At 30-years-old and with a 1-1 record in the UFC, Mike Rodriguez is still learning the ropes in the Octagon, but he’s finding his way by utilizing a cerebral approach.
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Rodriguez earned a deal with the UFC after winning on Dana White’s Contender Series on the strength of a flying-knee knockout in the first round. He debuted at UFC 223 in a fight against Jackson-Wink product Devin Clark and dropped a unanimous decision, just the third loss of Rodriguez’s career.
Rodriguez returned at the end of 2018 and earned his first victory in the promotion with a first-round TKO of Adam Milstead.
At UFC Sacramento on July 13, Rodriguez returns to the cage. He originally expected to face UFC veteran Gian Villante, but after Villante was forced out with an injury, fellow Contender Series alumnus John Allan stepped up on short notice.
Mike Rodriguez on his mentality
Regardless of the opponent, Rodriguez has another chance to prove to himself that his mindset will carry him a long way in this sport.
Rodriguez undoubtedly possesses the physical tools to compete in the UFC, but he had difficult battles with the pressure that competition breeds. Speaking with John Hyon Ko of The Body Lock, he detailed how self-belief was the key to elevating his performance level in the cage.
“I just had to slow it down and believe in my talents, believe in myself, believe in my coaches and everything,” Rodriguez said. “Just believe.”
Like many fighters, he has experienced anxiety prior to his bouts. Prior to his bout against Milstead, Rodriguez was able to find a way to flip a switch and turn his fear into positive energy, telling himself, “‘You f**king deserve to be here with the rest of all these other guys. You bust your ass to get to this point. You should believe in what you got. You can beat this dude no problem.'”
Rodriguez also makes a point to take mental breaks when he can during training camp.
“In this game, it’s really easy to feel burned out and feel just mentally drained,” he said, “especially when you’re in camp because you’re constantly training six days a week.”
He does his best to find outlets for stress relief when his schedule permits, often turning to podcasts, movies or TV shows. Rodriguez is a huge fan of video games, but he tends to stay away from them during training camp. Otherwise, he might find himself spending all day on his couch with a controller in his hand.
On his Saturday nights, he tries to break away from the grind by going out and doing something before a day of rest on Sunday.
“Something, just something, to get me away from the ringing of the f**king bell in the gym,” Rodriguez said with a laugh.
Mike Rodriguez vs. John Allan
Inside the cage, Mike Rodriguez brings a unique set of priorities. By taking some of the emphasis off of the end result, he has found success by instead focusing on the steps that lead to it.
“Guys just get caught up in the winning factor and they fail in the execution,” Rodriguez said.
He was determined not to make the same mistakes as his peers.
“Winning and losing is results. They’re just results, and they’re on the scale. It’s all about your execution that gives you the results,” Rodriguez explained. “For the Clark fight, I didn’t execute. That was why I lost. For the Milstead fight, I executed. That’s why I won.”
Naturally, continuing his winning ways is in Rodriguez’s best interests. After a shoulder injury sustained in the Milstead win back in December, he got back to work in the spring. Being able to train at full health by April set him up for his return at UFC Sacramento against the promotional debutant, John Allan.
“Of course, I know he’s gonna come with some heat because it’s a redemption fight for him,” Rodriguez said. “It’s another chance for him to get back at it.”
In his appearance on Contender Series Brazil, Allan was submitted by Vinicius Moreira in the second round. He bounced back to win at Future FC 6 to remain on the UFC’s radar, and he was signed just days afterward.
Though Rodriguez is coming off of a win himself, he still believes he has to make up for losing his UFC debut.
“It’s kind of a redemption fight for me as well. Just because I won my last fight, that don’t mean that I’m in the clear,” Rodriguez said. “I feel like you still have to fight every fight like it’s your last in the UFC.”
The light heavyweight landscape
Although talking a good game is a surefire way for fighters to attain relevance on the crowded UFC roster, Mike Rodriguez has maintained his levelheadedness thus far along his journey.
“I don’t really care for like the hype and the fame and all that s**t,” Rodriguez said. “For me, it’s all about just doing it. I’m glad that I’m 30 years old and I’m doing what I love to do.”
Alleviating the pressure of being a star has helped him avoid distractions and focus solely on bettering himself in the cage. Of course, if he keeps working his way up the ladder at 205 pounds, Rodriguez will gain notoriety.
He senses a shift of power in the light heavyweight division in the UFC. For some time, the weight class lacked young fighters. Now that fighters like Johnny Walker, Aleksandar Rakic and Alonzo Menifield are popping up, the outlook is looking much better.
Soon enough, Rodriguez plans to be a part of that conversation.
“I feel like I’m definitely like in the mix of all of them,” he said. “I feel I can hang with all of them, so I’m just working my way up there.”
Rodriguez believes that this new wave will soon present a new challenge to reigning champion Jon Jones. Jones most recently defended his title with a razor-thin split decision win over Thiago Santos at UFC 239.
Santos’ performance showed the beatable side of Jones, and Rodriguez believes staying at the top won’t be getting easier for the champion any time soon.
“When Jones was reigning champ at the height of his career, he was beating up — no offense to anybody — but he was beating up a bunch of guys that was past their prime. If you go back and look at a lot of his fights, a lot of them guys were kind of on the way out,” Rodriguez said. “Now he’s in the mix with a bunch of younger guys. Hungry guys. Guys that are gonna be hard to put away.”
Mike Rodriguez certainly won’t count Jones out against anyone, though.
“He’s f**king watching everybody,” Rodriguez said. “I’m pretty sure he has some inkling or game plan of some sort to try to beat everybody because he wants to keep that title. He wants to keep his legacy.”
Shane Connelly is a journalism student at Penn State with a passion for sharing the stories of MMA fighters.