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Thursday Tap Out: UFC 211 offers Yair Rodriguez a chance to break out on the undercard

A win by Yair Rodriguez against Frankie Edgar would arguably be the biggest of his career, and could thrust Rodriguez into the title picture at the relatively young age of 24.

After heading two events, UFC featherweight contender Yair Rodriguez is stepping out of the main event spotlight Saturday at UFC 211 in favor of two title bouts. Despite being out of the spotlight for this event, UFC 211 could be Rodriguez’s breakout moment.

In Dallas at the American Airlines Center, the Mexican fighter will step in to face former lightweight champion and featherweight title contender Frankie Edgar. A win against Edgar would arguably be the biggest of his career, and could thrust Rodriguez into the title picture at the relatively young age of 24.

Edgar thinks he is being used as a stepping stone for a young and rising star. An animated Rodriguez took exception to the notion that he singled out Edgar for this fight.

“We think it’s the best fight for us. Why? Because he is the toughest one,” Rodriguez said. “I think Frankie Edgar is the only one that puts me right there for a title shot.

“If I want to go for a title shot, I got to win against the No. 2 in the world, and that guy is Frankie Edgar.”

Rodriguez also pointed out that the top contenders behind Edgar, No. 3 Ricardo Lamas and No. 4 Cub Swanson, are friends.

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The featherweight title picture has been clustered as the division recovers from Conor McGregor’s title reign. Jose Aldo’s interim title belt, which he won by defeating Edgar at UFC 200, was promoted to the belt after McGregor was forced to vacate. Max Holloway won a subsequent interim title at UFC 206. At UFC 212 on June 3, Aldo and Holloway will fight to unify the 145-pound titles.

If Rodriguez defeats Edgar, a fight against the winner of Aldo vs. Holloway could be Rodriguez’s next bout.

In January, Rodriguez defeated a legend of the sport in B.J. Penn. A win over Edgar, a veritable legend in his own right, could earn Rodriguez the label of “legend killer,” a title that Rodriguez is uncomfortable with.

Rodriguez’s focus is solely on the title shot, and a relentless pursuit of championship gold.

“I know I’m one fight away from the title shot, of course I’m motivated,” Rodriguez said. “If you ask [Edgar], ‘Remember how you feel one fight before that title shot… when you were younger.’ I have that fire, I have that hunger.

“I’m young, I’m hungry and I want that. He already knows how that feels. It’s my turn, it’s my time and I’m going for it.”

Joanna Jedrzejczyk entering a new era of dominance


A little over two years ago at UFC 185, Polish fighter Joanna Jedrzejczyk stepped into the cage in the American Airlines Center in Dallas to fight strawweight champion Carla Esparza for the belt. A second-round TKO ended Esparza’s title reign in her first defense and ushered in a new era in the division.

At UFC 211, once again in Dallas, Jedrzejczyk is in a title fight, this time against challenger Jessica Andrade.

“I’m very happy, very excited to be back in Dallas. It’s my lucky place, my lucky arena,” Jedrzejczyk said.

If UFC 185 represented the beginning of Jedrzejczyk’s run as strawweight champion, Jedrzejczyk thinks UFC 211 will be the beginning of the era when she realizes her full potential and becomes more dominant than ever.

In 2016, Jedrzejczyk left Poland to move to South Florida and train at the world-renowned American Top Team Gym. Entering her fifth title defense, the undefeated Jedrzejczyk is confident this move makes her a better fighter.

“Before my last fight in New York [at UFC 205], I had just 6.5 weeks to prepare with my new coaches. It was not enough time to learn about the team, the facility, the coaches,” Jedrzejczyk said.

“I feel like I made the best decision of my life, I feel like a free bird that escaped from the cage. I just train more, I challenge myself every day and I feel better. I feel like I step onto a different level with American Top Team.”

The benefit of the move goes beyond state-of-the-art facilities and some of the most knowledgeable coaches in the sport; it brings about sparring partners of a higher level to work with day in and day out.

“I can train with the best fighters in the world. Amanda Nunes, the bantamweight champion, is there,” Jedrzejczyk said. “I have so many female fighters on a good level I can train with.”

Jedrzejczyk also spars with male fighters in the gym. They helped to replicate Andrade’s strength in preparations ahead of UFC 211.

“I feel like I’m evolving,” Jedrzejczyk said. “Being a champion is all about learning, staying humble and evolving.

“I cannot stop, all eyes are on me.”

Henry Cejudo vs. Sergio Pettis canceled


Opening the pay-per-view portion of UFC 211 was a thrilling flyweight contest between Henry Cejudo and Sergio Pettis. But just hours after media day, the UFC announced the fight was off because of an injury to Cejudo’s hand.

It continues a trend of bad luck in 2017 for Pettis, who had an opponent cancel for a second time. Cejudo, a former Olympic gold medalist in wrestling, presented a huge opportunity for Pettis to prove his mettle and perhaps stake his claim to a title shot.

At media day, Pettis was confident his dynamic striking style matched up well against Cejudo, who struggled on his feet against champion Demetrious Johnson. Pettis was laser-focused and said he’s ready for the title shot, if the UFC grants it.

The only other contender to Demetrious Johnson’s title, and challenger to a title shot for Pettis, is Ray Borg, who is riding a two-fight win streak. Pettis, however, has three consecutive wins, and might still get the next shot despite not fighting at UFC 211.

