Yair Rodriguez won’t count out Alexander Volkanovski against Islam Makhachev: ‘He’s the pound-for-pound guy for a reason’

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Yair Rodriguez thinks Alexander Volkanovski has a solid chance at becoming a two-division champion.

The Mexican star won’t underestimate Volkanovski (25-1 MMA, 12-0 UFC), who currently holds the title at 145 pounds, while he looks to defeat lightweight champion Islam Makhachev in the main event of Saturday’s UFC 284.

Despite being a +320 underdog, Rodriguez (14-3 MMA, 9-2 UFC) thinks Volkanovski has the tools to defeat Makhachev (23-1 MMA, 12-1 UFC).

“I don’t count out Volkanovski, not even a little bit,” Rodriguez told MMA Junkie in Spanish. “I don’t count him out at all. He’s the pound-for-pound guy for a reason.”

Rodriguez thinks it’s pretty clear Volkanovski can’t lock horns with Makhachev. He sees a big advantage for Makhachev in the grappling department.

“I still think that Islam is a fighter who’s not ‘if’ he can get the fight to the ground, but more ‘when’ he takes the fight to the ground,” Rodriguez said. “So how prepared will Alexander Volkanovski be to defend what’s coming? It’s going to be interesting to see if Volkanovski could finish Islam in the early rounds, because as the fight goes on, Islam is going to have more opportunities to takedown and control, takedown and control, and not let Volkanovski do his fight. He can even submit him in the first few rounds.

“We just saw how he submitted Oliveira, who’s a jiu-jitsu expert. He made it look easy. I’m not saying it was easy, I’m saying he made it look easy. That speaks to the level that Islam has. It’s going to be interesting to see how Volkanovski fights with this type of fighter.”

But though he sees a clear advantage for Makhachev in the wrestling, Rodriguez also sees other ways around Makhachev’s strengths. He thinks Volkanovski could implement a mobile approach to the fight and take the belt that way.

“He’s going to have to move a lot, keep out of range, enter quickly and use angles so that Islam can’t have much contact with him,” Rodriguez said. “It’s all depending on strategy. That’s why this fight is so interesting. It all depends on the strategy that they bring. If Volkanovski tries to meet Islam with wrestling, he’s going to lose. If he tries to keep at a distance and be the smarter fighter, he could win.”

Rodriguez takes on Josh Emmett (18-2 MMA, 9-2 UFC) in the co-main event of UFC 284. They’ll be battling for the interim featherweight title.

The 30-year-old hopes to win the interim belt, then fight Volkanovski, who will will hold the title regardless of his result against Makhachev. The idea of Volkanovski not returning to 145 pounds if victorious at lightweight has crossed Rodriguez’s mind, but he tries to not get too ahead of himself because there’s work to be done.

“It’s something that I have thought of,” Rodriguez said. “However, it makes no sense to give it too much thought because I don’t even have the title on my hands, so I can’t think of what’s coming or what decisions someone will take, and all that. It would be a waste of energy. It’s dumb. I’m just focused on what’s mine. … I’m just looking forward to my moment so I can shine.”

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