Yair Rodriguez: 'It Was Kind of Surprising' to Get Matchup with Aging BJ Penn

Scott HarrisMMA Lead WriterJanuary 9, 2017

Yair Rodriguez
Yair RodriguezJohn Locher/Associated Press

This weekend at UFC Fight Night 103, a young lion and an aging lion face off when 24-year-old phenom Yair Rodriguez faces 38-year-old former two-division champion BJ Penn.

Although Penn (16-10-2) provides a high-profile opponent for a rising star in Rodriguez, the match was met with some raised eyebrows given that Penn hasn't competed in more than two years and hasn't won a fight since 2010.

Speaking Monday on The MMA Hour broadcast with host Ariel Helwani, Rodriguez (9-1) acknowledged he, too, was initially taken aback by the matchup.

"The UFC offered me the fight, and I just accepted. So, you know, yeah, it was kind of surprising at the beginning, but now I'm just happy," Rodriguez said. 

The biggest worries over the match may have come from Penn fans, who are nervous about how this comeback effort might go for The Prodigy.

The famously tough Hawaiian has seen his chin erode after years of hard scraps and has lost his last three contests going back to 2011. In his last bout, a 2014 loss, Penn was overmatched and overwhelmed by Frankie Edgar, finally succumbing by TKO in the third round. It was also Penn's debut at featherweight, where Saturday's main event will also be contested.

Rodriguez, meanwhile, is a flashy and dangerous striker. In April he won a $50,000 performance bonus for a flying head kick knockout of Andre Fili.

Perhaps that's why betting website OddsShark currently has Rodriguez as a -420 favorite to defeat Penn.

"I'm just hoping for the best BJ Penn ever," Rodriguez said. "I never overestimate my opponents. ... I can never be too comfortable [with] him in the cage. He can be pretty dangerous. But, you know, with all the respect I have for him, and watching him while I was growing up, now is my time. He wants to come back and fight? All right, man, let's do it."

Rodriguez also took pains Monday to praise Penn and his Hall of Fame career.

"I know this is going to be a very big step for me and my career," Rodriguez said. "He's a two-time champion, two weight classes, he really knows what it takes to be a champion. He already knows what it takes to be the best in the world. ... I saw this as a huge opportunity for me, and I'm happy to fight him."