Yair “El Pantera” Rodriguez, 30, is 14-3 as an MMA professional and 9-2 in the UFC. The electrifying kickboxer has four wins by knockout and five by decision.
Josh Emmett, 37, is coming off a fight of the year contending split decision win over Calvin Kattar in June of 2022. In the UFC, Emmett is also 9-2 with three knockouts and six decision wins. The winner of this one will be atop the title contender list at 145 pounds.
Rodriguez has been a slight favorite all week and has grown, minimally, as we get closer to Saturday night.
- Rodriguez: -165
- Emmett: +140
Rodriguez is one of the most athletically gifted strikers in the UFC. His ability to attempt, and land, video game-caliber strikes in an octagon against top-tier opponents as unbelievable as it is entertaining. These strikes, which often include some spinning component, are dangerous but highly volatile and taxing. Early in his career, Rodriguez seemed to attempt these unique strikes with little regard for the setup or outcome. He would suddenly jump or spin without baiting his opponent. Because of his athleticism and speed, the lack of a setup was not much of an issue, he landed some highlight-reel knockouts. But, as he climbed the rankings and faced better competition, Rodriguez’s flashy attacks came back to haunt him. He found that without setting up his shots, higher end fighters could react and evade, sometimes even counter, Rodriguez’s strikes. Then, without the success of his approach, Rodriguez was dragged into deep waters and the high-energy attacks drained his gas tank.
Recently, though, Rodriguez seems to have evolved to set up his excellent striking with footwork and traps. Moreover, because he uses more setups, Rodriguez is able to better manage his cardio and fight with volume and danger for 25 minutes. His striking, when he puts it all together, is truly impressive. In fact, against Holloway, widely regarded as one of the best strikers on the roster, Rodriguez was landing with such speed, precision, and impact that Holloway was forced to go to plan B and wrestle. Even though he lost that fight, Rodriguez showed just how high-level his striking can be, how his cardio can go 5 rounds, and how he can defensively grapple even while fatigued. He’ll need a similarly complete performance against Emmett if he hopes to win.
Emmett is the epitome of a powerful wrestle boxer which is a dangerous opponent for anyone with a gap in their game. Emmett comes ready to brawl each and every fight; and, because of his hand speed and anvil of an overhand right, he often wins those brawls. Typically, Emmett stalks forward with a wide stance that aids him in generating power from the ground up. Additionally, this wide stance helps him keep his hips low, prime position for wrestling. As he stalks forward, Emmett will paw or feint strikes forward to try and get a reaction from his opponent. If he can draw out a jab from an orthodox fighter, Emmett will explode with a cracking overhand right that can put anyone down and out. If he doesn’t get the reaction he’s looking for, Emmett will continue stalking forward until he gets in the pocket or traps his foe against the cage. From here, he tees off with big power shots.
Despite trying to end the fight with every punch he throws, Emmett has excellent cardio and can continue his power-driven strategy for 25 full minutes. Beyond his power, Emmett is also an accredited wrestler. He typically favors striking affairs more than wrestling; but, in fights where he decides to lace up his wrestling shoes, Emmett has proven he still has the timing and skill to land takedowns with accuracy and consistency. Emmett’s biggest concerns are his age and health. His career has, unfortunately, been marred by injury. At 37, this fight is no different. There are rumors circulating that Emmett is currently injured and plans to fight regardless. If anyone has the skills and toughness to fight injured, it is Emmett.
Prediction and Betting Guide
Emmett has a clear path to victory: dirty boxing and wrestling. Emmett is better in the clinch and the much better wrestler. By forcing Rodriguez against the cage and to the mat, Emmett could neutralize the devastating kicking game of “El Pantera” and win a grueling 25 minute grapple-heavy war. However, I don’t expect that to happen. I foresee this fight taking place largely on the feet. And, in that matchup, I side with Rodriguez. He’ll be the faster fighter, more varied in his attacks, have better movement, and has shown that he can tag linear boxers with consistency. Emmett always has the power to end the fight; but, given the age and style difference, I like Rodriguez to win an exciting but clear decision.
Pick: Rodriguez to win (-165)