Fighting words from UFC 211 Media Day

Stipe Miocic on a new era in the heavyweight division

“I’m here to be a champ for a while. I’m going to be the champ for a while, I’ll tell you that right now.”

Eddie Alvarez on his fight against Dustin Poirier

“Right now, the timing is perfect for me, to come back and have this kind of opponent in front of me. I do quite well against guys who fight the way he fights.”

Dustin Poirier on a potential title shot if he defeats Eddie Alvarez

“I was just on a streak before I dropped one to Michael Johnson. I got back in the win column in February. He is one fight removed from being the world champion. If I go out there and dominate Eddie Alvarez, it shows the type of fighter and the caliber of fighter I am. I belong in there with the best and a win over Eddie, maybe one more, than I’ll be in the talks.

“Right now that seems so far away, Saturday night is the focus.”

Yair Rodriguez on being the Canelo Alvarez of MMA

“I would like to be the Yair Rodriguez of MMA. No other name.”

Sergio Pettis on Tyron Woodley’s impact on Roufusport

“He came and brought some spirit to the team. Just to see how hard he works as a champion definitely motivates all the younger guys, giving us that drive to push and push.”

Georges St-Pierre loses his title shot

The UFC granted Georges St-Pierre a middleweight title shot after he ended his retirement to return to the sport. Middleweight contenders weren’t fond of St-Pierre, a former welterweight champion, jumping the line for a fight with 185-pound champion Michael Bisping.

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​Bisping has expressed his displeasure with St-Pierre pushing the fight back until the end of 2017, and on Thursday UFC president Dana White stepped in to say enough is enough.

"Georges St-Pierre is saying he will not be ready to compete now until November,” White told FOX Sports in Australia. “Who knows if that’s even the case? It could be next year. … So we’re not waiting for Georges St-Pierre anymore. We’re moving on with the division, and Yoel Romero will get the next shot.”

When that fight will get booked isn’t clear, but Bisping was pushing for a fight at UFC 214 in late July.

Canelo-GGG steals Conor McGregor-Floyd Mayweather date

On Saturday, after Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez defeated Julio César Chávez Jr., it was announced that Gennady Golovkin would be Canelo’s next opponent, for a fight on Sep. 16. The announcement staked claim to one of the two most coveted weekends of the year for boxing bouts, and stole the date from a potential bout between Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather.

“We just lost our date to Canelo and Triple-G, but good, that’s a good fight. I’ll be at that one, too,” White told Fight Hub.

It was a savvy move from Golden Boy Promotions, and one that has a great deal of rivalry undertones. The rivalry between Oscar De La Hoya and Mayweather and their respective promotions is obvious, but Mayweather fights exclusively on Showtime, and Canelo-Golovkin will air on HBO.

“The reason they got my date is because I couldn’t get my deal done on time. So they got the date,” UFC president Dana White said.

“Life moves on. We don’t wait for anybody. If the fights are going to keep rolling…I didn’t get the deal done fast enough [for Mayweather-McGregor], so I lose the date. That’s how it works.”

Dana White is losing his patience on a McGregor-Mayweather fight

During an interview with Fox Sports 1’s Colin Cowherd, UFC president Dana White discussed the potential boxing match between UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor and undefeated boxer Floyd Mayweather.

The targeted date has been lost, but fight fans could lose the McGregor-Mayweather fight as White loses his patience.

“It’s not even Mayweather. It’s not even Mayweather, it’s definitely both sides,” White said of the fight discussions. “It’s not just Mayweather, it’s both sides of this thing are going to be hard to get done.

“And absolutely, there’s going to be a point where I’m done. This isn’t what I do, this isn’t my business, and I’m definitely going to walk away.”

Demetrious Johnson gets his belts


After tying the record for most successful title defenses in UFC history, flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson said he did not have multiple belts like other champions. Daniel Cormier has posted pictures with multiple belts, as has Conor McGregor. Ronda Rousey gave away the title belt she won at UFC 190 to a gym that works with underprivileged children in Brazil.

“One of the things I’ve always wanted to do is that Floyd Mayweather has a picture of himself with all his championship belts. And I think Andre Ward just did it too,” Johnson said before UFC on FOX 24. “I think it would be cool if I was successful and got to 11 that I would have 11 UFC titles and all my amateur belts, it would show the road that I took to get here.”

Johnson finally got his hands on those belts and posted a picture to Twitter with all of his championship hardware.

UFC announces broadcast deal with FOX Networks in Latin America

In 2018, the UFC’s broadcast deal with FOX Sports expires and they’re already searching for the next contract. On Wednesday, the UFC announced a long-term broadcast deal with FOX Networks in Latin America, which puts them in an additional 44 million homes across 17 countries.

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It’s notable for two reasons. First, Latin America, and in particular Mexico, have a rich history in boxing, another combat sport. It’s also a market where the UFC hasn’t yet reached their full potential in building an audience and cultivating talent.

“I know boxing is huge in Mexico, but I think I can become a huge star too because Mexican people don’t have a real, Mexican-born champion in MMA. I’d be the first one,” Yair Rodriguez said.

“And if I can become that, than this sport in Mexico is going to become huge.”

Second, it continues the FOX relationship with the UFC. It might not have any bearing on the United States broadcast deal, but given the trend of cord cutters and ESPN’s recent layoffs, the bidding might not be as diverse as originally expected. NBC Sports and Turner will still be interested, but ESPN might be out and the UFC might look to stay with FOX Sports.