El Pantera: Interview With The Film Director • Latino Sports

MMA

El Pantera: Interview With The Film Director

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by Daniel Rivera

ElPantera_Poster_NYLFF_SmNEW YORK, NY – When last devout octagon addicts saw Yair Rodriguez it was the night of May 13th, 2017 in Dallas, Texas for Ultimate Fighting Championship card UFC 211. What Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fans witnessed – either on Pay-per-view or live and direct in “The Lonestar State” – was something completely unexpected.

What exactly took place?

Essentially one of UFC’s rising and most bankable stars stepped into “The Octagon” for what was supposed to be a watershed moment in his burgeoning career against the highly decorated Frank Edgar.

Instead the man known as “El Pantera” to his legions of fans in Mexico and the United States suffered perhaps the worst and most gruesome defeat to go on his record. The featherweight bout only lasted two rounds for a total of five minutes even. Edgar pummeled Rodriguez so severe the result was a TKO via doctor stoppage.

The picture painted on the canvass that night through the vicious strikes landed by Edgar produced a grotesque image of Rodriguez audiences had never seen before. Ronald Martinez’s photo of a bloodied Rodriguez, complete with a left eye so swollen it defied comprehension, quickly became one of UFC’s most haunting visuals in recent years.

Yet to put it in a proper perspective as horrifying Rodriguez’s face appeared it wasn’t precisely “the stuff of nightmares” à la Wade Wilson.

However, what might be viewed as terrifying to the average person would be his overall journey to become the man he is at this moment. To say Rodriguez has traveled roads lesser folk wouldn’t dare tread is a complete understatement. The arduous voyage to arrive at the current juncture of his life is now the subject of a seventy-three-minute documentary titled after his moniker.

“We want the audience to come away with a film of hope and inspiration”, Director Landon Dyksterhouse (The Proving Grounds and Beats4Tanner) exclusively told Latino Sports before the premier of his documentary at the New York Latino Film Festival this past weekend. “Also, you’re going to see whether you win or you lose there’s a lot more to the fight game.”

In the film, Dyksterhouse chronicles Rodriguez’s tale from growing up in Parral, Chihuahua, Mexico to his popularity as a prize fighter. Along the way the documentary delves deeper as to who Rodriguez is in and out of the ring, why he’s a fighter and what he is truly fighting for.

In addition to these themes the crux of “El Pantera” centers around the Latino immigration narrative in relation to the United States. It carefully explores the peaks and valleys of the issue the subject has had to contend with for the first quarter century of his existence.

“He has become a symbol of hope for his country. And with all the social overtones going on and the politics of immigration and putting up a wall his character and his position have become so important. So, when we think about those things we realize that Pantera’s story needs to be shared. And it needs to be shared on a big platform”, Dyksterhouse said.

Regarding the project Dyksterhouse didn’t hesitate to share that Rodriguez was cognizant of the magnitude of its potential impact on his fans and casual viewers alike.

In fact, he was quick to note that the man who heavily favors the use of the triangle choke on his opponents is aware of the importance of his image in relation to how he is represented. This should come to the surprise of no one as the film is the most intimate look in to Rodriguez’s life from his training to his personal and professional struggles.

When questioned about what it was like to travel with Rodriguez for the film Dyksterhouse shared the following: “When we were with Pantera and we shot in Mexico we went throughout the whole country. Not only is he a cult figure but he’s a full-on rock star.

I mean this guy it’s not just Latin America and Mexico. People know him everywhere. This is a guy who, when the cameras are turned off, is handing out money to the poor. [He’s] giving them hope. Touching them. Shaking their hands. Taking pictures with everybody.”

Dyksterhouse added that when he thinks of Rodriguez he is reminded of other Latin American cult figures such as Pancho Villa and Che Guevara. He believes Rodriguez to be in the mold of a modern-day revolutionary. To sum it all up Dyksterhouse says this is where the film places Rodriguez and where he can have the greatest influence on the lives he comes across on a day-to-day basis: especially in his native Mexico.

As for Rodriguez he is still a viable commodity in UFC’s grand scheme of things. One that the fighting organization knows it needs to firmly entrench itself in the Latin American market. The only question remaining pertains to UFC’s willingness in continuing to embrace Rodriguez’s cult status. It is part and parcel of dealing with a man of his stature. Nevertheless, it is clearly a question only time can answer.

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