Ep. #94 – Ray Rodriguez

Ray Rodriguez is a mixed martial artist who most recently competed as a Featherweight for the UFC on less than 48 hours notice. The former Xtreme Fight League Bantamweight Champion has competed for Dana White’s Contender Series, LFA, and Combate compiling a 16-7 record.


Ray Rodriguez: Hey man, how you been since your uh, since your debut i’ve been doing good man just spending some time with the family and uh just relaxing. I have uh my daughter getting ready for her. Second super fight, man, so um we have her kind of cutting weight. She’S not cutting water or anything, but we have her eating like salads and stuff like that. Just so she can kind of get the real feel of it. Uh because she wants to nothing that we want to do, but she really likes going through the emotions and she’s seen me. Do it a hundred times. So i think she wanted to kind of see what it felt like and maybe even tell people that she’s cutting weight so um i’ve been doing all right. Man, like i said just really hanging out. It’S got ta feel good. Seeing her follow in your footsteps, i mean it’s like she gets to watch, you compete, you get to go there and watch watch her compete, i’m sure the nerves and everything are very different from from when you’re fighting to when she’s fighting but kind of describe what It’S like to have her kind of follow in your footsteps. It’S it’s! It’S an amazing feeling at, but at the same time it’s it’s terrifying, um man, so the venue that she competes at it’s the same exact venue that i would fight at whenever i was coming up in the ranks. Um, it’s a place here in san antonio called um cowboys, dance hall, and i think this one’s it’s gon na be at at a different venue, but still the same setup and everything but uh, just kind of see her like pacing back and forth, and her palms Sweaty and she’s looking out into the crowd and see who’s watching her and stuff like that, and i just i know the feeling obviously, and it’s whenever you’re back there, it’s probably as as nerve-wracking as as it can get. You know so just kind of seeing her go through that and just seeing your child uncomfortable, isn’t it isn’t a good feeling at all you know, but once she gets on the stage man she’s amazing, at what she does uh. She kind of follows in my footsteps. So my fight name is the judge and her name’s leighton the law, rodriguez and uh. She has like this little gavel that she comes out to and and or comes out with. You know so it’s cool man, it’s something that she loves and it’s good to see that she’s uh fallen fallen in love with something that i’m absolutely in love with, as well speaking of the nerves of uh that that she went through you kind of went through Something similar i mean you didn’t have the weeks and weeks of nerves and worries. It was just you’ve, got about literally 30 seconds to get ready for a fight, so kind of describe the uh. The emotions of you know going through getting the call like hey you’re gon na you’re gon na weigh in we don’t know if you’re gon na fight but you’re gon na weigh in and then get in the call to fight so kind of walk us through all That that that entire day, so let me see so i’ll start thursday. So thursday, i get a phone call from my manager and he’s like hey man um. We may have a fight available on saturday. Weigh-Ins would be tomorrow, and this is about 5 p.m. Do you have your blood or maybe 4 p.m? It’S like you, have your medicals, your blood work and all this stuff, and i did it. You know, like i just didn’t, have anything taken care of which is my fault for sure, but i was like no, but i can get it done right. So i start going to figure out where i can get my blood work done. I have to get a sports physical. I have to get an ekg and mind you it’s, i think, like four o’clock on a thursday, so usually businesses close around five or maybe even six so um i had just got home from practice or from the gym and as soon as i walked in the Door, i get the call so like i kind of tell everyone to hold on, because i think i know what’s going on. You know and he’s telling me that i got to get this stuff done. So i’m on my phone. I have um my two kids on the couch and my wife on the couch and i don’t even tell them bye or anything. I just kind of run out. You know so i run out. Go get my blood work, go, get my sports, physical and he’s like all right. You need to get to the airport now and this i think after everything was said, and then it was maybe like six o’clock so um. I start making my way to the airport and i’m like in a tank top flip-flops and like uh like swim shorts. You know i don’t have a gym bag or anything, but i don’t care like i’m, not gon na miss this opportunity so like haul ass, all the way to the airport and as i’m getting closer to the airport. My manager calls