The UFC Apex in Las Vegas has been the hot-spot for fights under the current global pandemic and the fight cards are rolling ahead. On March 13th we are treated to a 15-bout fight card including the highly anticipated return of Birmingham’s own Leon Edwards as he takes on an eager Belal Muhammad.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Bantamweight Rani Yahya who makes his seventeenth walk to the octagon under the UFC on March 13th against a tough opponent who’s desperate to get his first UFC win in Ray Rodriguez.
Rani Yahya (26-10-1) will be hopeful of kick-starting his 2021 season with a bang, catapulting back into the win column and gaining some cage-time after being out of action for exactly one year. The Brazilian’s last encounter inside the octagon occurred in his own backyard at UFC on ESPN+ 28: Lee vs. Oliveira where he was taking the distance for a hard-fought draw with Enrique Barzola. Previous to that, Rahya suffered a unanimous decision loss to Ricky Simón at UFC 234. It’s a rare position for the 36-year old to be in as he’s an athlete you can count on for consistently performing. Rani Yahya is a major threat when the fight hits the mat, an outstanding twenty submission victories from twenty-six professional wins.
After an unfortunate debut for Ray Rodriguez (16-7), he will be hungry to showcase his skill-set to the fans. Rodriguez made his debut in September 2020 and was quickly shown how challenging it will be on the biggest stage. Brian Kelleher made short work of “THE JUDGE” sinking in a tight guillotine-choke which ended the fight within 39-seconds of round one. When crediting Rahya’s submission skills, it’s important to note Rodriguez is no slouch on the ground offering a 50% submission victory rate. Expect a fired-up Ray Rodriguez come fight night.
Last 5 Bouts
Interview with Rani Yahya
How has life been for you amongst the madness of the pandemic and coming off your majority draw at the start of 2020? Having some time to reflect, have you evaluated the performance and identified what went well and what you could have done better? What is your overall view of your last performance?
Rani Yahya – “I kept training during the pandemic, keeping myself in good shape expecting to fight. About my last fight, I ended up not performing the way I expected. The fight was a draw and I was looking to get the win, of course, I changed many things in the way I train, trying to be calmer and relax to perform better during all the 3 rounds.”
How has your preparation been ahead of your upcoming matchup, how is life in Brazil with the global pandemic, have you faced any challenges with gyms being shut or has your training schedule not been affected?
Rani Yahya – “In the very beginning of the pandemic, many locations were closed, but, I found my way to train, many times by myself hiring a heavy bag, doing a lot of running and sprints. The whole world was definitely affected. I started my training camp for my next fight in Brazil, and now I am going to ATT in Florida to finish the camp there. Everything it is going very well, I feel in great shape, my weight is great as well. I expect a very tough opponent, but I am ready.”
You’ve been around the game a long time, your bout against Rodriguez will mark your 38th bout as a professional dating back to 2002. At this stage in your career, what keeps you motivated and hungry to keep putting your body through these gruelling camps?
Rani Yahya – “The desire to compete. I have been a competitor since I was 11. My dream at that time was to be on the platform that I am now. The first time that I ever hear about Jiu-Jitsu and UFC was watching Royce Gracie tapping bigger guys in VHS tapes that we used to rent in Blockbuster. I did begin in jiu-jitsu right after that, then I started to compete and win tournaments, and then I decided that I wanted to be a jiu-jitsu representative in NHB(MMA) someday.”
Your opponent in Ray Rodriguez is a proven finisher, who is prone to securing a submission on his opponents, with your grappling credentials and submission defence are you expecting Rodriguez to stay away from the ground game and try and keep the fight standing?
Rani Yahya – “I think so, usually he gets taken down and then work from some submission from there, but I don’t see him trying to take the fights to the ground, I believe he will want to strike with me.”
If you come away from the bout a winner and injury-free, are you looking to compete again this year, if so is there any names that intrigue you?
Rani Yahya – “I know that what I will say sounds cliché, but I only think about Rodriguez, every time that I think about the future, I keep myself focus enough to remember the challenge that I have in front of me. So, I haven’t been thinking ahead of March 13th.”
How do you view Rodriguez as a fellow competitor, have you watched any of his previous fights as he has only had one bout in the UFC before or has it been hard to watch tape of him with limited resources?
Rani Yahya – “I did watch a few of his fights, good cardio, brawler, got some strikes and some submissions as well. But, nothing new, nothing spectacular.”
Looking at Rodriguez’s game, can you and your coaches identify any strengths that you need to be careful of, as well as weaknesses you can exploit?
Rani Yahya – “The main thing for us now is to be ready for this war in all aspects of the game. He got the ability to overcome some tough situations in fights sometimes, which makes him a dangerous guy, he also gets very explosive on some occasions during the fight. But all of this plays two sides of the coin, so, I am aware of what he can do.”
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