From the Press Telegram:
Ricco ready for the next chapter
By Daniel Frias, Staff writer
The more Ricco Rodriguez watches his favorite film. The more he sees it as the story of his life.
The half Puerto Rican and half Mexican had a rough upbringing growing up in Paterson, New Jersey — or as he calls it “the ghetto of the ghetto.”
“I came from the projects,” Rodriguez said. “It was the worst neighborhood. They even made a movie about it. You know you live a bad neighborhood when they make a movie about it.”
Ricco knew he had to get out if wanted something better for himself.
“All my friends have been arrested or in jail because of the crazy lifestyle they lived,” said Rodriguez, who moved to California when he was 17 with nothing more than $150 in his pocket.
“I had to come here,” Rodriguez admitted. “Otherwise I would be locked up or in jail.”
Once in Los Angeles, the former high school wrestler had the good fortune of meeting the Machado brothers — Rigan and Jean Jacques.
The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu martial arts experts invited Ricco to train with them and took him under their wing. With their guidance and training Ricco quickly established himself as one of the top competitors in the arena of Mixed Martial Arts and submission wrestling.
“Everything I achieved I worked for it,” said Rodriguez. “Everybody I fought were all-stars. I beat all the greats. Not a lot of people know that.”
Indeed Rodriguez has fought and beaten the best in the world. He's held titles at almost every level and has competed in UFC, PRIDE, KOTC (King of the Cage) and now adds the World Fighting Alliance to his resume.
“There is nothing I haven't done in my career,” said Rodriguez, who became the first American heavyweight to win a World Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu championship in 1997. “If I don't fight anymore I did everything I possibly could. I've done it all. Nobody has the credentials I have.”
The 1999 Abu Dhabi Combat Club submission wrestling (heavyweight) champion won eleven straight MMA contests, which included victories over the likes of Travis Fulton, Andrei Arlovski, Pete Williams, Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, Gary Goodridge, Giant Ochiai and Paul Buentello.
Of course the biggest win of his career came in 2002 at UFC 39 when he defeated Randy Couture by submission (strikes) to capture the UFC heavyweight championship.
“That was my best moment when I beat Couture,” Rodriguez recalled. “It was the Rocky story. I was getting my ass kicked for three rounds and I came back to win. You couldn't have written it any better than that.”
With the belt came fame, fortune and a lavish lifestyle. Rodriguez was living the Hollywood life partying with celebrities, living in a mansion and spending money like clockwork.
The crazy lifestyle would be short lived. Six months later Ricco lost his title to Tim Sylvia, who would relinquish it several months later after testing positive for a banned substance.
Ricco, who had only tasted defeat once in his career before that match, lost his next two bouts — both decisions to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Pedro Rizzo respectively.
“You go from being the champ to craziness,” Ricco said. “After that I was pissed off. (The UFC) decided to put me in a preliminary match with Rizzo which turned out to be one of the best prelim bouts they ever had. I didn't like the way it panned out.”
That was the last time Rodriguez fought in the UFC. He took a year off from fighting after a devastating 2003 when he lost three in a row.
He stopped training and ballooned to over 300 pounds something fans don't let him forget.
“Not a day goes by where I don't have to deal with questions like When are you going to fight Sylvia again? Or you got robbed with Nogueira. Why are you fat?' But it's cool. They are just being honest. I appreciate that,” said Rodriguez, a member of Team Punishment along with Tito Ortiz.
It took some time, but Rodriguez recovered going 8-2 in MMA fights since returning to action in December 2004. His biggest nemesis during that time has been himself.
“My biggest battle has been with myself,” Rodriguez said. “I know what I'm capable of doing. I went from 350 to 290 pounds. I'm battling my own demons like in the movie Raging Bull.' I'm an extreme person. When I see something I want I go for it. You are going to see me drop to 270 and then to 250 pounds. You will see me progress in the Octagon.”
Ricco, who just signed a three-fight deal with the WFA and will fight in the company's “King of the Streets” event Saturday at The Forum in Inglewood, is a different man these days.
He is a father awaiting the arrival of his second child. He's also learned there is more to life than just fighting and winning.
“People learn things in life,” said the New York native. “One of the things I learned is that you have to spend more time with your family. That's what's important. When I lost the title I realized who my real friends were. It was the people I least expected.
“I realized in the end when it's all said and done with it's a roller coaster ride,” Rodriguez added. “You have to appreciate it for what it is. When I was broke I had no money. I had nothing. When you have nothing you learn to appreciate things. When you have everything people are giving you things and everybody wants to be your friend. Everything you learn in life you have to appreciate it. I learned to appreciate it.”
Ricco has had a lot of ups and downs in his 10-year MMA career. He's accomplished a lot in a short time and at 28 years-old (with a 22-6 MMA record), still has several more years as fighter. Just like the protagonist in his favorite movie.
“My whole life my favorite movie was Rocky,” Rodriguez said. “I lived the Rocky story. I really did live the whole thing. That's a real story. That's a fighter's story. That's why there is a Rocky 6 because the fighter's story is not over. Just like my story is not over.”
Daniel Frias can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (562) 499-1338.