Rodrigues, who faces longtime octagon veteran Brad Tavares in the main card of UFC Vegas 86 on Saturday in Las Vegas, said on MMA Fighting’s Trocação Franca podcast that today’s best middleweight is likely to be crowned on Feb. 24, when PFL champion Impa Kasanganay battles undefeated Bellator titleholder Johnny Eblen in Saudi Arabia.
“I respect Dricus, but I don’t see him holding that belt for a long time,” Rodrigues said. “And looking at [Kasanganay and Eblen], I know it’s a different promotion — I’ve always said that the UFC is different, it’s a whole other atmosphere, you become a different fighter and many things affect you when you’re in there, and that’s why I say I respect Dricus for being UFC champion. He’s walked his path, but I don’t see him as one of the best middleweights. He’s far from it.”
“There are guys way better than him,” he continued. “If you compare him to those guys, Impa [and Eblen], they are way better. If you compare him to other middleweight champions, [Kasanganay and Eblen] can be the best middleweight in the world.”
Rodrigues said Kasanganay became one of his first friends when he joined the Kill Cliff FC team in Florida, and he’s happy to see him finally fulfill his potential in the sport after a rocky run in the UFC. Kasanganay won the 2023 PFL season with five victories over a span of eight months. Du Plessis, on the other hand, beat Derek Brunson and Robert Whittaker in 2023 before dethroning Strickland.
“Impa has found himself,” Rodrigues said. “He knows all the weapons he has, he’s very aggressive and strong, and never runs out of cardio. [Eblen] has grappling and is very versatile, he does everything at the same time, but we’re working hard and Impa is sharp in all areas. He’s in the best moment of his career, and I believe he will bring another victory for us.”
Meanwhile, “Robocop” faces Tavares after their match fell through in January 2023. They both competed on the same card in August, with the Brazilian knocking out Denis Tiuliulin in less than two minutes and Tavares scoring a decision over ex-champion Chris Weidman.
Rodrigues believes Tavares “has a name in the division,” and beating the Hawaiian will allow him to seek a top-ranked opponent next.
“It’s a fight that will put me in a better position,” Rodrigues said. “I like to take one step at a time. I haven’t asked for a top-10 or top-15 [opponent] yet, but Brad Tavares is a guy that I would like to fight. I wouldn’t say test myself against him, because I already know who I am, but he’s a guy I want to beat before challenging those at the top. I see that most people that fought him went on to challenge ranked opponents next.”
“I know of my knockout power, and I know my jiu-jitsu is really good,” Rodrigues said. “I’m ready to go three rounds, but I believe this fight won’t go the distance.”