The UFC minimumweight doesn’t get as much attention as some of the other weight classes, but it delivered more memorable moments.
The pinnacle, of course, is the 2020 fight between Zhang Weili and Joanna Jedrzejczyk at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. It wasn’t just the greatest women’s fight in UFC history, it was one of the greatest MMA fights.
But there were many other “wow” moments, including the knockout of Rose Namajunas Jedrzejczyk and her bloody battle many years ago with Paige VanZant.
Marina Rodriguez has quietly moved up the corporate ladder and now she’s in the perfect position to make her own buzz. On Saturday at the Apex at the UFC Las Vegas campus, Rodriguez will take on Amanda Lemos in a key division bout at UFC Vegas 64.
She won four times in a row after losing a split decision to current champion Carla Esparza on July 26, 2020 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. She has beaten Amanda Ribas, Michelle Waterson, Mackenzie Dern and Yan Xiaonan in her last four matches and has looked better and better in each of them.
“She’s fun to watch and gets better every time,” UFC president Dana White said of Rodriguez. “I think she’s going to do very, very well [if she wins Saturday]. She has a great future.”
The future will almost certainly include a fight against the winner of the Esparza-Zhang fight, which is the co-main event of UFC 281 on November 12 in New York.
Rodriguez said she respected Lemos’ talent but exuded confidence as she discussed the fight and her short-term future.
“I know she’s very cool and she has good wins and good wins in the UFC,” Rodriguez said through a translator. “But we are both aggressive forwards, so I am 100% sure that our fight has what it takes to be the fight of the night. I am very confident that I will beat Amanda no matter what.
“I’ll be next UFC Vegas 64: Marina Rodriguez looking to break through, earn title shot with win over Amanda Lemos applicant. If everything goes perfectly, I’ll be there after this fight.”
Rodriguez has yet to break through to capture the imagination of fight fans. She has not finished since she stopped Ribas on January 24, 2021 at UFC 257 in Abu Dhabi. And she doesn’t speak English, so her global appeal is limited.
But there were others before her who didn’t have good English but were outstanding strikers (Zhang immediately comes to mind) who became stars because they came at the right time.
Rodriguez’s lack of a finish line and a more conservative approach to the ring also halted her ascent in terms of fan interest.
But the battle with Lemos was supposed to be a bloody one, and if she got Zhang next, she would have no choice but to stand her ground and move forward.
“What I haven’t seen yet from Marina is the type of exit, pressure and aggression that Joanna Jedrzejczyk has brought every time,” White said. “Look how Weili fights. These two are a union made in heaven. I think this is what Marina will have to do; she’s going to have to come in with so much pressure and aggression when she fights if she gets to a fight with Weili.”
As for Rodriguez, she expects Zhang to beat Esparza next week to regain the title. While there is a part of her that would like to avenge her loss to Esparza, her main goal is to take down Lemos and fight for the belt against whoever survives UFC 281.
“It doesn’t really matter to me,” she said. “However, in MMA you can always be surprised. Carla defeated Rose [when few expected it]. I’ll be there and ready, whoever wins [at UFC 281]”.