Riding high with seven straight wins, Ray “The Judge” Rodriguez is one of the top bantamweight prospects in MMA today. The dynamic 135-pound contender recently caught up with FightBookMMA to talk about his career up to this point and what’s next in his blossoming career.
How did you find MMA to begin with?
I started training when I was in the army. I was exposed to the Modern Army Combatives Program and I sort of fell in love with it. I’d seen some UFC cards prior to my being in the army – I was a fan of the sport – but I really had no intention of really getting into it. As soon as I saw the program in basic training – I did fairly well, I kicked a couple of guys’ butts in basic training and I thought, “hey, I’m not too bad.” So I kept working on it. As I kept moving forward, I did level one of the Combatives Training Program and did well. So, I tried to find a place that has an MMA program. At the time I was stationed in Belgium. It was big at the time, but not nearly as big as it is today. I found a spot to train. I found this spot like thirty minutes away from where I was stationed. But a thirty minute drive turns into a like, two hour train ride. I was new to the country, but in my head I knew I had to do it. I went to the gym and fell in love with it.
Why did you join the military, was it just a job or did it come from a more patriotic place?
Well, my grandfather was in the Air Force, Army, and Marines. I spent a lot of time with him growing up and he always preached going to school and using military service to help pay for education. I grew up with that patriotic mindset. I needed to do something to not just follow his footsteps, but follow his advice. He has this undying love for his country and I would say I’ve followed in his footsteps. I found it to be a great career for him, so I tried that for myself.
When did MMA become a career option for you, can you pinpoint it to one time?
I would say it started when I was training in Belgium, at the gym I was talking about. The first gym I went to was called, Shinto Belgium and the other gym was called Shadow Dojo and the head coach. It was my first tour and I was like eighteen or nineteen years old and I would go to practice hung over or drunk from the night before. One time I went to the gym and my coach, Ludo, was like, “listen man, you have talent, but you could throw it all away if you keep partying like this. Are you going to do this full time, or is this going to be a part time thing? I can’t put this knowledge and time into you if you’re just going to be half-assing it. That really stuck with me, man. I knew I had talent in the sport and damn, I loved fighting but it took me a while to realize that fighting is what I wanted to do. I didn’t make that decision there, but six or so months later I realized he was right. That was the first heart-to-heart in which someone told me I could potentially make a career out of this. That was my starting point.
How do you feel about what you’ve accomplished so far?
I’m happy but I’m not content. I think I’ve been training eight years, all together. It’s great but it’s not nearly what I want to be doing, man. I’m still looking at the UFC and the LFA World Title. I want that so bad. I still have a lot of things I need to do before I can say I’m happy with my career. I was watching this documentary about this boxer and people were asking him, “what do you think about all of these things accomplishments – he was an Olympic gold medalist and he had all of these world titles and he replied, “I don’t even think about that shit. With the time it takes me to look back and see what I’ve done, the drive to succeed has gone away.” I followed that and I don’t have anywhere close to the accomplishments of that guy. With the stuff I’ve done, I try not to worry about it. It’s cool that I’ve done it, but it’s nothing in the big picture.
You mentioned the LFA belt, what’s that all about? Is that just for the belt itself or as a pathway to the UFC?
A little bit of both, man. It’ll be my first world title. Obviously, LFA title-holders have had a history of having their career in the UFC laid out for them. It’s just something I’ve wanted to do since my first fight with them about five years ago. Since the merger, it just makes sense to get that title. I’m at the top of my division in LFA, so I’m beating 145ers when I’m really a 135. A lot of people don’t understand that my last fight was against a guy with a great record, he’s a stellar wrestler, so I had to go up to fight him. Guys at my weight are cut from the same cloth. They’re the type of guys to try to pin you, hold you down, and not really do anything. So Mark offered me a couple names and one of them was the toughest grappler out there. So I insisted he give me that one. It’s time to show the world that I’m not the same fighter I was three years ago – being held down, having a boring fight where people don’t want to exchange with me? Those days are long gone. If someone takes me down, I’m getting back up or I’m looking for a submission. In that last fight, Ronaldo did take me down but there was a lot of me trying to get the submission or stand-up. It wasn’t just sitting there, I was scrambling. When I was fighting Peterson, I just didn’t have the technique to get up from my back and now I’ve worked extensively on my cage wrestling and that’s my number one passion right now. Obviously I’m still a striker but I’ve really fallen in love with wrestling. I think you can see from me beating tough guys at 145 as a 135 that I’m going up a weight class and beating at least 145 should show them I’m ready for that 145.
When you’re riding such an impressive win streak, is there a tendency to fight more conservatively to maintain the streak and get into the UFC?
You’ve got to want to fight the best. I understand that at the beginning of your career it’s very important to be careful with who you fight – you’re trying to get your feet wet over those first four professional fights. But right now, I’m on my sixteenth professional fight – that’s not counting the stuff I did in the military program. Obviously it’s important but I’m not going to book a fake fight. In order to get into the UFC, I have to be fighting the best. Training and practicing is important and so is competing against the best. I like fighting the best there is. There’s no point in fighting these bouts. One time I had an opponent drop out from a fight so they had to scramble to find a replacement at 145 and it just wasn’t the fight I prepared for. Not a knock against that guy, but I was preparing for one fight and got another. I did a whole training camp, sold a bunch of tickets, and then the guy dropped. I had trained for that one specific opponent and his record. I needed a fight and a win over that specific opponent so it wasn’t fulfilling at all to me. Beating guys who are champions, those are the winners. Those training camps I bust my ass because I love to fight the best guys.
How excited are you to join forces with Iridium Sports Agency?
It’s amazing. I can see that they have multiple guys in the UFC and these prestigious organizations all over the world and I just feel like in order for me to take it to the next level, I need to be represented by the best. I’ve had a lot of agencies contact me, looking at me but I just wasn’t happy with the relationship like I am with Iridium. I have a good radar for bullshit and they came to me straight-forward. They didn’t drag me along and I feel like they’ve got my best interests in mind. This is the next step to get me to an LFA title, a UFC shot, or somewhere in Asia. Speaking with veteran guys, they have a lot more confidence when they’re working with a team like this, they’re not just stuck on the rat’s wheel, spinning, spinning.
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