Combate Americas: Everything Coming Full Circle For San Antonio’s Ray Rodriguez
When word got out that the UFC would be returning to Texas’s capital city, hundreds in the vicinity of Austin, Texas circled their calendars. Most told themselves that they would be in attendance come February 18th. They would buy tickets to the fights and enjoy them as a fan. San Antonio’s Ray Rodriguez (12-4), however, is determined to attend the event at the Frank Erwin Center by different means- from inside the cage. After kicking off his career at 5-4, Rodriguez has won his last seven bouts and in the process taking the greater Texas area MMA scene by storm.
It hasn’t always been easy for the 29-year-old featherweight. Nicknamed “The Judge”, Rodriguez’s career kicked off when he was stationed in Belgium as a member of the Unites States Army. Being a big UFC fan already, it made total sense that Rodriguez would enroll himself in the Army’s combatives program in Grafenwöhr, Germany. The commute to the class consisted of an eight hour drive in a smart car across Germany, but it paid off as Rodriguez excelled in the level 1 class and instantly fell in love.
Upon arrival back to Belgium, Rodriguez found a gym in Mons, the capital of the Belgian province Hainaut, and began training there. Despite having only competed against true beginners in the combatives level 1 class, Rodriguez instantly felt a sense of domination. Rodriguez would learn that this feeling would not last for very long. The first day he walked through the doors for his first training session, Rodriguez recalls having a conversation with some of the coaches. “At that time in my life I wasn’t a very humble guy. I was a kid right out of high school,” recalls Rodriguez. “I was like ‘yeah I have all of these street fights and I’ve been fighting forever.’ So they thought I had experience and that day happened to be a sparring day. I totally got worked. I got my ass kicked and every time I went back the ass-whoopings got a little bit less until they offered me to take amateur fights.”
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The well-known SHOOTO promotion signed Rodriguez to fight as an amateur, who won two fights in the first tournament he competed in under the banner. Following a suggestion from a coach that he compete full-time in the sport of mixed martial arts, Rodriguez has committed his life to his passion. In returning to the United States, Rodriguez signed himself up to take levels 2, 3 and 4 combatives classes at Fort Hood, where he made the All-Army Combatives Team. “[Fighting] has just been something I’ve fallen in love with since I joined the army,” says Rodriguez. “I just kept running with it from there.”
Through his first nine professional bouts, Ray Rodriguez was barely above .500. Prior to his tenth professional bout, Rodriguez began making the necessary changes both inside and outside the cage in order to succeed. “I realized I needed to live a more well-rounded life,” says Rodriguez. “It kind of sounds backwards, but when I had that 5-4 record I was giving everything I had into MMA. I didn’t allow any time for my family or for school. By the time I got to the gym in the evening, I was just so burnt out and I didn’t want to be there any more. After my second loss in a row I actually retired for a little bit. I had to look in the mirror and tell myself that this is something that I needed to do in my life in order to maintain my sanity, but if I was going to go back into it I had to be well-rounded and pay attention to other things in life. I couldn’t be an MMA nerd 24/7. You burn out easy. It’s a shitty life to live.”
Ray Rodriguez last competed as one half of the LFA 6 headliner this past March in front of his hometown crowd in San Antonio. That night, Rodriguez defeated a tough, seasoned Brazilian in Rivaldo Junior by split decision. Overall, Rodriguez is glad that he picked up the victory, but has been using the bout in order to grow as a fighter prior to his next one. “There are definitely some things I need to work on, and we’ve been working diligently on them,” says Rodriguez. “Other than [those things], I felt the was going my way for a majority of the fight. Other than a couple of takedowns and leg kicks, I feel like I dominated the fight on the feet. He was a really tough guy, so it was a great experience for me. I may be on this little win streak, but I still have so much more to grow. It’s good to have those tough drawn-out fights. I’ll never be content with where I’m at.”
This Friday night, Ray Rodriguez returns to action as he takes on Michael “Mayhem” Rodriguez (9-5) at Combate Americas 19 in San Antonio. Rodriguez knows that despite entering the bout as the favorite, “Mayhem” will be no easy task to say the least. “He’s got a wrestling background despite being decent on the feet and having decent jiu jistu. However, wherever he’s good I’m great,” explains Ray Rodriguez. “I’ve seen a couple of tapes on him. He has some nice combinations and good power in his hands and legs, but I feel like he’s just not on my level. If it stays on the feet he’s going to get knocked out. If it goes to the ground, he will get submitted. If he wants a grinding wrestling match, my cardio is phenomenal right now. I think this is going to be a fight where the fans get to see that I’m multi-faceted in my skill set.”
When talking about the upcoming bout, Rodriguez can’t help but to mention how happy he is to once again compete in front of his hometown crowd. “It’s exciting. I’ve been able to fight in front of the hometown crowd quite a bit in my career. I have a lot of support from San Antonio. It’s going to be intense to hear everyone scream and cheer me on as I walk to the cage. It’s an amazing feeling.”
The familiar nature of the venue in which Combate Americas 19 takes place also serves as a nostalgic retrospective of sorts for Ray Rodriguez. “Growing up I used to be a huge WWF fanatic… I mean a ridiculous fanatic. Whenever my pops used to take me to the fights here in San Antonio, they were at the Freeman [Coliseum] and I was amazed. It was not an experience I would have ever imagined I would have in my life. I was a huge Ultimate Warrior fan, and hearing his walk out music as he’s coming out to the ring was just a surreal experience. Now fast forward 25 years later and I’m able to fight in the same venue and have my own walkout music as I walk out to the cage. It’s just a surreal experience and I’m excited to see what that feeling is like.”
Looking towards the future, Ray Rodriguez’s main goal isn’t just to defeat Michael Rodriguez, but to do so impressively. “The Judge” wants to ensure through Friday’s performance that the UFC brass has no choice but to sign him for the aforementioned UFC Fight Night: Austin card this February. “With a dominant win in this Michael Rodriguez fight, it would make sense for me to fight in my hometown,” says Rodriguez. “I’m on a big winning streak and I’m beating tough guys. I have a great management team in Iridium and Jason House is the freaking man. He’s helped out so much already, so I have nothing but faith in him that he’s going to steer me in the right direction. We’ll see what happens!”
“Huge shoutout to Lonestar Beer. They’ve been with me for a long time. Velocity Sports Performance. Lox Discount Vitamins. Alamo City Cryotherapy. RED (Rebuild Evolve Destroy). Boneface. A&D Lawns. Gorilla Kings Clothing. Zedric’s: Fit With Flavor.” – Ray Rodriguez
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