me he’s like. Oh, we have some time they switched the flights, so we had like a couple hours. So i had my wife meet me um. She brought my gym bag, my mouthpiece and stuff like that um and then they also got a flight from my coach right. So uh. We get to the airport, we go through um, tsa or whatever, and i’m sitting down on the bench and i’m going through my twitter feed and there’s a guy who i follow man he has like all like the latest news or whatever and um. It says on his twitter feed. He was like oh huge, not a huge mistake or something like that, but kevin natividad, which is the guy who i was going to replace, isn’t out. After all, like he’s still fighting so i’m in at the airport like wait a minute, i’m on my way to vegas like what’s going on, you know, but i don’t want to message anybody like. I don’t want to message, someone my manager and be like yeah. It’S not going to happen. Stay at home like in my mind, i’m getting to vegas, i’m fighting, no matter what right so i land in vegas my manager calls me and he’s like listen man. It looks like kevin natividad still in um, but here’s what the ufc said. They’Re gon na do they’ll um, you’re gon na weigh in and then we’ll get you your show money for weighing in you get to go home and then you’ll have well you’ll either. Have an opponent for the following week or we’ll: send you home and you fight whenever we say so pretty much i’ll have show money plus i get to go home, get a training camp and then come back and fight for the ufc, which is to me. It was beautiful at the time like yeah absolutely but at the same time my manager’s like, but you never know, stay checked in you never know. What’S going to happen so just kind of stay checked in you know so weigh-ins happen i uh make weight or whatever go to the weigh-ins and i’m kind of like i’m just an alternate. You know what i mean so like i’m. Nowhere even like thought on the car, like i’m sitting in the back corner everything’s, going on like i’m just kind of waiting for my turn, so everyone does the weigh-ins um they finish. I i weigh in and everyone does their square off pictures and so kevin activity. I originally scored or had a square off with uh kelleher. So again like i’m still in my head like well, this fight’s not gon na happen. Man like these guys are squaring off. Also being able to get a full training camp would be beautiful as well. So um finish with the weigh-ins uh, i still have to get medicals done because i’m not even close. I have to go get my eyes done. I have to get another ekg everything that i need for the ufc. So i’m getting all this done and still like nothing like my mind’s like we’re, not fighting we’re, not fighting we’re, not fighting uh finishes. I finish all my my medical paperwork or whatever and about i think it’s maybe about seven, eight pm um. I get the call that fights on you know fights on: let’s get ready to rock and roll which now it’s like it’s game time you know switch goes on um, which isn’t isn’t a hard transition. You know, but like prior to that, just like the the balance. If you will of like them, are we gon na fight? Are we not gon na fight? It was just it was just the time before i go on. Let me preface with this if i can, so that has nothing to do with me losing the fight right. I fought i lost because i made a mistake and that’s it like these are just. This is just what happened prior to the fight right, so i’d. Let me preface it. I lost because i made a stupid mistake in the cage um, but i’m just kind of giving you the rundown um. So next day comes, i get my morning shake out, i’m still feeling good uh we get to the venue and every and everything’s business as usual. You know i warm up good, i feel good. We get to the cage, it’s nice, i i felt at home, you know like it wasn’t like a. I was freaked out or anything. You know like. I fought in the contender series at the same venue with little to no fans as well, so it wasn’t like it wasn’t anything that was too crazy. You know, like the nerves, were there for fighting, but it wasn’t like it just it wasn’t uh. How do i explain it? It wasn’t too much i felt at home. You know i felt at home in the ufc agent. I felt good coming out through landing. Some strikes um whenever i shot that double leg man. So originally i went for like a blast. Double headed head in his chest and uh. He kind of sprawled out away from me and then turned back in and whenever he locked up that that guillotine man like i was just in a tough position against the cage and and and he subbed me you know but like i said man, it’s definitely not. My uh, what i wanted to showcase in my first ufc fight, but i got the loss out of my way. Man and now i’m just looking forward to climbing up the ranks. You know climbing up that ladder uh getting a full training