In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, UFC light heavyweight contender Mike Rodriguez has revealed his dream of one day fighting his idol, Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua, before he retires.
Holding a UFC record of 2-4-1, 'Slow' is chasing the dream of facing one of his favorite fighters ever inside the octagon. While his best days are behind him, Shogun Rua, who is 39 years old, fought twice in 2020.
"I would love to fight Shogun. Just because he's one of my heroes, and also, it would be cool to fight a Pride veteran," said Mike Rodriguez.
Shogun Rua started his career in the Japanese fighting organization back in 2003. He attracted a legion of fans after defeating names like Alistair Overeem, Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson, and Rogerio 'Minotouro' Nogueira on his way to becoming a light heavyweight champion.
For a young Mike Rodriguez, watching Shogun Rua's explosive power was a revelation. He explained that he had his first taste with Pride and MMA because of the inspired actions of a teacher.
"So, back when I was in high school, I got into a fight and knocked this kid out in the cafe. My teacher pulled me and suspended me, but he gave me a bunch of Pride DVDs to watch," Mike Rodriguez recalls. "So, while I was suspended, I watched them and fell in love! I asked him about it, and he ended up introducing me to mixed martial arts."
'Slow' got his way into the promotion by winning a fight against Jamelle Jones in week five of the first season of Dana White's Contender Series (DWCS).
Although competing in the DWCS and UFC "are night and day in terms of differences,' they still have a couple of similarities, according to Mike Rodriguez.
Sean O'Malley, Kevin Holland, Geoff Neal and Alex Perez are other successful names in the UFC to have graduated from DWCS. However, Mike Rodriguez believes that what the web series offers is far from the reality of the UFC.
"[In the] DWCS, you haven't made it yet. That's your job interview, but the UFC is just another beast. You're fighting against the best of the best in the world," he said.
What does Mike Rodriguez expect from his future in the UFC?
Kicking off his fighting career at Cage Titans and then migrating to CES MMA, Mike Rodriguez is experiencing a challenging period in his early UFC journey.
Although he is coming from two straight losses, this skid doesn't tell the whole story. His defeat to Ed Herman at UFC Vegas 10 was highly contested, even by UFC president Dana White himself. It was a harsh blow to Rodriguez.
As per Mike Rodriguez, the UFC boss paid him the regular purse for the fight. And although "the commission counted it as a loss," the "UFC treated it as a win."
As a result, following the bout against Herman, 'Slow' was matched against newcomer Danilo Marques, who made a successful debut at UFC 253. However, Mike Rodriguez could not find his way back to victory.
"That fight kind of hit hard. Really hard, actually. I learned the valuable lesson of growth and the importance of preparation," he said.
Fighting twice in less than a month in 2020, Mike Rodriguez is now aware of the consequences of a good training camp and what he has to do next to improve his fighting game.
"It all started with my pre-fight interview. DC [Daniel Cormier] was asking me questions. He asked me, 'how did you grow between the fights from over the summer to this fight?' I couldn't give him a confident and solid answer. I didn't really give him an answer," Mike Rodriguez confessed.
It was a push he required to recognize what needed to be done. But the insight came too late, as the fight was already on its way.
"When the fight came, and the first grapple exchange started, I realized how undeveloped it was, and I realized I couldn't hang with him," he admitted.
Aware of the obstacles in his way, Mike Rodriguez, whose next fight has yet to be booked for the moment, is now focusing his time on "spending family time and rebuilding." A determined up-and-comer in the light heavyweight division, he will learn from his mistakes and use these experiences to grow.