Contender Series’s Mike Rodriguez: From Lunch Room Brawls to the UFC’s Doorstep
The question “How did you get into fighting?” is one that up-and-coming prospects are often asked in order for journalists to introduce fighters’ to their new mainstream fanbases. Every fighter has their own individual journey that is unique from all of the others. Fighting is a way of life for this demographic, and fighting and life are often so intertwined that you will never find two stories that are the same. Twenty eight year-old Mike Rodriguez‘s story of getting into fighting will prove this as well as any. The tale of Mike Rodriguez’s expedition into the world of mixed martial arts begins about ten years ago when the CES MMA light heavyweight was a junior at the TechBoston school in Dorchester, Massachusetts. It all began with a game called Bangkok (yes that is a play on words there, and probably consists of exactly what you think the game consists of).
“I had a strawberry milk in my hand, so I smashed it on his face, and hit with a jab and a straight left hand. The kid was knocked out on the table, and was in a pool of blood and it was in the middle of the cafeteria.”
“I got into the sport [of MMA] because I got into a fight in school,” begins Rodriguez. “You know how in school guys will be fooling around and someone will go ‘BANGKOK’, [imitates whacking noise] and then the other person will be going ‘Awww man, come on man you hit me in the nuts, yo!'” laughs Rodriguez. “While a bunch of my friends played, I never really played that, especially not with strangers. My friends would do it to anybody and everybody. So, I was walking by this kid and I bumped shoulders into him, because my arm was so long…I kind of hit him, and he got mad, and he hit me. He was like 5’8″, I was like a good 6’1″ at the time. So he was like, ‘I’m tired of you and you’re fucking friends!’ So I’m like, ‘Man, fuck this dude!’ I had a strawberry milk in my hand, so I smashed it on his face, and hit with a jab and a straight left hand. The kid was knocked out on the table, and was in a pool of blood and it was in the middle of the cafeteria… so it was a whole big thing, you know? Everyone at school was like ‘Oh my god, you do this and that!’ So, I got in trouble,” chuckles Rodriguez.
What happened next, much to the surprise of Rodriguez at the time, would completely change the trajectory of his life, and point it in a direction in which he had never even thought possible. “A teacher pulled me aside, this Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt, Alex Costa, this Brazilian guy,” remembers Rodriguez. “He’s like ‘Are you fucking crazy?’ and I’m like ‘Man, fuck him!’ I was fired up, but then [Costa] was like ‘…but you looked really good though, the way that you handled yourself. Have you ever thought about fighting? Or muay thai? Or boxing? Or anything?'”
“I started watching all of these DVDs, and I’m like ‘Oh…god….this is AWESOME!’ From there I just fell in love with the sport.”
Rodriguez wasn’t really into martial arts back then, and had never really given it much thought. “At the time I wasn’t really into any of that stuff. I was in to card games. I was a Yu-Gi-Oh kid (and I still am!). All I would do is play video games. I was a geek! So I was like, ‘Nah…’. So while I was suspended, he gave me all of these DVDs, a bunch of PRIDE DVDS. He’s like, ‘Here, watch these, tell me what you think, and then I’m going to pick you up, and take you to this gym.’ I started watching all of these DVDs, and I’m like ‘Oh…god….this is AWESOME!’ From there I just fell in love with the sport. I remember thinking ‘Oh man, I can’t wait until he comes, look at this stuff!’ I watched every DVD like eight times a piece. He comes and picks me up at my house and takes me to a gym called Boston Muay Thai Academy and the rest has been history.
“When he sees things, he brings everything down, dissecting everything. He’s a mad scientist, man. He will look at every little thing down to the sweet science. He’s awesome.”
Following the commencement of his martial arts training, Rodriguez focused on muay thai and grappling, before moving his training to Quincy, Massachusetts to a gym that is now known as Trifecta MMA. Following the move to Quincy, Rodriguez eventually was introduced to his MMA mentor whom he affectionately calls “The Bonus Collecta”: longtime UFC lightweight Joe Lauzon. Rodriguez and Lauzon hit it off right away, and subsequently, Rodriguez joined Lauzon MMA‘s professional fight team. Rodriguez gives a lot of the credit for his personal success to Lauzon, and is often amazed by the 15-time UFC performance bonus winner’s understanding of the game. “He has one of the best mindsets in the game,” Rodriguez says emphatically. “When he sees things, he brings everything down, dissecting everything. He’s a mad scientist, man. He will look at every little thing down to the sweet science. He’s awesome.”