camp feeling good going into the fight man and and moving forward. You know so um i am in the ufc. Yes, but not. I don’t consider myself a ufc fighter until i get that first win in the cage, so um just excited to get back to work. I know like there’s so many cases of guys taking a fight on short notice and sometimes very few times it does go their way and they get they get the win. So, like don’t you know, i’m sure you’ve heard this, you know head up, you know short notice fight, but at the same time i mean was there ever any hesitation like you’re, like, oh, my god, i’m fighting a guy like brian kelleher, on a day’s notice or Was it just i’m ready to fight man? I just need to be in the ufc, or was it just one of those calls that you really can’t say no to yeah, so there’s no way, i’m gon na say no right. Even i mean i don’t think you can’t get much more short notice than that, but um there’s no way. I was gon na say no, there’s just there’s it would. It would be career suicide to do do so and then just something i wouldn’t do you know it’s ufc something i’ve been working for for 12 years now. You know so um and, to be honest, i like the match up with kelleher. You know, like i’m a black belt on the ground too. I feel like i matched up well with him on the feet i feel like. I could have beat him on the feet, but i knew that he was dangerous with some submissions but, like i said, i’m a black belt in jiu-jitsu too, so i wasn’t afraid to go to the ground with him. It just just kind of didn’t work out that way you know, but, like i said it wasn’t something that, like the moment was too big man, it was a beautiful feeling to feel at home in the ufc cage. You know it was. It was a good feeling. So you talked about building, it was something you’ve been trying to do for 12 years, make it to the ufc. You had a fight on the contender series when you lost it, you lost it to tony, gravely who’s very experienced, very good he’s in the ufc. Now, after that fight, was there any worry that you know what i may never get the opportunity again, no because man going back and watching the fight like watching it and watching dana white’s reaction and sean shelby like after every round, they would get on their feet And they were clapping their hands and he was like mouse like uh, awesome, fight or whatever. You know, and i know that’s what the ufc wants to see. You know like i’m, definitely not a not a boring fighter by any by any means you know like if i go out there, i’m going out there to put on the show and to finish my opponent, you know so i know that’s what dana white and sean Shelby likes to see so again it was not the greatest feeling losing on contender series, but we had a very, very, very good, showing against a very tough opponent and um talked to my manager. You know he said, go back and and get a win and uh we’ll be back in on the radar again. So what happened was i fought? In november? I got a w and in uh january late january i had to get surgery on my shoulder. So my right, i had, i had a torn labrum, so i had surgery or whatever, so it kind of kicked me back and i wasn’t able to fight but the way the timing kind of was you know it covered also happened, so texas shut down and wasn’t Putting on a lot of fights you know, so i was able to really recover my shoulder and rehab and get it back to where it needed to be. You know so um no. But to answer your question, i never felt like oh well, that’s it we’re not going to get the opportunity again because it was a damn good fight. You know back in back and forth. Fighting and uh ufc told like i said my manager, jason house like let’s go, get a win and we’ll get you back on the on the radar. So now that you’re here in the ufc um there are guys who, like, let’s just do it – i’m here put my name down on every card, i’ll fight, yeah, you hear hanzo chimaya, i think he’s got like 18 fights lined up already. It’S crazy um, but uh. That being said, i mean you, you did the short notice thing. Are you here just saying you know what let me give me a full training camp for this next one, or are you someone that just likes to stay busy? No, i’m! I’M going to take some time off man like there’s a couple things i need to take care of. I don’t. I can’t give too many details, but just a couple things that need to get taken care of that are going to take take some time um. So i think uh, i’m gon na wait a little bit, maybe november december, possibly even january. Like i said i just had surgery on my shoulder um. So, there’s a lot a lot of little things that um need to be fixed before i get into the next fight. You know um just i definitely need some time to heal some of these injuries. You know what i mean, and it was just. There was just no way i was going to say no to this fight. You know, which is