HomeSportsUFC 284 takeaways: Rodriguez takes superstar leap, and what's next for Makhachev

UFC 284 takeaways: Rodriguez takes superstar leap, and what’s next for Makhachev

What were the biggest moments from UFC 284 in Perth, Australia? Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Sam Bruce offer up their final thoughts after the 12-fight card from Down Under.

Now an interim champ, Rodriguez’s growth as a fighter is clear

Yair Rodriguez might be the most exciting fighter on the UFC roster and he’s been in that conversation for quite some time. He’s absolutely must-see TV with his creativity, his kicks, his knees, his elbows and so on. There was a period of time where Rodriguez was only that: an action fighter. But that’s no longer the case. There’s another word for him now: champion.

Rodriguez and his team, led by coaches Mike Valle and Izzy Martinez, deserve a ton of credit for his massive improvement. We all know Rodriguez can win fights with spinning techniques and back elbows. But beating a guy as tough and durable as Josh Emmett with a triangle choke off his back? That was absolutely sublime to win the UFC interim featherweight title.

Rodriguez has leveled up significantly, there’s no doubt. And the best part is, he’s kept all the things that made him so phenomenal to watch and channeled it into becoming an elite-level fighter. He’s a nightmare to fight, because you never know what strikes he’ll throw or what angles he’ll throw them from. And now he’s submitting guys from the bottom, too? Sheesh. That’s almost not fair. It’s almost reminiscent of Anthony Pettis‘ evolution from the guy who threw the “Showtime Kick” to the well-rounded fighter who armbarred the un-submittable Benson Henderson from his back to win the UFC lightweight title.



Yair Rodriguez wins UFC interim featherweight belt

Yair Rodriguez sets up a title shot opportunity vs. Alexander Volkanovski by defeating Josh Emmett to win the interim featherweight title.

Another thing to note here: this is Mexico’s second UFC championship win in as many months and it comes just days after the UFC announced its next Performance Institute will be in Mexico City. Brandon Moreno became a two-time UFC flyweight champion at UFC 283, beating Deiveson Figueiredo. Rodriguez will have a chance to fight Volkanovski for the undisputed title in the future, but this is not an insignificant victory.

There were no Mexican-born UFC champions until Moreno in 2021. Before this year is over, the country has a chance to have four with Alexa Grasso fighting next month for the UFC women’s flyweight title against Valentina Shevchenko and Irene Aldana likely next up for UFC women’s bantamweight champ Amanda Nunes. The Mexican MMA renaissance is upon us. — Raimondi

Okamoto: What’s next for top stars after UFC 284?

Islam Makhachev, lightweight champion

Who should be next: Beneil Dariush

The UFC is looking at booking Dariush against former lightweight champion Charles Oliveira in May. Frankly, if the company decided to scratch those plans and just wait to book Makhachev vs. Dariush, I’d be in favor of it. Of course, I’d love to see Dariush fight Oliveira, that’s a great matchup, but Dariush is already deserving of a title shot. Oliveira just lost the belt to Makhachev. I feel like booking this in May, while awesome because we want to see it, is unnecessary. But if they do go through with it (Makhachev is about to take some time off due to Muslim observation of Ramadan), Dariush is the obvious candidate for next lightweight title challenger.

Wild card: Winner of Justin Gaethje vs. Rafael Fiziev on March 18

This lightweight matchup co-headlines UFC 286 in London. The winner won’t be guaranteed the next title shot because of the situation with Dariush, but he could jump the line if Dariush were to fall to Oliveira. Even if the winner of this fight does have to wait until Dariush gets his shot, I could see them waiting all the way through for the winner. Gaethje, especially, is at a point in his career where he’s not going to fight just to fight. And if Fiziev comes out with the win, he’ll be a justifiable title challenger with nothing else added to the resume.

Alexander Volkanovski, featherweight champion
Yair Rodriguez, interim featherweight champion

Who should be next: Each other

No wildcards here. This is the fight, and it already was the fight last year, before Volkanovski took on the challenge of moving up in weight for Saturday’s main event. Had that not happened, I think we would have seen Volkanovski defending his title against Rodriguez at UFC 284. I love this fight. I’ve always been high on Rodriguez’s potential (I know I’m not the only one). But especially recently, I’ve seen a level of confidence and mental preparation that matches the skill he’s always had. Same thing with Volkanovski, frankly. We’ve talked a lot about where Volkanovski is right now as a champion and a competitor, the confidence he’s carrying, Rodriguez has that as well. Rodriguez presents a danger factor that not many others in the division possess. His finishing ability is violent and creative. These two are operating at the highest of levels right now. Volkanovski will be favored, but Rodriguez is a live challenger. I see it happening at International Fight Week in July.

Jack Della Maddalena, welterweight

Who should be next: Ian Garry

There are so many fun potential matchups at welterweight. The UFC can have a lot of fun with this division in the coming years. Della Maddalena looks like a juggernaut early on, and if he continues on this path, he’s going to rise very quickly. Garry is another prospect building momentum. He has a fight booked right now on March 4 against Song Kenan. If he wins, I say do this fight next.

Now, this might go against traditional thinking that if you have two guys rising in popularity, don’t burn one by pairing them together. But in this case, I think the storyline going in — two prospects enter, one leaves — would bring hype to both. Stylistically, it’s very fun. I like this idea. Let’s go.

Wild card: Winner of Daniel Rodriguez vs. Gunnar Nelson on March 18

Two recognizable names, and a fair step up in competition. Rodriguez is a slugging boxer, and this matchup could produce fireworks. Nelson is a veteran, with a tricky and elusive style on the feet. He’d also test him in the grappling realm. Either fighter would present a real challenge to Della Maddalena, and plenty of upside if he were to win.

Believe the hype. Della Maddalena has that something special.

Della Maddalena improved his perfect UFC record to 4-0 with a devastating combination of striking and wrestling, submitting Randy Brown in just two minutes and 13 seconds of Round 1. The crushing victory sent Perth’s RAC Arena wild, as the 26-year-old absorbing every second of the admiration in front of the hometown crowd.

While he now plans to take a brief layoff, Della Maddalena wants to be back in the Octagon again in the first half of 2023, and he called for a top-15 ranked opponent worthy of his talent in the welterweight division.

Just who is willing to get in and mix it up with a man whom former UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping described as a “future champion” who has the “best boxing in the UFC” remains to be seen. But one thing is for certain, Della Maddalena’s star is well and truly on the rise.

While it’s still early, he looks capable of treading the same steps as countrymen Robert Whittaker and Alexander Volkanovski to become Australia’s third UFC champion. — Bruce

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