Life is all about second chances, and that’s what former UFC heavyweight champion Ricco Rodriguez is hoping for with the promotion that helped to put him on the map.
It’s been over seven years since Rodriguez last stepped foot in the UFC Octagon, but he’s never forgot the feeling of holding that gold belt or watching the crowd rise as he pulled off a victory.
In the subsequent years since leaving the UFC, Rodriguez has been on a roller coaster ride through both his life and his fight career. Weight increases, a stint on Celebrity Rehab, and a floundering fight schedule made Rodriguez’s prospects at a comeback nearly impossible.
There was one person who didn’t believe that at all, however. That person was Ricco Rodriguez.
Getting his life back on track, Rodriguez went back to training full time, cut down to 205 pounds and currently rides a 10-fight win streak. He’s hoping he can mend some fences with UFC president Dana White and matchmaker Joe Silva and get the call to come home again.
“Been a lot going on in my career. Last 10 fights, dropping down to 205, winning my last 10, just been a tough year working real hard, and I’m ready to step up to the big leagues,” Rodriguez told MMAWeekly.com. “All my past history with Dana and everyone, I just want to totally apologize and hopefully put it behind us and there’s still some great fights that the fans want to see. Hopefully all this can be possible.”
Whatever past grievances Rodriguez and the UFC have had, he’s been willing to put in the work to prove to them he’s back. Rodriguez at his core is a throw back to the early days of Zuffa’s UFC ownership, but wants to ply his trade in today’s UFC.
When he started in the UFC, Rodriguez remembers meeting with representatives from DirecTV before a show just to explain to them what MMA was and how it all worked. Now the sport is everywhere and growing each day, and he wants to be a part of it again.
“The biggest thing is I was one of the guys that was one of the beginning pioneers. When I say that I say guys like Royce Gracie, I say guys like Renzo Gracie, I say guys like Ken Shamrock, who were there. I was there during that transition with guys like Tito Ortiz and Mark Kerr and (Kazushi) Sakuraba. I was there when the sport wasn’t even legalized at the time,” Rodriguez said.
“I don’t ever want to walk away from this sport looking down at some of the things I’ve done in the past. One of the things about anybody is forgiveness, and I’ve done my hard work and with my conditioning and with my great shape and with traveling around the world and fighting, brought my record to a decent record, 45-11, and just been able to go out there and showcase my skills.
There are still fights that Rodriguez believes could provide a good future for him in the UFC. The former heavyweight champion would love to offer Randy Couture a rematch. The two first met in 2002 and after a tough first few rounds, Rodriguez bounced back to finish Couture in the fifth.
“I want to be able to end my career in the UFC. I think a lot of fans want to see a Ricco Rodriguez/Randy Couture, they want to see possibly Frank Mir, there’s still a lot out there they want to see me in top contendership and see if I’m even capable of doing it,” Rodriguez commented.
“I mean I was losing that (Couture) fight for the first three rounds, I was losing on the cards. I’ll never forget the day Bruce Buffer came up to me and said ‘man, if you didn’t finish Randy Couture, you were losing the fight on the cards.’ I think we’ve both evolved as fighters, I think the fans would want to see it, and I think a lot of people would go back and check out the video or see if they can get their hands on UFC 39 on DVD.”
The other fight that definitely interests Rodriguez is a rematch with former UFC heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Rodriguez fought Nogueira under Pride rules in 2003. While most felt Rodriguez won the fight, he somehow lost by unanimous decisions in one of the most controversial calls in MMA history.
“Most of all, the Nogueira fight,” Rodriguez said about fights he’d want in the UFC. “Because of the fact that I did beat Nogueira in Japan and there were no elbows allowed, and I lost that decision. I think a lot of fans want to see how that fight would end up, especially in a cage and with elbows.”
He believes that rematches with Couture and Nogueira could become fights people would talk about down the road like in boxing with Micky Ward and Arturo Gatti. First things first, however, he has to get back to the UFC to fight either one of them.
The road to the UFC starts with Rodriguez getting on board with new manager Ali Abdel-Aziz from Dominance MMA, who also manages UFC stalwarts like Ricardo Almeida and the legendary Renzo Gracie. Rodriguez also has a standing invite to train full time at Renzo Gracie’s Manhattan academy alongside a slew of top notch fighters.
“I’ve talked to Renzo and he’s given me the open arms to come out there and train with his team, it’s just been a blessing in disguise,” said Rodriguez.
Like many fighters, Rodriguez believes the UFC is the NFL of mixed martial arts. He’s been to the top of the mountain and he’s now seen the lowest valleys, and Rodriguez wants to get back to the peak again.
“It kills me every single day when a person comes up to me and asks me when am I going to be back in the UFC? The reality is the talent has gotten a lot tougher, there’s no more freebies. The one thing I have now is experience and training with some of the top guys I always have traveling around, that’s been my plus,” said Rodriguez.
“This would be the best end of a Rocky story. Going in there and finishing my career at the top and having a second chance. I know if I was given this opportunity, I would be able to come out on top. It’s just getting there and getting the opportunities.”
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