absolute ways, so um yeah, i’m just gon na take a little bit of time off and and take care of things that need to be taken care of, and hopefully, by december or january, i’ll, be ready to rock again looking forward. I mean one as a as a fan, one of the most exciting things about the pandemic was hearing about fight island, big mystery. What is fight island and all this stuff if the opportunity were to come up, is that something you’d be open to? Are you interested in traveling the world with this fighting thing, or are you someone who likes to stay local and just fight in the us? No hell! No, i mean i’m trying to travel the world i’ve i’ve. I was in the army for six years man. So i i got to fight in germany, i fought in holland, belgium, so i’ve been able to fight europe usa. You know i was in a. I was in iraq for for a year. I didn’t fight, obviously, but he’s training and stuff like that, but i’m trying to see as many as many places on this map as possible man. So if we can get to abu dhabi man, i’d absolutely love it. Okay, um. That being said, where is your dream destination? I mean, netherlands, netherlands, new zealand. These are the places that i want to go to. What is your dream? Destination sounds like you’ve been all over the map. Uh like to go fight like a place to fight at or just to go. Kick it just go kick it fight and then maybe kick it afterwards. Well, if we’re talking vacation man, i’m probably gon na, do something like uh. Where am i going man, maybe something like uh beliefs or costa rica, or something like that man go check out some crystal clear waters. Man take the family with me, you know what i mean uh. If we’re talking about fighting man, i would love to go to um. Obviously, abu dhabi would be phenomenal. Australia would be nuts or right here in san antonio man. I would love to to put on the fan once just once covet 19 passes and everything kind of chills out. I would love to fight in front of my hometown, man. I know i’ve definitely packed the atnt center and yeah. That would be a dream. Come true. Man, one of the one of the things i built this platform, i i started off just making matchups making matchups and then started getting into interviewing fighters. But that being said, is there an opponent that you’re, like you, know what, when it’s all said and done, whether it’s because you dislike them or whether it’s because it’s someone you’ve idolized for so long? Is there one opponent that you’re like i’d love to just test? My skills against them anybody anybody, man, like i said who whoever’s whoever i fight next, is gon na, get it man. I promise you, like, i said my first fight in the ufc is not what i wanted it to be. You know and uh i just didn’t, get to showcase um. What i have what i bring to the table. You know so anybody in the division. It doesn’t matter who it is man. So um, like i said just looking forward to getting back in there and uh. I have no one in particular that that i want to fight anyone they put in front of me. Another thing i kind of built this platform on was making predictions. That being said, there’s a huge title: fight coming up with yamblahovic fighting uh dominick reyes, not sure how how how much of ufc you watch or whatever. But do you have a prediction for that fight? Let me see man rey is definitely on a tear um. I watched the fight with him and jones. You know it definitely could have went either way, uh with the other guy. What’S his name vlhovich, i haven’t seen too much on a man so going off of of what i know of the two gentlemen, i’m gon na go with mr reyes yeah. I love it. I thought he beat jon jones and i’m a jon jones fan. So when they were, i was sitting here. I was like no, no, no, and when i heard jones i was like yes but man. I thought i thought he lost it. I really did. What do you think the first matchup for jones is gon na be a heavyweight? I think they give him a tune-up. I think i think he deserves a tune-up fight. I don’t think he’s gon na they’re gon na throw him stipe or or francis. I think it’s too much, i think it’s too much for him bro. I think they have to give him francis man with all this [ __ ] talking and i feel like francis fight – is a bigger fight than old, steep, a man like yesterday’s champion, but man francis touches you one time you’re going out, and i feel like his Rushing style man is, i feel, like jones, doesn’t do good against it. Man like whenever he fought, thiago santos like his knee, was jacked, and he would he would like kind of uh blitz forward and he was landing in and uh. Francis is definitely bigger stronger and he carries more granite in those uh in those hands of his. So i feel like that would be a big money. Fight man and it’d be huge, but man i it’s as a jon jones fan. It’S like. I want him to slow it down. You