Marina Rodriguez vs. Yan Xiaonan at UFC 272 represents two of the very best women in the 115-pound division and two women who in all likelihood will both see a UFC title shot at some point in their careers. On a three-fight win streak, Marina Rodriguez provides even a strong argument that she could be undefeated, had one judge simply seen a close decision the other way, as her only loss in MMA came via split decision to former champion, Carla Esparza.
Difficult to match, as that kind of momentum may be, few like Xiaonan are around to challenge it. Although dropping her last fight to the same woman to beat Rodriguez, Carla Esparza, Xiaonan boasts an incredible 10-year unbeaten streak between 2010 to 2020 going into that bout. She looks to bounce back after her first loss in over a decade, but riding her winning momentum including a massive victory over Mackenzie Dern in October, Rodriguez stands in the way, ready to lay claim to the next title shot.
Slightly surprising for how competitive the two women’s resumes are, Rodriguez will come in as a very substantial favorite at -290.
- Rodriguez: -290
- Xiaonan: +235
It’s no surprise that Rodriguez, with her background in Muay Thai, much prefers, and does her best work on the feet. She is long and rangy for the division and utilizes that reach and ability to maintain her most effective range in order to both attack and defend herself. She has a bit of a hunched-over stance, yet doesn’t slip and roll like a boxer, instead staying on the center line and using back and forth movement to stay safe from shots. However, because she likes to use linear movement, she can walk into things, at which point she leans on some level of toughness. Especially if her opponents look to teep in order to alleviate her pressure, she happily takes the brunt of the kick and tries to walk through it, which works when the strike is more of a push, bit when she walks into stabbing shots like sidekicks down the center, taking the punishment becomes more dangerous for her.
That being said, other than some kicks down the middle, her approach is very effective. Her reach allows her to land from range and use minimal movement to avoid counters, which in turn allows her to maintain pressure, quickly re-engaging. She has a variety of strikes which she uses, some like her wicked power right body kick force her opponent to circle away and into her left hook. Another common technique used by Rodriguez is her straight right when her opponent is against the fence, because she can fully commit knowing if she over commits she will only land in the clinch. From there she chains the momentum into a clean shoulder post and knee combination.
On the mat is where Rodriguez has the most improvements needed. Her guard is not overly sophisticated but her constant movement makes it difficult to land anything on her cleanly. It’s more her half guard that tends to be an issue because she sometimes settles on her back and has difficulty returning to her feet for finding sweeps, instead looking to minimize damage and wait out the clock, or hope for a stand-up. While she has difficulty on her back, it’s by no means easy to get her there, because as with her striking, her mastery of range is key in defending takedowns.
By staying at a good range, she forces her opponents to shoot from far out, where it becomes easier for her to back away or sprawl and push off. Her opponents find more success typically, putting her against the cage and dragging her down but that’s no easy task either as she almost always plays the aggressor pushing forward and when she is clinched on the fence she immediately posts her hands on her opponent’s hips to create space and avoid throws.
Yan Xiaonan is also primarily a striker, although not so akin to traditional Muay Thai. Where Rodriquez is a bit more flat-footed, Xiaonan is almost always light on her feet, slightly bouncing and threatening a burst forward. She utilizes mostly the basics, a good lunging jab and variety of kicks but will throw in the odd more rare techniques like hook kicks, as opposed to Rodriguez who almost exclusively doesn’t. Techniques like these will be a key weapon in getting into Rodriguez’s range without being predictable, and although it’s not something that Xiaonan always goes to, I think being creative will be even more important in this match-up than ever.
Xiaonan also holds the speed advantage, on top of always being light on her feet and thus more fluid, she also has extremely quick hand speed. She may give up some power to Rodriguez but if Rodriguez finds herself being over-aggressive, she isn’t just walking into one shot but likely a flurry of punches from Xiaonan in just a second.
Neither woman often goes to the takedown often in their fights, but should a knockout occur on either side we could easily see them look to establish top position in order to rain down ground and pound. Both women have had difficulty getting off of their backs but the big difference is Xiaonan’s ability to strike offensively from her guard, throwing up sharp elbows especially by posting her opponent away and then using their dropping movement to emphasize her own elbow strikes. Pushing off like this is dangerous against submission artists who could use it to look for the armbar but against Rodriguez, it shouldn’t be the worst risk to take.
Often Xiaonan stays light and bounces in and out touching her opponent with her jab. Consistency with that is what allows her to set up the right hand behind it and draw out her opponent’s counter at which she can land a flurry. This tactic is not suited to Rodriguez’s style, whose range control will make establishing the jab extremely difficult. I see Xiaonan having trouble gaging range against Rodriguez for her jab and cross and I also see her having difficulty landing flurries when Rodriguez steps in with her rangy straight punches.
Prediction: Marina Rodriguez to win via decision
Braeden Arbour is an aspiring journalist out of Ontario, Canada. He is a recent graduate of Trent University, with a black belt in Karate and a blue belt in Judo. He has also been an avid fan of MMA for the last decade.