Violence-weight Fighter of the Year: Gregory Rodrigues

Gregory Rodrigues, UFC Vegas 60
Gregory Rodrigues, UFC Vegas 60 weigh-in Credit: Getty/UFC

Gregory Rodrigues only entered the UFC in mid-2021, having won the LFA middleweight title just a month before his debut.

In only five fights, ‘Robocop’ Rodrigues has already made a name for himself as arguably the most exciting fighter in a division which has been long due for some spicing up.

Rodrigues went 2-0 in his first year with the promotion as he earned a decision win over Duško Todorović and a TKO win over Jun Yong Park, a fight which earned ‘Fight of the Night’ honors. Then in 2022 he really grabbed the attention of fans and his bosses at the UFC. First he battled to a split decision loss against Armenian kickboxer Armen Petrosyan. A decently sized faction of fans existed who thought he was given the short end of the stick twice: first by the judges when he was not awarded the victory and again later when the brass did not award him a second consecutive ‘Fight of the Night’ bonus, instead giving it to Ji Yeon Kim and Priscilla Cachoeira, who also delivered an entertaining bout.

That fight displayed the well-rounded game of the Brazilian. He was competitive in striking with such a vaunted striker as Petrosyan but also took him down and put him in multiple tight submission attempts which almost finished the fight.

Rodrigues is a very straightforward fighter. He likes to walk his opponents down and land big combinations after opening the combo with a jab. It was clear in the Petrosyan fight that Armen wanted to circle the outside of the cage and chip away, which he had success doing at times as he would touch with a leg kick or jab and then circle out of danger. It was a smart strategy. Still, Rodrigues forced him into a firefight more often than not. His style of fighting demanded to win out, and it did just that as it dictated the pace of much of the fight.

Rodrigues landed the biggest strikes of the bout early in round three when he forced Petrosyan to trade blow for blow in the pocket after pressuring him up against the fence. The determination to swing for the fences without pause eventually made Armen try to circle out, which is exactly what Gregory was waiting for. He cut off the kickboxer’s escape with a left high kick which caught Petrosyan perfectly, wobbling him badly. He was saved from being knocked down only by first the fence and then Rodrigues himself when a clinch ensued.

Gregory took advantage of his opponent being hurt to muscle him to the ground. Immediately he showed off his Brazilian jiu-jitsu prowess by scrambling to the back. When he started to fall off, he showed it off even more by grabbing a leg and attempting to execute a rare move known as the Suloev Stretch. Armen was able to survive, though it cannot have been comfortable, and get his leg out. ‘Robocop’ was too fast on the mat for Petrosyan; he immediately scrambled into top position, and then to the back once more where he looked for a fight-ending choke.

Perhaps Gregory Rodrigues made a mistake by not being more insistent in his wrestling. After all, fans would see in Armen’s next fight that he had a major weakness to being controlled as another Brazilian, Caio Borralho, was able to do so. And Greg did have success when he wrestled, landing two of his three takedown attempts. But that is just not who ‘Robocop’ is. He looks for the finish constantly and seems to crave action. Even on the ground he refuses to play it safe as he is always hunting for submissions, even at the risk of losing control of his opponent as he did when Armen got back up when Gregory was hunting for a rear-naked choke in round three.

All in all, the scorecards could have gone either way (though when watching live I personally scored the last two rounds for Rodrigues). Petrosyan had more consistent, volume-laden offense, particularly in rounds 1 and 3, while Rodrigues had bigger moments that came closer to finishing the fight. The fact that both of his big submission attempts and his thundering headkick were in the third round really hurt him, as of course fights are scored round by round. Bizarrely, one judge did have it 30-27 for Petrosyan even though he absorbed a clean headkick and almost got submitted. In fact, all three judges had different scorecards, but I digress. Scorecards are not why we are here and Rodrigues has made it clear he cares little for them with the way he fights.

Of course, that alone was not enough to make his profile reach the heights it has now. Rodrigues’ second fight of 2022 was against Julian ‘The Cuban Missile Crisis’ Marquez at one of the few ‘Fight Night’ events of the year to be held in front of fans, a big card headlined by Calvin Kattar and Josh Emmett in Austin, Texas in which fighters delivered finish after finish and thrill after thrill. Even in such a finish-heavy card, ‘Robocop’ stood out as he comprehensively demolished Marquez. In only a little over three minutes of fight time he officially knocked his foe down three times per – although Julian really hit the mat more than three times – before the fight was stopped.

