Fighter Profile: Sammy Rodriguez – “I am forever grateful, and because of that I fight”

Sammy Rodriguez lays on the ground and pound.
Sammy Rodriguez lays on the ground and pound.

(In one of my final posts for I did a profile on Sammy Rodriguez, a fighter out of Highlander Tampa, prior to his fight with Team Jorge Gurgel fighter Taylor Ruscin.  Sammy is a great guy and I was very impressed with what he had to say on how he got into fighting and why he fights so I wanted the PROMMA.INFO readers to have a chance to see it as well.  – Furby)

I first met Sammy Rodriguez prior to “ICF: Breakout” at US Bank Arena. I was hanging out with Fight Ribbon Co-Founders Brent Thompson and Scott Wells the night before the big event and we met up with Highlander MMA founder Mike Yanez and Rodriguez to hang out and catch up.

After talking about some recent fights that went down, Sammy mentioned that he too had recently fought and had a video of it on his iPhone. Even on a small screen, it was not hard to see the technique and long hours of preparation that had gone into his submission victory.

Having fought in Tennessee, Louisiana and Ohio, Rodriguez will make his return to The Buckeye State this Friday. Excited about the fact that Rodriguez was fighting in this region, I contacted him through Yanez (his manager and trainer) to set up this profile.

Rodriguez and I exchanged some emails and discussed a number of topics including his fighting career, military service and his upcoming fight. Like many fighters these days, Rodriguez is not what people who are unfamiliar with the sport stereotypically picture. Well-spoken and thoughtful, he had a lot of good things to say.

Training under Mike Yanez out of Highlander MMA located in Fight Factory Tampa, Rodriguez stated that he has a strong base in BJJ but considers himself a very well-rounded fighter, not afraid to let his presence be known regardless of what direction the fight takes.

When asked about his favorite technique, he let me know that it is to simply finish the fight as quickly as possible,

“Preferably, walk in and punch him square in the nose, knocking him clean out in the process,” but he also stated that he is ready for anything – “I think that one must be able to adapt and overcome, so no matter what’s presented to me during the fight I will be ready to react.”

Fighting at middleweight, Rodriguez is currently 3-1 in MMA, and has a single kickboxing win via KO.

Rodridguez recounted his first experience with MMA from when his older brother showed him one of the early UFC tapes when he was about twelve years old. Giving me his initial reaction to MMA, “Damn, these guys are nuts!” definitely made me laugh, realizing it was coming from a man (now 25 years old) preparing for a fight of his own this week, with a scheduled professional debut next month.

Despite his early exposure to the UFC, Rodriguez’s mentioned that he did not pay any real attention to MMA until years later when he was stationed in Japan as part of his Navy Special Operations military service. Here is how he described it:

“While in the military, I was stationed in Japan. Long story short, I would constantly get ‘restricted’ to my room and not allowed to leave except for going into work. Needless to say that got boring quickly. So this one time, I snuck out and went to the Exchange to pick up a few movies and while walking through the aisles looking for a good action movie, I bumped into a stack full of UFC DVDs.”

“I was really sweating getting caught in there, so I just grabbed a few of the UFC DVDs and checked out. Throughout a couple of more ‘restriction’ periods, I would sit there in my room for hours watching these DVDs. After a while, I started to get familiar with the top fighters, and I started to recognize arm-bars, rear-naked chokes, you know the basic submissions.”

“One night, a friend of mine stopped by to bring me food, and her daughter (3-4 years old) sat with me to watch a UFC DVD. After a few minutes, she looks up at me, looks me dead in the eyes and says: ‘You’re my champion, Sammy.’ Those words just tore my heart into pieces, and it was that night that I decided to train MMA, as soon as I would get back stateside.”

“After Japan, I got relocated to Jacksonville, Fla. It is there that I began training for MMA. Since I was still in the military, I couldn’t just train straight through, so whenever I wasn’t deployed I was training non-stop. That was 2 1/2 years ago, but like I said, I was probably deployed for 3/4 of that time. It wasn’t until I came back from Iraq in ’08 that I linked up with Mike Yanez in Tampa, Fla. Two-and-a-half months later I was inside a cage.”

His military service also included a six-month tour in Iraq, and his military experience has made him immensely proud and respectful of his brothers and sisters in arms. In spite of not having any combat sport background before attending combative classes in the Navy, Rodriguez’s quick entrance to the cage should not come as a surprise. Juggling his military service, college, and MMA is no small feat. And being able to succeed in all three is an even bigger challenge.

