UFC 223’s Mike Rodriguez Feels It’s the “Perfect Moment” to Enter the UFC Light Heavyweight Landscape

Mike Rodriguez UFC
Mike Rodriguez following his win at Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender Series Credit: UFC.tv

Mike Rodriguez makes his UFC debut Saturday at Brooklyn’s UFC 223 — and despite his nickname, the flashy fighter is anything but slow.

With UFC 223 finally upon us, with it comes the promotional debut of Mike Rodriguez (9-2). For a fighter nicknamed ‘Slow,’ the Lauzon MMA prospect has proven anything but. A flying knee finish caught everyone’s attention on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series. And perhaps as a sign that the UFC has some lofty expectations of him, he’s drawn light heavyweight Devin Clark for his UFC debut. Clark’s last bout came against current top five 205lb’er Jan Błachowicz, so Rodriguez has a tough test ahead.

It’s a test the Boston native sounds ready for. He spoke to Cageside Press ahead of his debut, about making it to the UFC, his fight against Devin Clark, and lots more.

On how he earned his nickname, Rodriguez recalled that when he first started training in the gym, he hadn’t had much experience hitting the boxing mitts. When he first tried it out, he was admittedly slow. That led to being called Slow Mike, but in reality, he didn’t stay slow for long. “Everybody used to call me Slow Mike. Then I got the groove of everything.” ‘Quick Mike’ might be more suitable at this point.

After running up an 8-2 record on the regional scene, Rodriguez earned a spot on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series. That resulted in the big flying knee win that put him on everyone’s radar. However, the win came with a hiccup.

“On impact, when I hit him with the knee, I felt a little pop feeling, and it started hurting. I’m like ‘whatever,'” Rodriguez told us. “He’d been knocked out, I’d won, the adrenaline was pumping through me. I’m happy, everything’s great.” Soon enough, however, the light heavyweight realized something was wrong. “After that, it [the knee] was killing me, I couldn’t move much. I was like ‘what the f*** is going on?'”

“I flew back home, went to the doctor that Monday. Found out I cracked my knee cap, and my cartilage,” he said. Luckily, he avoided invasive surgery. “Physical therapy, and that was it.” It wasn’t a fun time, however. “It sucked. I couldn’t lift, I couldn’t do a squat. Anything that required loading up on my knee, was just terrible.”

Yet despite the injury, punching his ticket to the UFC was a dream come true for the Boston native. “It was like you’re a kid, and your parents come home and tell you you’re going to Disney World.”

He was always confident he’d make it to the promotion, mind you. “I always knew I was going to get into the UFC. I just didn’t know how, and when.” In the end, it was one of the flashiest ways possible.

Making his UFC debut at UFC 223 in Brooklyn, Rodriguez won’t be far from home. “It’s awesome,” he told us. “I was bummed out at first that I missed the train on the Boston card, on 220. But everything happens for a reason.” In fact, it’s almost a home away from home for the fight. “It’s still kind of like home because my mom is from there. My grandma lived there for so long, I have so much family down there.”

Rodriguez is, as noted, meeting Devin Clark at the event. ‘Slow’ has been preparing for Clark’s grappling-heavy style. “He’s a really good wrestler. He did really well for himself in wrestling,” he observed. “That’s all I’m really looking out for. He had a couple finishes, knockouts and stuff,” he added. But that having been said, “we covered all the basics and everything that we possibly can for the fight. We’re ready.”

He doesn’t see the bout going the distance, predicting a second round finish. “I think I’m going to TKO him in the second round,” he said. “I don’t know how I’m going to get it, but I think I’m going to TKO him in the second round. I’ve got a gut feeling.”

“I think it’s a perfect moment, and it’s a perfect moment for all of us newer guys coming in there. Because now the division is wide open.”

There’s a reason for that confidence: Mike Rodriguez has never gone to decision. For a fighter with over ten fights on his pro record, that’s fairly rare. Rodriguez attributes his 100% finishing rate to “training hard, and just going in with the mindset of me just beating this guy.”

“Obviously everybody goes in with that mind set,” he continued, “but I just go in with the mindset of ‘I want it more than he does.’ What is the fastest way I can get him out of there? And I always just try to be as accurate as possible. As accurate as possible with anything I do.” He doesn’t search for the knockout or the finish, “because that’s how you get finished. I always set them up, or they just come to me, they land it my lap and I’m like ‘ooh I’ll take it.'”

UFC 223 is primed to be a big night for Mike’s team also. Coach Joe Lauzon, who in the past has cornered Rodriguez, will be fighting as well. They’ll both have their own cornermen this time out. “If he wasn’t fighting, he’d definitely be in my corner.”

Rodriguez is entering a light heavyweight landscape currently in the midst of a massive overhaul. He sees the situation as “the perfect timing to be in that division. Right now, a lot of the top echelon guys are at the end of their careers,” he explained, “or they’re going off into the heavyweight division. I think it’s a perfect moment, and it’s a perfect moment for all of us newer guys coming in there. Because now the division is wide open, now we’re all trying to climb the mountain to get to the top.”

With Jon Jones out, Daniel Cormier fighting for the heavyweight title, and even Alexander Gustafsson flirting with a heavyweight run, it has left big opportunities in the 205lb class. And fighters like Shogun Rua are suddenly back in the mix. Rodriguez picked up on mention of Shogun immediately.

“Shogun would be a cool fight,” he suggested. “He’s one of the reasons I was inspired to get into the sport. Everyone’s always talking about the Forrest Griffin-Stephen Bonnar fight, the Ultimate Fighter fight. They’re always like ‘that was the fight that drew me in.'” For Rodriguez, however, there was another bout that got his attention early on.

“The fight that drew me in was Shogun and Little Nog,” he told Cageside Press. “I’d got suspended from school for fighting. I knocked this kid out. The teacher gave me some Pride DVDs to watch, he was like ‘dude you’ve got really good technique, you’re fast. Here, take these Pride DVDs, watch them.'” That likely changed the course of his life. “They just opened my eyes. I was like ‘woah this is crazy.’ One of them was the fight with Shogun and Little Nog. I just kept watching it and watching it and watching it. That was the fight that drew me in.” The Wanderlei vs. Cro-Cop fight was another favorite.

Rodriguez, who told us he’d ever be a teacher or professional gamer if he wasn’t fighting, now has a chance to create his own memories in the world’s largest MMA promotion. That opportunity starts on Saturday at UFC 223 in Brooklyn at the Barclay’s Center.


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