UFC 284: How Josh Emmett, Yair Rodriguez earned interim title opportunity
Josh Emmett made his professional MMA debut on October 8, 2011. Barack Obama was in his first presidential term. Tom Brady has only had three Super Bowl rings, with four more championships and six appearances to go. It’s been less than a year since Jose Aldo made his first UFC featherweight title defense.
More than 11 years later, Emmett will appear in the co-main event of UFC 284 on Saturday in Perth, Australia, where he will face Yair Rodriguez for the interim featherweight title. Featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovskiy will face lightweight champion Islam Makhachev in the main event. Volkanovski plans to defend both belts if Makhachev wins.
For some reason, despite his great success – Emmett is 18-2 overall in MMA and 9-2 in the UFC – he still hasn’t fought on the main card of a pay-per-view show. Despite his strong track record and victories against elite opponents like Calvin Kattar and Dan Ige, Emmett’s profile has been relatively low given his absence from the UFC’s biggest shows.
That will change dramatically on Saturday when he faces Rodriguez, who has become one of the promotion’s most popular and exciting fighters. Rodriguez is 2nd in featherweight and Emmett is 5th, so when the UFC set up the Volkanovski-Makhachev fight, there were other options besides Rodriguez and Emmett to compete for the interim featherweight title.
However, Emmett never cared. He knew he had done more than enough to prove himself worthy.
“Not by much, but not quite, because I felt like I would be the next obvious contender for the title,” Emmett told Sportzshala Sports. “As Alex advances to try and become the champion champion that I think he fully deserves and deserves, I knew they would have to do something like an interim title. The way I looked at it, and the way I honestly believe, wasn’t there an argument that I should have been next. So it was the best thing to happen. [to get an interim title fight].”
Rodriguez lost to former champion Max Holloway in a stunning bout on November 13, 2021, which was Fight of the Night and one of the best fights of the year. He returned to defeat Brian Ortega in July, which pretty much sealed the deal in terms of a championship opportunity.
His performance is strong – he’s 3-1 in his last four, with finishes from Chan Sung Jung, Jeremy Stevens and Ortega, along with a sensational fight with Holloway – and he thought he had proved himself worthy.
“I have been looking for this opportunity for a long time and I feel like I deserved it,” Rodriguez said. ” [interim] The title fight was open and I saw it as an opportunity to jump into the fight no matter who they chose as my opponent.”
The Emmett-Rodriguez fight would have been a favorite in the Fight of the Night category if there was a chance for such things. As it is, Rodriguez has -180 on BetMGM to win and Emmett has +150..
Emmett has a wrestling background but is an aggressive high contact fighter who sacrificed his body for the cause. He suffered serious facial injuries in a loss to Jeremy Stevens in 2018 which sidelined him for 13 months. He came back and then tore his knee in the first minute of the fight with Shane Burgos, which caused him to be out of action for 18 months.
He is one of the toughest fighters in the sport and the injury didn’t stop him. For the last 24 minutes, he has struggled with an injury that he says is “sick as hell”. He still won by decision.
He’s gearing up for more because of Rodriguez’s style. Curiously, they said almost the same thing about each other.
“Yair is a talented guy and you have to understand that you will have to go through some hardships when you fight him,” said Emmett. “He’s an extremely tough guy and I know he’s a big problem.”
Rodriguez spoke as if he was reading Emmett’s words.
“I know he is a great fighter, one of the best in the world,” Rodriguez said. “He is so, so cool and it will never be easy to fight him. It will make it harder, but you have to be able to hold on and keep going.”
If Volkanovski wins and adds a lightweight belt, it will make his fight with the winner Emmett-Rodriguez much bigger. He has repeatedly said that he wants to defend both belts, and not choose just one. UFC president Dana White said Volkanovski deserved the opportunity.
But even if Volkanovski loses to Makhachev, he will still be a featherweight champion ready to take on the winner, although it might not be such a lucrative payday.
“Of course I’ll pull [Volkanovski] because it will make our fight better in the long run,” Emmett said. “But I can’t think too much because I have a huge fight ahead of me that needs my full attention.”