At one point Rodrigues even took Marquez’s back slickly, but he released it of his own volition, seemingly just out of a desire to keep standing and banging. The entire fight is really just one big highlight clip. There are not too many technical insights to be made about Gregory’s fighting style in a fight like this. He got right up in the face of Marquez, used his precise straight hitting in combination to hurt him badly, and just kept pouring on the pressure until ‘The Cuban Missile Crisis’ was resolved.

To Marquez’ credit, he got hurt as badly as anyone can be, got back to his feet, and kept throwing in the pocket. Maybe it would have been better to circle out, but Julian has heart for days and if he was going to go out it would only be on his shield. When Gregory was wailing on him in the pocket and Beltran was warning Julian to fight back or he would stop it, Julian Marquez did what warriors do, he started swinging back. Unfortunately, he was already severely compromised.

Although he did knock Gregory off balance momentarily, the Brazilian’s determination to brawl and ever-present fortitude meant he did not even take a breath before coming back to finish the fight. Marquez was swinging wild hooks and overhands due to the pressure holding him hostage against the fence. Gregory’s straight punching, a great asset in a division like middleweight, of course landed faster and cleaner, finally putting Julian out cold. This display earned the Brazilian ‘Performance of the Night’ honors.

What really makes a lot of fan favorite fighters is their ability to get hurt and keep coming, keep fighting, and eventually secure the victory. That is exactly what fans saw Gregory Rodrigues do against Chidi Njokuani. Perfection can get old after a time – its happened with many all-time great champions when their dominance becomes too flawless for people’s liking – but a fighter who puts on a different show every time out, who makes it so the viewers never know what will happen? That makes a fan favorite fighter, that makes a Violenceweight top contender. Fighters like Dustin Poirier, Charles Oliveira, Jiří Procházka, Tony Ferguson are pillars of the Violenceweight Temple. That fighter archetype is special, and Gregory Rodrigues has earned his place among them.

A similar scenario to the Njokuani fight played out when Gregory fought Jun Yong Park in 2021, but Rodrigues’ comeback in late 2022 was something especially unique. ‘Robocop’ lived up to his nickname as kept going full tilt despite being victim to one of the nastiest gashes in UFC history, a cut which lead to one of the massive arteries – the Supratrochlear artery – being visible just above his nose after he ate a clean knee to the skull in round 1 from Chidi Njokuani. Despite the gruesome visage, Rodrigues never for a moment looked phased by it. He stayed on his feet through the knee and all and came back not just to win in round two, but to knock Chidi down later in the first round.

The broadcast showed a good look at the cut on the bridge of his nose between rounds, which bisected the entire width of the nose, cutting it in half. Gregory never took a seat on his stool during the minute break and when the action resumed he poured the pace and pressure on Chidi, determined to get a finish as the fight could be stopped any time due to the cut. Dirty boxing in the clinch, where much of the fight had taken place, began to melt Njokuani, who was doing everything in his power to keep his opponent off of him. One minute into round two Rodrigues dragged Chidi to the mat with pure strength in a less-than-technical throw. From there it only took thirty seconds for the fight to be stopped after Chidi shelled up and let Rodrigues ground and pound away from side control. Njokuani was utterly gassed; he lay on his back still after the fight was stopped while Rodrigues got to his feet like he had just gone out for a brisk jog, though his face told an entirely different story.

All in all, Gregory Rodrigues is another welcome addition to the ‘imperfect Brazilian action fighter’ genre of mixed martial artists. His bosses definitely have recognized that fact. Gregory has earned three performance bonuses in only five UFC fights and he is set to take on former top-15 fighter Brad Tavares later this month at UFC 283 in Rodrigues’ home country of Brazil. It will be the biggest fight of his life to date, a fight he earned through sheer violence. A win would likely insert Gregory Rodrigues into the rankings at middleweight, and there is a plethora of match-ups there which fans would love to see as he looks to spice up the division with his relentless ferocity.