know, give him a guy like overeem or something like that. That’S a legitimate fighter, but you’re not throwing them at 265 man made of granite. What about brock, lesnar they’re talking about old brock, coming back, you think i’d be down for that too, though, kill brock dude that wouldn’t even be a fight, you’re right man, you’re right, who else? How would we do her joan what what about jones and um? Let me see who’s who’s up there in the heavyweight division. Someone like junior dossantos, i feel like that – would be a good tune-up fight for him for him to fight. Oh francis yeah, yeah you’re right. I just think francis is too big. I mean you’re going from fighting guys 205 to a guy 60 pounds heavier and like the way he’s built like no yeah. I agree put him against derrick lewis, man. Let derek lewis knock him out, show them what the texas hands are like man, speaking of texas man. What’S it been like training, a brazilian top team, it’s good, so i actually have my own academy, so i run ultimate submission academy and we’re affiliates with brazilian top team man. So i go over there once a week um. We i go over there for nogi and uh. They have their mma guys come to our mma practice at ultimate submission academy, so um for the most part, i’m at my spot man. So we just opened maybe about two years ago and we’re building a crazy, stable of fighters. Man and it’s it’s beautiful. You know having that affiliation and that high level of grappling partners and mma partners, we have anthony ivey who trains with us all the time uh peter stanonic started coming to the gym as well man, so we’re definitely building a a crazy stable of athletes. Man and we’re just looking to grow from here on out. Do you think that’s the key going forward? I mean back in the day i mean it was always like uh, randy, couture’s gym or like these big gyms really were just the ones that ryan everything do you think the secret now is these smaller gyms, like the like elevation, top team and and sanford mma Yeah, i i think um, i think, if, if you go to a gym like uh, greg, jackson’s or american top team, or something like that and you’re, not in the ufc or bellator and you’re going for a training camp, i i don’t feel like. I don’t feel like you’re gon na get the tutelage that you need to uh to get ready for the fight, you’re kind of like another sparring partner. You know and um i don’t know man, i think, training at smaller gyms. You know it’s where you have high level guys, but not so many guys where you’re not getting the like attention of coaches or details worked out that you need to man um, i don’t know. I i feel like there’s definitely benefits to both you know, but um. I think again, another thing i’m going to work on too is doing both of them training at my gym, but also making some moves. Man i wouldn’t mind going to vegas to have some good training. I mean some good camps over there there’s a lot in houston. Man, there’s there’s uh fortis mma in dallas, so i have a lot of options. You know so one thing that people were telling a lot of people were telling me like. You need to make these transitions. You need to move full-time, but i can’t forget what got me to the dance. You know what i mean like: we’ve beaten, tough guys. You know i knocked out jimmy flick in two rounds and beating ufc veterans and high level guys in the rankings um by training. The way we do you know so um i will, you know like i’ll dab what or go to other gyms and learn as much as i can you know, but at the end of the day, man like i just really can’t forget what got me to the Dance, you know and uh keep on doing what we’re doing you know yeah. I like that. I mean you hear so many guys like move into to a bigger gym and then not really finding their success, because, like you said i mean it, don’t you’re not going to go to greg jackson’s and kind of replace the jon jones. You know you you’re always going to be it’s like no jones is fighting the same day. You know so i i i get what you mean and you hear it so many times that stick with the stick with your gym or you know you can’t really build a connection with a the same way. You could at a smaller gym, true man, it’s so true. I i think you just kind of have to not picking shoes, but do a little bit of both. You know what i mean get the work at where you feel at comfortable, but again it’s also good to get out of your comfort zone training with different people sparring with different people rolling with different people and just being in a different setting. You know so, i think, just kind of balancing the two man like surfing that wave a little bit until you find what’s what’s um, what’s the best case scenario for you, you know i want to uh. I want to end on this note maya. I was talking to my my girlfriend the other day about