Marina Rodriguez did not arrive in Las Vegas until Thursday, two days later than every other fighter on the card. The Brazil native had struggles getting a visa into the United States due to COVID-19 and spent 20 hours in travel over Wednesday and Thursday morning.
None of that ended up mattering Saturday.
Rodriguez defeated Michelle Waterson, using her Muay Thai striking effectively en route to a unanimous decision (48-47, 49-46, 49-46) win in the UFC Fight Night main event in Las Vegas. It was one of the best performances of Rodriguez’s career — especially early — despite the travel woes.
The initially scheduled main event Saturday was former bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw taking on top contender Cory Sandhagen. But Dillashaw withdrew last week due to an injury that bout will be rebooked. Rodriguez and Waterson didn’t agree to this bout — up a division at flyweight due to the timing — until April 27 and the UFC didn’t make it official until this past Tuesday.
The first three rounds featured Rodriguez chewing Waterson up with big right hands, knees out of a Thai clinch and elbows with Waterson against the cage. As hard as Rodriguez tried, though, she could not get the durable Waterson out of there. And Waterson mounted a huge comeback in the fourth round.
Waterson took Rodriguez down in the fourth and landed big elbows from half guard. In the fifth round, Waterson landed a head kick that wobbled Rodriguez and caused bad swelling on the left of her jaw. Waterson followed that up with a side kick to the body that clearly hurt Rodriguez. In that final, eventful round, Rodriguez was able to score a head kick late that did damage to Waterson.
Coming in, ESPN had Rodriguez ranked No. 6 in the world at strawweight and Waterson ranked No. 9. Rodriguez did not end up doing a postfight interview due to the swelling of her jaw, per the broadcast.
The bout took place with COVID-19 protocols in effect at the UFC Apex, the facility across the street from the promotion’s corporate campus.
Rodriguez (14-1-2) has just one loss in seven UFC outings and now has two straight wins. The Muay Thai specialist was coming off a second-round TKO win over prospect Amanda Ribas in January. Rodriguez, 34, has only lost to former champion Carla Esparza in the UFC, but has a pair of draws, against Cynthia Calvillo and Randa Markos.
Waterson (18-9) is the former Invicta FC atomweight champion and one of the most popular women’s fighters on the UFC roster. Fighting out of New Mexico, “The Karate Hottie” was coming off a split decision win over Angela Hill last September, which snapped a two-fight losing skid. Waterson, 35, has won four of six fights overall.