Welcome to KEYlock! Named after the keylock submission, KEYlock is a weekly article that highlights one non-main event bout from the upcoming UFC fight card, and explores why it deserves your attention.
The T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, hosts UFC 272 this coming weekend, a stellar fight card headlined by Colby Covington vs Jorge Masvidal.
My KEYlock for UFC 272 is Marina Rodriguez vs Yan Xiaonan. This matchup deserves to be on the main card; having this bout on the preliminary card is a disservice to both the significance of this fight, and the permutations at play. Indeed, Marina Rodriguez had a sensational 2021, building legitimacy as a contender in the Strawweight division; a dominant performance at UFC 272 against Yan Xiaonan will put Rodriguez firmly in contention for a Strawweight Championship fight.
An IFMA 2016 National Muay Thai champion, Marina Rodriguez has become synonymous with striking finesse. It was ultimately a ruthless, relentless striking masterclass on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series Brazil that earned Rodriguez a deserved UFC contract; such was the onslaught, Maria Oliveira was forced to wave her hand during the bout to signal she couldn’t take anymore punishment.
Only 6 weeks later, Rodriguez made her octagon debut at UFC Fight Night 137, grinding out a majority draw with Randa Markos. Whilst back-to-back unanimous decision wins against Jessica Aguilar and Tecia Torres followed, a second majority draw with Cynthia Calvillo and split decision loss to Carla Esparza rendered an underwhelming 2-1-2 promotional record.
However, January 23rd 2021 ignited a rejuvenation. Indeed, the impact of UFC 257 on Rodriguez’s promotional career can’t be overstated. Entering her matchup with Amanda Ribas, Rodriguez was a +270 underdog. Significant hype surrounded Ribas; she entered UFC 257 with a 4-0 promotional record, and at the time was the only fighter to have defeated Mackenzie Dern. Therefore, when Rodriguez stopped Ribas via TKO, there was a sense something special had happened; Rodriguez herself addressed the crowd post-fight, simply saying “Guys, now you know who I am”.
Rodriguez followed that performance with her first main event bout, an extremely short-notice five round war with Michelle Waterson at UFC Vegas 26. Whilst the bout took place at Flyweight (due to the short-notice of the fight), the unanimous decision victory over Waterson cemented Rodriguez as a serious Strawweight contender.
October 9th 2021 arguably presented Rodriguez her greatest test, at UFC Vegas 39; a five round main event with Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion Mackenzie Dern. In a classic striker-vs-grappler matchup, the bookmakers cast Rodriguez as a slight underdog. However, despite enduring episodes of adversity, Rodriguez emerged victorious with a hard-fought unanimous decision win. There was little doubt; Rodriguez achieved a 3-0 calendar year against game competition, and made a statement.
Yan Xiaonan presents formidable opposition at UFC 272. Holding a professional record of 13-2 (1 NC), the 32-year-old is 6-1 in the UFC, having only lost to Carla Esparza; her six victories have all gone the distance, having won all six via unanimous decision. However, should Rodriguez defeat Xiaonan in sensational fashion, there is legitimate argument for a Strawweight Championship bout as her next fight.
Rodriguez may have quietly climbed towards Championship fight contention, but UFC 272 presents an opportunity to make a big statement, and leave little argument; don’t miss Rodriguez vs Xiaonan at UFC 272 this weekend.