Mike Rodriguez doesn’t worry about what song is playing during his cage walk, how his shorts look, or any other ancillary details beyond his control once those camera lights begin to shine on fight night.
The task at hand is simple: Get in the cage, get the win, and live to fight another day.
“We just go out there and do work,” says the Quincy, Mass., light heavyweight. “It’s showbiz, but we’re not trying to be the Kardashians.”
In the world of mixed martial arts, where nothing’s staged or embellished for the cameras once the bell rings, the 27-year-old Rodriguez (5-1, 3 KOs) might be the sport’s next reality star.
For the second time in less than two months, Rodriguez will fight on national television when he faces New Hampshire vet Kevin Haley (5-3, 2 KOs) on the main card of “CES MMA 39” Friday, Nov. 4th, 2016 from Memorial Hall in Plymouth, Mass., which airs live on AXS TV’s AXS TV Fights and is co-promoted by CES MMA in association with Cage Titans FC.
The AXS TV platform is perfect for a fighter like Rodriguez, one who will fight anyone, anywhere at any given time. Having grown up in the historic Dorchester neighborhood of Boston before moving to Quincy, Rodriguez worked for every penny as a teenager just so he could afford the mat fees at his gym and now the sacrifice is paying off as he continues to make noise in the northeast. After struggling with the weight cut in his last fight, Rodriguez will fight Haley at 205 pounds Friday.
“I don’t want to get into something just to say, ‘I once did that.’ I want to be a champion,” Rodriguez said. “I want to fight at the highest level possible. This is not something where I want to one day sit and tell my grandkids, ‘I was good at that once.’
“I want to build a legacy that the whole world knows. That’s what motivates me.”
Though he grew up with a brother who boxed as an amateur, Rodriguez never considered fighting until an inadvertent dust-up with a would-be “bully” back in early 2007 who he bumped shoulders with in the hallway at high school. The other student thought Rodriguez took a swing at him, so he tried to retaliate.
“I knocked him out with the two-piece,” Rodriguez said. “He was bleeding all over the floor.”
Naturally, Rodriguez got suspended, but the teacher who separated him from his first knockout victim later contacted him outside of school and introduced him to the now-defunct Boston Muay Thai Academy in Dorchester, where Rodriguez could unleash his aggression without consequences.
“I didn’t even know what MMA was,” Rodriguez admitted.
The rest, as they say, is history; Rodriguez “fell in love” with the sport, but neither he or his mother could afford the extra $135 per month for membership fees, so Rodriguez got a job working weekends at Burger King. Every penny earned went toward paying his gym dues.
“I didn’t spend a dime on anything else,” Rodriguez said. “I committed myself, I really did, and it all paid off in the end.”
While Rodriguez wasn’t the type of teenager who roamed the streets or hung with the wrong crowd in high school – he says he’s had the same group of friends for the past 20 years – he admits MMA kept him in a safe place during his most impressionable years and kept him away from any potential outside influences.
Once the Boston Muay Thai Academy closed, Rodriguez took his talents to Best Way Jiu-Jitsu in Quincy, which is now known as Trifecta Martial Arts And Fitness. He made his professional debut in 2014 with a win over Ralph Johnson and has rebounded from his first and only loss to Pat McCrohan at “CES MMA XXXII” with three consecutive wins, including his second-round submission victory over the highly-touted John Poppie on the AXS TV main card of “CES MMA 38” at Foxwoods Resort Casino.
He spent nearly two years away from the sport following his second career win, which coincided with his short-lived move to Arizona, where his wife worked as a travel nurse while he gained invaluable experience training at Apex MMA in Tucson. The two returned to Quincy a year later before his wife gave birth to their first child, who is now 22 months old.
All of Rodriguez’s wins have come by either submission or knockout with the loss to McCrohan being the only fight that went the distance. He’s made MMA his No. 1 priority, mostly at the behest of his early mentors at the BMTA in Dorchester, who taught him there’s no way to enjoy any real success in this sport without giving it everything you have.
Now that he’s training out of Lauzon’s MMA in nearby South Easton, he’s had the opportunity to learn from the likes of Joe Lauzon, Scott Proctor and Tom Egan, all of whom starred at one point or another for the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC) and are used to the spotlight Rodriguez is now facing as a main card fighter.
“They always told me, ‘This is not a sport you want to half-ass,'” Rodriguez said. “I wanted to do it, and the more I started doing it, the more I fell in love with it.”
Tickets for “CES MMA 39” are priced at $45.00, $55.00, $75.00 and $125.00 (VIP) and can be purchased online at www.cesboxing.com or www.cagetix.com or by phone at 401-724-2253/2254. All fights and fighters are subject to change.
“CES MMA 39” features eight action-packed bouts, including the main event showdown between East Bridgewater, Mass., middleweight Chuck O’Neil (17-8, 6 KOs) and Lawrence, Mass., vet Wilfredo Santiago (6-3, 5 KOs), and a featherweight battle between 25-fight vet Saul Almeida (18-7, 1 KO) of Framingham, Mass., and Abington prospect Manny Bermudez (7-0, 1 KO), who puts his unbeaten record on the line.
Also on the main card, Cage Titans vet Peter Barrett (6-0, 5 KOs) of Abington puts his unbeaten record on the line in a featherweight bout against undefeated Clearwater, Fla., native Jeremy Davis (3-0, 1 KO). In the flyweight division, Milford, Mass., vet Remo Cardarelli (6-4) faces Josh Ricci (2-0) of Whitesville, N.Y., and Stoughton, Mass., bantamweight Max Barrett (3-0, 2 KOs) returns to face Matt Almy (2-1) of Binghamton, N.Y., both on the main card.
Sandwich, Mass., welterweight Bobby Flynn (6-3, 1 KO), fresh off his win over Kevin Horowitz at “CES MMA 36,” battles unbeaten Crofton, Md., native Micah Terrill (6-0, 5 KOs) on the main card while Connor Barry (1-0) of Holbrook, Mass., faces lightweight Anthony Giachina (1-0) of Selden, N.Y., on the preliminary card.
“CES MMA 39” also features two amateur bouts; Charles Bonnar faces Zach Fritz-Kill and Joe Mikolinksi battles Shane Brady.
Visit www.cesmma.com, www.twitter.com/cesmma or www.facebook.com/cesmma for more information, follow CES MMA on Instagram at @CESMMA and use the hashtag #CES39 to join the conversation.