Working with Lauzon and finally putting everything together, Rodriguez has been on a tear of late, winning six of his last seven bouts, all under the banner of the top promotion in New England: Classic Entertainment and Sports (CES). In his last three bouts, Rodriguez has finished all three his opponents inside the first round for an astonishing accumulated time in the cage of 5:37. One of the three fights, Rodriguez won by knockout in just seven seconds. Another of his finishes was so vicious, that in an unprecedented move, AXS TV decided to replay the flying-knee knockout during the telecast of the main card.
Rodriguez also gives a tremendous amount of praise to the aforementioned CES promotion for molding him into the fighter he is today. “CES? They are. THE. Best. Organization. In. New. England. They helped me big time,” says Rodriguez of the Rhode Island based promotion which holds a handful of shows each year at the Twin River Casino in Lincoln, Rhode Island. “They always pushed me to be out there more and do interviews. Before that I used to stay in my lane, and just tried to do what I had to do and get the fuck on.”
“I didn’t think anything of it, but when I came in the morning and saw that contract on the table, that’s when it hit me. I was like ‘Oh shit, this is real.'”
Just days after his last performance against Alec Hooben this past May, Rodriguez was taking a nap when he received an unexpected phone call from his manager. Much to Rodriguez’s surprise, he had been selected to be featured on the new UFC Fight Pass original series, “Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series“, which pins top prospects from all over the country against each other in bouts with contractual implications. Having never heard of the series, and to Rodriguez’s credit there not being much information on the internet about it yet, Rodriguez was a bit skeptical. The following day, Rodriguez went met up with his manager to work out the details. Reality finally sunk in when Rodriguez laid eyes on the contract. “I didn’t think anything of it, but when I came in the morning and saw that contract on the table, that’s when it hit me,” recalls Rodriguez. “I was like ‘Oh shit, this is real.'”
Mike Rodriguez, or “Bones” as he is nicknamed, recognizes what is at stake in this bout, but believes that in order to not put too much pressure on himself, he must treat this bout just like any of his other previous bouts. “I’m not paying [Dana White, Mick Maynard, or Sean Shelby] any mind. I feel like in order to perform at your best, that’s the kind of mindset you’ve got to have,” says Rodriguez. “You’re just fighting on CES, or on any other local show.” Rodriguez also believes that “counting your chickens before they hatch” mindset could be detrimental to putting on the best performance possible. “Just because they’re in the crowd doesn’t mean that you’re in the UFC,” explains Rodriguez. “You’ve still got to fight with that little nudge, that little hunger, that little motivation, because you’re not there yet. I didn’t make it nowhere. Where the fuck did I make it?”
This Tuesday night, August 8th, live on UFC Fight Pass, Rodriguez will be squaring off against highly-touted wrestler Jamelle “The Beast” Jones (7-4) in what will serve as the night’s headlining bout. Jones is a two time national wrestling champion and three time “All American”, and was featured on the Ultimate Fighter reality series in early 2016. This is no easy test for Mike Rodriguez, who interestingly enough, draws many connections to Jones, despite never actually having any contact with his adversary. “It’s so crazy how small this world is. We know a lot of the same people,” says Rodriguez. “He knows a lot of the guys I train with. I know a lot of the guys he trains with. It’s weird that we’ve never even trained together.” As for Jones’s skills, Rodriguez is willing to give all of the credit in the world to Jones on his wrestling abilities. “I just know he’s a nasty wrestler. He always looks to come for the takedown.” When asked his prediction, Rodriguez responded without hesitation, “I will TKO him the second round.”
Mike Rodriguez vs. Jamelle Jones takes place Tuesday August 8th, live on UFC Fight Pass at 8pm EST. It will be the fifth bout on the card, and serve as the main event of the evening.