more than happy to keep it standing, he will likely test the takedown defense of Rodriguez at some point. On the ground, Holloway has the advantage.

Brian Ortega has shown in his battle with Volkanovski the value of a great performance in defeat. Rodriguez has his chance Saturday to show what he can do against one of the best.

It’s a great spot to be in.

Holloway has some intentions of his own. There’s some unfinished business with Volkanovski and he probably still has the champ-champ thing in the back of his mind. He has faced dangerous fighters like Rodriguez before. And he has the advantage that he fights for his family.

“Blessed” is obviously the favourite. But I expect Rodriguez to come prepared with several tricks up his sleeve.

“El Pantera” needs to deliver.

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