When I asked Rodriguez what he did on his down time, here is what he said,

“Honestly, just visit my girlfriend in Tennessee. I’m really not a party animal these days, I burned it all off while active duty. So when not with my girl, I just sit at home and relax. Keep in mind that I’m juggling college, MMA, Pilot School and the military… so my “down time” is very scarce, and any down time is much appreciated.”

When I heard what an average day is like for Rodriguez, it’s no wonder he appreciates his downtime.

“I’m a pretty athletic type of guy, so no matter whether I have an upcoming fight or not, I’m steady working out. Come fight time, I wake up at 5am and go for a 2-3 miles run. I get back to my house, take a shower, and get ready for school.”

“Since I live so far away from the gym, after school I head straight to the gym. On most days, I’m in the gym by 3:30-4:00 p.m. There I hit the weights for a while and then jump straight into boxing training. Normally, by the time I’m wrapping up with boxing training the rest of the team trickles in, and then it’s straight into MMA. I normally get back from the gym around 10:30 p.m., then its homework and off to bed to do it all over again the next day.”

Rodriguez knows he is not the only one putting in the hard work – his manager Mike Yanez puts in the hours as well, both training and managing fighters.

“What can I say about Mike? Mike’s the man. I truly enjoy fighting for Mike. I’ve seen how he’s taken guys right off the street (training wise) and turned them into fellow fighters. Mike definitely puts in the long working hours. I think that most of my fight notices has been through a text at 2am. Nevertheless, he’s talking to promoters getting us that next fight.”

(Rodriguez then jokingly gave me a hard time about being up late working myself. I had sent him some more questions at about 2 a.m. one night.)

Although his family isn’t “too thrilled” with his fighting and some of his friends were initially did not know what to think, Rodriguez says that many have come around now that they have seen his dedication and fights. He was quick to mention that there are those few that have always been supportive.

“There are a very few that have believed in me since day one, and without them I probably wouldn’t be here today. I always take them in my heart when I walk out to the cage.”

Rodriguez is also one of those fighters that are becoming harder and harder to find these days – ones that want to be recognized and lauded simply for their performances inside the cage, not their antics in or out of the arena – like area pro standouts Julio Gallegos, Chad Hinton, and Victor O’Donnell, Rodriguez does not engage in pre-fight trash talk or disrespect, he just gets in the cage and handles his business, not out of rage but a desire to test himself.

When I asked him about his upcoming opponent, Taylor Ruscin, he said,

“I actually saw him fight last time I was up here. I really don’t have much to say about him, he definitely seems like a very tough opponent. I know he trains with Jorge Gurgel and Rich Franklin, so I’m expecting a war inside that cage and so I’ve trained for one. I never make the mistake of disrespecting my opponent, I never take them lightly.”

As I always do with my the people I profile or interview, I gave Rodriguez a chance to give some thanks to the people who have helped him.

”First and foremost, I would like to give a shout out to the men and women of the US. Armed Forces. Thank you for sacrificing everything so that this country can enjoy that warm blanket of freedom you guys are providing. A special shout out to my Lobos, Red Lions and Chargers, y’all know who you are. Also, I would like to give a shout out to my sponsor Brawl and Maul, they’re the best. Last but definitely not least, my family and friends without whom, I wouldn’t be who I am today.”

Perhaps the thing that struck me most was what he had to say when I asked him why he fought. Like many fighters today, Rodriguez is fighting for multiple reasons, and like many, he’s not caught up in the possibility of fame or money but instead chooses to focus on the people that are important to him who helped him get where he is. His answer was one of the more poignant I have ever received and in my opinion is illustrative of his character and succinctly sums up his motivation.

“Man, I fight for multiple reasons. A) I like the fact that most people are terrified of jumping in a cage and facing off with someone else; some might even call us crazy. I’ve always been the type of guy to run in to a dangerous situation, when everyone else is running out. B) I want my family and friends to be proud of me. C) I want my fellow brothers in the military who risk their lives for us to be proud of me. Ultimately, I have sacrificed so much to get here. Honestly, more than I ever wanted. Not only have I sacrificed, other people have sacrificed alongside me in order for me to have a chance at this dream. And for that I am forever grateful, and because of that I fight.”

By:  Brian Furby