This Sunday, in the main event of the UFC’s latest trip to Phoenix, Arizona, Mexico’s Yair Rodriguez will take on our very own BJ Penn in a fight that is undoubtedly the biggest test of his promising career. In advance of this scrap with Penn, Rodriguez joined Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour to weigh in on the fight itself, his training, and what it means to fight a legend like Penn.
In his interview, Rodriguez recounted the first time he saw Penn in action.
“I wasn’t even fighting MMA when I started watching BJ Penn,” he said. “I remember seeing this video, it’s probably on YouTube, he was jumping out of a pool, you know, for training. He was doing that stuff. And his highlights, those are the first [memories] I have of him, watching him, growing up. And I was like ‘Oh my god, BJ, BJ.’ My brother and all my family, you know, we used to watch him. Now that I have the chance to fight him, it’s a big shot for me. It’s an honor to fight him.”
Given that he used to watch BJ Penn fight, Rodriguez explained that he is very excited to fight him.
“This going to be a big test for me, for my career,” he said. “BJ is a two-time former champion, you know, two different weight classes. He already knows what it takes to be a champion. He already knows what it takes to be the best in the world. That’s what I’m looking for, people who have a lot of experience, and they can give me more experience when I’m fighting them. This is a huge opportunity for me and I’m pretty happy to fight him.”
The Mexican prospect also touched on Penn’s doubters, who believe his time is passed and that his looming comeback is doomed to fail. Rodriguez is doing his best do ignore these Penn skeptics, and is expecting the best Penn ever this Sunday.
“I never get too confident [leading] into the fight,” he said. “I always prepare myself as if I’m fighting the best. I’m just hoping for the best BJ Penn ever. I never underestimate my opponents, less a guy who has been a two-time former champion. He already knows what it takes, like I’m telling you, I can’t be to comfortable with him in the cage. He can be very dangerous.”
In preparation for this fight, Penn has spent some time training under the tutelage of Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Given that this is where Rodriguez used to train, this adds an interesting wrinkle to the pair’s upcoming showdown. Rodriguez weighed in on Penn’s training in his interview with Helwani:
I know he’s been training for a long time, and he’s been training with people that know me very well, actually my friends. “Cowboy” [Cerrone], Diego Sanchez, “The Magician [John Dodson], [Greg] Jackson, [Mike] Winkeljohn… all of those guys know me pretty well. They can easily tell him where I’m good or not. But I don’t really care. I’m a fighter and you have to be worried about me in any part of the fighting game. I can grapple, I can wrestle, I can strike. I don’t really give a f*ck. I’m a fighter, and I was born a fighter. I’m a champion, and I know I’m a champion already.”
While Yair Rodriguez was complimentary of Penn’s legacy, and confident that Penn will be as sharp as ever this Sunday, he also assured that he will defeat the returning legend. Surprisingly, he predicted that he would beat the decorated BJJ player by submission.
“He’ll take me down, he thinks he’s going to submit me, well, I will submit him,” he said. “It could be a submission if he takes me down.”
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