SALT LAKE CITY — Quickness, athleticism, and unpredictability: all three were on display this evening when the octagon door closed behind Yair “El Pantera” Rodriguez and Alex “Bruce Leeroy” Caceres.
Entering as the 13th ranked featherweight in all the world, Rodriguez was looking to add another win to his perfect 4-0 UFC record. His prior performance was by far the most impressive of his career as he knocked out Andre Fili with a flying knee that instantly closed the show.
Caceres, through a pair of decision victories over the likes of Masio Fullen and Cole Miller, had rebounded nicely from three straight losses dating back to July 2014. However, Bruce Leeroy was still desiring a hand raise over a big name opponent.
He will have to keep looking, though.
Living up to the title of favorite, El Pantera turned in another tremendous performance, this time in a split decision win (46-49, 48-47, 48-47).
“It was a great experience,” said Rodriguez of his first main event and five round fight. “I think it was a good opportunity for me to see where I am at in my division and see how my cardio and how my technique goes up from three rounds.”
As expected, the only slow moment of this bout was the glove touch. After the show of sportsmanship, the American landed the first significant strike of the bout in the form of a flying superman punch. Rodriguez responded with numerous spinning kick in addition to tremendous footwork and an unmatchable pace. Furthermore, he mixed up his strikes very well in the role of aggressor while enjoying great success. Rodriguez would land kicks to Bruce Leeroy’s head, which became a prevalent theme.
Quickly in the 2nd, another right head kick by Rodriguez occurred, this one knocking down Caceres. Back to his feet, the latter began to read his opponent’s unique strikes better, resulting in more misses by the pride of Chihuahua, Mexico. In fact, it was in this round that the underdog enjoyed a huge left overhand that exploded in Rodriguez’s face. Although Bruce Leeroy later followed up with an explosive left straight, three body kicks snapped against the American before the horn sounded.
Amazingly, the Mexican persisted his never-ceasing pressure into the eleventh minute. Both his punches and kicks did damage, including a pair of beautiful and deadly knees to Caceres. Despite being thrashed by stingy strikes, the American finally found his range and comfort through throwing and landing a left-handed bomb and knee to the body. Following a scramble, the two ended up on the canvas, leading to Caceres taking top position and finding a home for sharp elbows and hard strikes. While Rodriguez did get back go his feet, momentum seemed to be shifting.
As in the 1st, El Pantera went back to inflicting a heavy dose of kicks. No matter whether it was side or switch, Rodriguez persisted in offering and landing these strikes. It was also in the 4th that he displayed excellent head movement to move in and out of the pocket unscathed. Caceres eventually answered via a right straight and hook, but it was his opponent who finished the round strong with his stand-up.
A hug of embrace commenced the 5th and final round of this weekend’s main event. Additionally, a rejuvenated Rodriguez returned, for his pace swiftly sped up, leading to two knees to Bruce Leeroy’s head. As Caceres had a notable takedown while the Mexican was marching forward, the latter scrambled to his feet and proceeded to even the score on the ground with one of his own. In the end, the American could only evade trouble for so long, and found multiple strikes landing flush against him, in addition to his first loss since the summer of 2015.
“I don’t know man. That’s not my work,” voiced the victorious featherweight of who he would like to fight next. “I just hope to be ready for the next opponent.”