Editor’s note: This story was published after Yair Rodriguez’s win over Chan Sung June. Rodriguez faces Max Holloway on Nov. 13.
Yair Rodriguez landed what some consider the greatest knockout in UFC history Saturday night in Denver, finishing Chan Sung Jung — best known as “The Korean Zombie” — with a brutal elbow to the chin with one second remaining in a back-and-forth bout. Jaws from spectators inside the Pepsi Center and at home simultaneously dropped, as the finishing move came seemingly out of nowhere.
Rodriguez joined ESPN’s Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show just two days after the epic fight, to update his health and provide details on how everything this weekend transpired.
Before the fight
The last couple of weeks were pretty rough for me. I wasn’t even able to finish one round when I was training up in Cowboy [Cerrone’s] ranch. My stomach was feeling bad. I was getting dizzy. I was really, really sick, but I was pushing through my mind, knowing I could do it. When I want to do something, nothing can stop me.
I didn’t want to say anything before the fight because if something happened to my health and I’m not able to fight, it’ll be another big hit for me and my career. Especially because I’ve been out the last 18 months. I was dealing with some health issues. I had a cyst on my liver, they told me. I went to the hospital on the first day of this month. On Nov. 1, I was pretty dehydrated and my kidneys were having a failure. High blood pressure. I didn’t know what was going on. I think it was something I ate in Mexico. I dropped 10 pounds in five days without even trying. It was really rough for me to make weight. This fight was more battling with myself than against the Korean Zombie.
Setting up the finish
I was feeling pretty bad after the first round, but something that is important in this sport is body language. I tried to keep my composure; I tried to keep moving forward. But I couldn’t move too much. I was trying to look more to the center of the Octagon. I was trying to keep the punches coming. Korean Zombie is what he is. He connected on some good punches too. He broke my nose.
Every time that I punched him, he was going back to me with two or three more punches. He was trying to counter me. I threw like five spinning back elbows, looking for a special moment. I was trying to make him come my way. Fake him and make him react. I couldn’t get him until I finally saw that moment at the end.
Ninety percent of communication is body language. The other 10 percent is what we speak. When I put my arms up it was, “OK, what do you want to do? There’s 10 seconds left — what do you want to do? Do you want to throw down? Do you want to hit me hard? Do you want to stop? What do you want to do?” He said, “OK, let’s do this s—.”
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) September 17, 2019
Nobody taught me [how to throw that elbow]. It was something I saw Cowboy doing in the back [while warming up] and I started practicing it.
We knew [Korean Zombie] opens up a lot with the punches. He always comes with hooks, hooks, hooks and then sometimes he goes from the inside. I knew if I could get him to come my way and go under him, even with a kick in the middle, with a punch in the middle, with a flying knee, I knew it would be there.
The last second was perfect. The momentum, everything was perfect. I made him react as I wanted him to react the whole fight like that. Sometimes when I wanted him to react that way, he was too aggressive that I couldn’t counter. Whenever you think everything is over, that’s when you put your hands down and it’s what happened.
I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “Holy s—.” I knew it was inside the five-minute round, but at the same time I was like, “Did I really hit him at the last second? Wow. I got him.” I looked to my corner and they were super happy. The referee put his hands up and said the fight was over.
I haven’t seen anything like that before, so I think [it’s the best knockout ever].
After the fight
This has been the best fight of my life because of a lot of things. I went through a lot of loss last year. One of those was my grandfather, and the other was my taekwondo instructor from when I was a kid. He died from cancer. This fight was for them. For all of those people who are fighting against cancer or any kind of sickness.
Sometimes we think we are warriors but [not compared] to those people who are fighting against sickness. This fight was for them. They are going through a rough time. I was trying to put that on my mind. This was for my grandfather, my family, my friends and especially for myself.
It’s a rough sport. Anything can happen at any moment. That could have been me. This time it was him. You always got to be prepared for whatever comes. It doesn’t matter if it’s a loss or win. You have to be able to take the flavors of life. Sometimes it’s sour, sometimes it’s sweet. We get to taste both flavors. Now I’m tasting the sweet of victory. He’s probably tasting the sour.
The last 18 months have been real tough. That’s one of the things that I learned most. The most important thing in that fight is that I went there happy. I went there relaxed, enjoying every moment.
When I talked to Korean Zombie in the hospital, I said, “I just want to say that I give you all my respect.” We’re not in a street fight. I used to fight a lot in the street, but this is a sport. Korean Zombie is a great representation of a professional. I told him I hope he recovers soon. He told me, “Now it’s time to heal up. Go back home, keep training and get better.”