When Ray Rodriguez hit a rough patch in his career after suffering back-to-back losses, he considered walking away from mixed martial arts for good. However, a pilgrimage to spend time around some “bad motherfuckers” reignited his passion for the sport.
Rodriguez did what many fighters seeking a pick-me-up do — he traveled to the New Mexico-based “Bad Motherfucker Ranch,” which is owned by the UFC’s Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, to not only train hard, but to play hard too. It was there that Rodriguez discovered the work-life balance that reinvigorated his fighting career.
“Cowboy and Leonard Garcia really showed me how to live,” Rodriguez, who boasts a record of 11-4, told Combat Press. “We would train hard for two to three hours in the morning and the evening, and in between we would go swimming on the lake or play Ultimate Frisbee. It showed me that even though you need to have fighting on your mind 24/7, you can still have fun too. I was neglecting other things in my life at that time, including my family. I didn’t actually talk with ‘Cowboy’ or Garcia while I was there about it, but I fell in love with the sport again.”
MMA had been a grind for Rodriguez up to that point, starting with his stint in the U.S. Army. He participated in the Army’s Modern Army Combatives Program (MACP), which helps train military members in close, hand-to-hand combat.
“It was something I loved right away,” Rodriguez said. “I did some tournaments, and I had a knack for imposing my will on my opponent and on the enemy. I was stationed in Belgium and Holland for a while, and I got to travel and compete in those tournaments while I was there. When I was deployed to Iraq, guys from all over the U.S. Army were to train MMA as part of the Fort Hood Combatives Tournament.”
The three-day tournament not only gave soldiers more training in hand-to-hand combat, but it entailed competing in eight grappling matches in one day. This was followed by two days of Pankration bouts and then a third day where the soldiers competed in an actual MMA fight.
“Your body is beat up and put through the grind, then you have another fight and have to go to war,” Rodriguez said. “It makes me feel a little fresher now when I step into the cage and fight.”
Rodriguez’s experience competing in these various forms of grappling during his time in the Army also gave him the nickname that’s stuck to this day: “The Judge.”
“A lot of my European fights ended early, and when I went to Fort Hood, people told me that they heard I wasn’t letting it go to the judge, so they were making me the judge now,” Rodriguez said. “People started knowing me as that, and it’s stuck with me and holds true to my record.”
Rodriguez boasts six submission victories in his career. It stands to reason that these wins would be a direct result of his experience from grappling in the Army. But to hear Rodriguez tell it, it comes from his opponents not being willing to engage in a stand-up battle with him. It’s a trend he expects to continue when he faces Rivaldo Junior, who boasts a 15-6-2 mark, at the next Legacy Fighting Alliance card on Friday, March 10.
“All my submissions came from these guys trying to take me down,” Rodriguez said. “I know Rivaldo will try to take me down too, but his ground game isn’t as good as mine or superior to mine. He likes to stall and put me in a boring position to win the fight. It’s his only chance to win, though, because I have multiple ways to win. I asked for Rivaldo because I lost to guys before who are similar to him in style. I’m ready to show I’m at a different level now and losing boring decisions won’t happen anymore.”
Rodriguez’s match-up with Junior will be his first under the LFA banner. However, Rodriguez previously competed for the former Legacy Fighting Championship organization before its merger with the Resurrection Fighting Alliance this year.
“I’m a completely different fighter now,” Rodriguez said. “I’m not doing this for a paycheck. I’m here to kick ass. Fighting for Legacy was awesome. They treated me really well and are the most professional guys I’ve been around. I feel like I’m close to the top, and when I talked to their matchmaker recently, he let me know that a dominant win puts me in line for a title shot. The ultimate goal for me is to make it to the UFC, but if I don’t get the call, I’m happy to fight for the title and wrap that belt around my waist.”