By Daniel Vreeland
April 7’s UFC 223 fight card might be in Brooklyn, but the card has the flavor of a state just to the east of New York.
A quick scan of the card shows four Massachusetts fighters on the card, one of whom is on the pay-per-view portion.
Of those fighters, just one is making his debut in the UFC. After a stellar flying-knee KO on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, Mike Rodriguez earned a contract with the world's premier MMA organization. Although that was eight months ago at this point, he officially steps inside the Octagon for the first time against Devin Clark at UFC 223.
Before that bout, he talked with the Top Turtle MMA Podcast about the wait for his debut.
“I was injured for a little bit,” Rodriguez said. “After the injury, they just weren’t booking me for anything. So I was just hanging out and training.”
Although this is undoubtedly something many young fighters deal with after signing their first UFC contract, it was especially hard for Rodriguez, who had to watch UFC 220 in Boston from the sidelines.
“Oh, man, it was the worst," Rodriguez said. "All my friends were fighting and I wasn’t. It sucked."
But the fact that he and all of his friends are now on the same elevated stage is a point to celebrate. Although it took Massachusetts some time to have more than just a handful of fighters represented at the highest level, they now seem to be pouring through the UFC's doors.
That’s something Rodriguez and his training partners are very excited about.
“Me and [UFC featherweight Calvin] Kattar were talking about that the other day," Rodriguez said. "He had put it best. He was like, 'It’s like we all just graduated.”
That graduating class includes the likes of not just Kattar and Rodriguez but also Matt Bessette and Manny Bermudez, all of whom cut their teeth in New England-based promotions CES MMA and/or Cage Titans FC and then made their UFC debuts in the last year.
While all of them may not have access to Massachusetts' elder statesman, Joe Lauzon, Rodriguez is using the wise words of his training partner and coach to prep.
“He’s always told me to just remember that from CES [MMA] to the UFC, from Twin River to fighting at the Barclays, it’s the same shit. Nothing changes," Rodriguez said. “The only thing is the lights are brighter and there [are] more cameras.”