Strawweights Michelle Waterson and Marina Rodriguez will move up a weight class to fight at flyweight in order to fill the main event of Saturday’s UFC on ESPN card on short notice.

Waterson Rodriguez odds
Marina Rodriguez (left) will take on Michelle Waterson (right), with the two strawweight fighters facing off at flyweight on short notice. (Image: Chris Unger/Zuffa)

Initially, the UFC scheduled a bout between TJ Dillashaw and Cory Sandhagen to headline the event.

Rodriguez gets first crack at UFC headliner

Dillashaw pulled out of the fight after suffering a cut due to a headbutt during training. Waterson and Rodriguez stepped up to fill in the top slot, though they agreed to fight up a weight class rather than attempt a short and severe weight cut to get down to strawweight, where both normally compete.

Rodriguez (13-1-2) comes in as the No. 6 ranked strawweight in the UFC. She last fought in January, stopping Amanda Ribas via TKO early in the second round at UFC 257.

Waterson vs. Rodriguez Odds (via FanDuel Sportsbook)
Michelle Waterson: +172 Marina Rodriguez: -205
Method of Victory
Waterson by KO/TKO: +1400 Rodriguez by KO/TKO: +450
Waterson by Submission: +1000 Rodriguez by Submission: +1800
Waterson by Decision: +290 Rodriguez by Decision: -105
Draw: +5000

Rodriguez now gets the chance to fight in her first UFC main event. The 34-year-old has never taken part in a five-round fight, and another big win over a ranked contender could start to move her into the strawweight title picture.

“To be picked to fight in the main event is very gratifying,” Rodriquez said to Ag Fight. “You know that the company trusts you, they know you’ll deliver a great fight and that motivates me to show our work. All eyes will be on this fight … to win by knockout would be perfect.”

A cherished main event opportunity

Waterson (18-8) last fought in September when she broke a two-fight losing streak with a split-decision win over Angela Hill. The No. 9 ranked strawweight has more main event experience than Rodriguez, having gone the distance in five-round fights twice in her career. Both of those bouts came in the past two years.

Waterson says she wants to take advantage of these main event opportunities whenever they come up, even on short notice.

“I’ve been fighting for 15 years now, and I know I only got a couple more good years in me, and the more I realize that, the more I want to take advantage of every opportunity when it presents itself,” Waterson told MMA Junkie. “You don’t realize what you have until it’s gone. COVID showed all of us a lot of that. I love this. I love to fight.”

Rodriguez comes into the fight at a -205 favorite over Waterson (+172), according to FanDuel Sportsbook. But Waterson says she sees reasons why this is a good matchup for her.

“She’s a stand-up banger who likes Muay Thai, heavy hands, she’s good in the clinch, and I really like this fight stylistically,” Waterson said. “I’ve been in there with the best of the best strikers, Joanna [Jedrzejczyk] and Rose [Namajunas] – I know where I stand in the division, so I think this is a great matchup for me to show the world I belong at the top.”