getting my kids someday in the into the sport, and the instant answer was absolutely not no way uh jose uh. So as someone who’s, whose daughter competes what’s the message for for parents who are like hesitant to throw their spor or uh, throw their kids into a sport like mixed, martial arts, i think it’s important man like just the self-confidence that comes with it. You know, like obviously that’s cliche, but it’s true man. Like i said i i have my own gym. We have, i don’t know anywhere from 20 to 30 kids in in a majority of our classes, you know and seeing where the kids are from the first day they come into the gym to say a month or two after it’s night and day, man like they Just kind of they walk a little bit taller, their chin is a little bit higher. You know like they believe in themselves, a little bit more. You know and um. I feel like that’s something that gets overlooked because it’s said so often, right again, it’s cliche, like you do martial arts, you get confidence man, but until you really see that spark in a kid’s eye – and you have no idea like how much better that child feels About themselves, knowing that they could, if they needed to, they, could defend themselves. You know if, if um something were to happen or bullies coming up to him or something like that, and they know how to defend themselves, or they know that they’re safe in that. In that situation versus a kid, who’s never been in a in a rough situation or rolling or sparring, or something like that, not having that familiarity man. It’S terrifying for me to think of my daughter going to school and some kid coming up to her and pushing her or something like that and her just having this, this deer in the headlights look and being terrified. That scares me more than putting my daughter on the mat and allowing her to be a little bit uncomfortable. You know, and it’s a it is terrifying. You know like it’s. It’S scary, the first couple days, the first day my daughter did jiu jitsu, like i. I think at the time i was a brown boy and i was trying everything in my power not to coach man, but you have to let your kids kind of um experiment a little bit too, and you have to let them you have to let them fall At times you know it, it’s not the easiest thing to do. You know, but seeing my daughter get taken down or submitted it’s, it’s not fun, but internally they’re able to deal with it and they get better for it. You know they get stronger for it. So yeah, if you’re having second thoughts about putting your kids into uh, martial arts, i challenge you just to give them a week um. If they love it, they love it. I uh encourage you to allow them to continue in that journey and, if they’re not comfortable with it, then there’s other options. You know football, baseball, basketball or whatever you know like. I i feel like coming up. Whenever i was a child. I’Ve always played sports man. I’Ve learned so much just from camaraderie to understanding someone like a coach um telling you what to do. You know and um like i said you just learn a lot about yourself, man, so yeah do it. I say you do it my brother, just let him try for like a week, and i promise you, man, it’ll it’ll, be scary, the first couple days, but then they start getting these takedowns and they start getting subs and you’re in the stands like that, and then The coach is like sorry, sorry, you can’t be doing that and you got to go outside and he was like. I’M telling you you’ll love it man yeah, i mean i, i joined really late. I i started doing jiu jitsu at 23 and it took me two months to get my first submission so not quite at the same level, but the second you get it. It’S like. Oh man, i’m ready for street fights. So i know that feeling of confidence. Man, the second i mean i got submitted hundreds of times before i got my first one, but the second you do it feels so good, it’s the best. It’S the best ever all right man, i think we couldn’t have ended on a better note, thanks again for for taking the time and calling me back after the after. My computer crashed no problem at all man anytime. If you ever want to do it again, man, i would love to all right man, all the best stay safe, and hopefully we get to see you sooner rather than later. I know you said december january, but i want to see you up there like tomorrow. So all the best man, hopefully you get a good camping and uh, can’t wait to see your fight next. Thank you brother. I appreciate it. Man

Sergio Pineiro

Sergio Pineiro is the Founder of FighterPath.com and host of the Quarantinecast podcast. Based in Canada he is both a sports journalist and MMA enthusiast. He practices the sport but has a passion for the individual stories of training, fighting and living the fighting lifestyle.

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