Ricco Rodriguez file photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
TOKYO -- Ricco Rodriguez is sitting in Japan, patiently waiting for a fight at Dream 15, though time is running out.
The former UFC heavyweight champion says he was scheduled to fight Alistair Overeem this Saturday at the Super Saitama Arena. However, the Dutch striker stated this week through his camp that he’d never agreed to the bout.
In an exclusive interview with Sherdog.com, Rodriguez explains the circumstances behind the bout's cancellation, the possibilityof stepping in for an overweight Jake O'Brien as a last-minute replacement against Gegard Mousasi, and seizing opportunities to make a comeback at light heavyweight and heavyweight.
Sherdog.com: Tell us how you got this point -- how you had a fight, then didn't have a fight, then came here to Japan.
Ricco Rodriguez: Behind the scenes, a lot of people need to understand that negotiations are a big part of this business. My thing personally is to stay physically fit and waiting for this opportunity, and at the last minute, I knew it was my only chance of getting a shot at fighting back in Japan. Dream has been nothing but excellent to me. They told me that if I got on this flight and canceled my other fights, that this was definitely going to happen.
It was presented to Overeem a while ago and he accepted the offer. I signed the contract, came down, and was prepared to fight Overeem. Later, I found out through Overeem's camp that they released a formal announcement that they apologized to myself and my camp and that they would not be accepting the fight. Yesterday was the first time I was told that they didn't feel that I was suitable.
And the reality is -- between you and me -- as a fighter, if you are trained to fight and you definitely know you have the upper hand on someone, you know, why not take the fight and put on a great show for the Japanese fans, and also take your purse money?
The reality is that they felt that there was too much risk involved in this particular fight. His camp and himself felt that this was not a good position for him, meaning that if he beats me, it wasn't a big victory, and if he loses to me, he had everything to lose. I felt that Dream was giving me the opportunity to kinda' dust me off and say, ‘You know what, let's give this guy an opportunity. He's hungry and is 7-0.’ That's one thing about the Japanese -- they love watching the comeback kid, and that's why I've loved working with Dream, because they were willing to give me that chance.
I think that Overeem did what was best for his career in this particular situation. Like I said, I have no beef with Dream. They've treated me phenomenally, they've kept their word, they've been awesome. I spoke with Ken Pavia at MMA Agents in the past few days, and finding out what's going on, negotiating, trying to find a new opponent, but the reality is that no one wanted to fight me.
I know I'm not going to be given anything easy at my position and where I am at in my life. I know that the only way that I'm gonna' excel is by taking a fight on the last minute and being able to execute on one of these deals.
Sherdog.com: So when did you arrive in Japan?
Rodriguez: I've been here since Tuesday, and the way I see it, Overeem was all over the posters, all over the media. He should have come here to fight anybody. The fact that he was asking for Arlovski, asking for someone bigger, you know, I don't see that as really working out for him seeing as he's the champion over in Strikeforce. So, I think he's really trying to protect who he is right now and what he's about. And you know, when you're in that position, you have to do that.
Sherdog.com: Did you know ahead of coming to Japan that he wasn't going to be here and that you were potentially just coming over for a vacation?
Rodriguez: Not at all. I actually have two fights lined up in July, fighting in USA MMA and Absolute Fighting Championships out in Indianapolis. By no means would I be coming out here for a vacation. I was coming out here for a fight. They did try to find a suitable opponent for me and everyone declined.
I would not have come out here just for a vacation and just to shake hands, so to speak. Ken Pavia at MMA Agents was promising me X, Y, and Z as an opponent to fight, but we came up short. There's also been talks of fighting Gegard Mousasi, and making 205 or 208 because Jake O'Brien's having a tough time making the weight.
You know how Dream does business -- everything happens at the last minute. Sometimes it's good for the fans and the world to see, and sometimes it's bad when everything falls through.
Sherdog.com: If O'Brien doesn't make weight, do you fight Mousasi? Or if Mousasi doesn't accept, do you fight O’Brien at heavyweight? Which is it?
Rodriguez: Listen, the only thing that would suck is that if I were to fight Gegard, I'd have to cut the weight now and I might not make it. And if I fight Jake, then, you know, I'm prepared to fight anyone. I'm waiting for this opportunity. I came here to fight for Dream, for the Japanese fans, I'm prepared. My goal right now is to be in the best physical shape of my life right now. Like I said, I'm just waiting, for this opportunity, as much as possible.
Sherdog.com: What are you weighing at right this moment?
Rodriguez: Right now I'm walking around at 230 and I'm usually fighting my opponents at 215 or a catch-weight of 220. But you know, if heavyweight is where it's going to be, that's where I'll go. But my goal is to eventually get down to 205. I'm just waiting for an organization to pay me decently to get down to that weight to fight.
Sherdog.com: So it's not a long-term thing with Dream then? Just a one-time deal for this fight?
Rodriguez: Well, I think we have a mutual understanding with each other now, and they see that I'm ready to fight for them and ready to fight whoever they put in front of me. And from what I understand with Ken Pavia and MMA Agents, they are basically negotiating something for September.
Sherdog.com: The Dream 16 card in September?
Sherdog.com: Well, Dream is basically the revival of Pride, who you have history with. How has it been working with them again? Has it pretty much been all the same faces and such?
Rodriguez: It's somewhat new and old faces, but the reality is like I've said in the past -- I've burned a lot of bridges, and people don't remember that I've been fighting since I'm 18 years old. I'm 32 years of age now and the truth of the matter is that there are a lot of bridges that were burned and they're finally cooling down now, and I'm just waiting for this opportunity to step up and showcase my skills. I would like to walk away from the industry on my will, meaning that I want to walk away and leave behind me something bigger and better than the way a lot of people saw it. People have seen my past and the things I went through, my challenges with my weight, you know.
One thing that I love about fighting is that you're able to recreate yourself in this business, and you're able to show what you are really made of if you come up and do the right thing.
Sherdog.com: So you're essentially one fight, one opportunity away from making that “big thing,” having a legacy develop here?
Rodriguez: I believe so. I was really that close this weekend to overcome something huge, and I believe that the reason Overeem and that camp didn't want to take that fight was that once they were doing a little homework on me, seeing how lean I was and seeing that I had seven straight wins, and how almost all of them are KOs or TKOs, you know, they started to think, ‘Is this worth the risk of how much we worked?’
A lot of people don't understand that once you get to this level, at the top, it's one or two fights from either making it or losing everything you worked for. You look at the time Overeem's put into this and he's gotta' protect it. I respect what he's doing, and his camp is doing the right thing.
With Fedor losing, it makes (Overeem) a better champion so to speak. You know, demolishing Brett Rogers, he's sitting somewhat at the top. He is the champion, you know? And that's big for him. It's huge.
And to be honest, I think Overeem was a perfect style matchup for me. I think I would have taken him past the first round and he would have been in trouble. That's my personal opinion.
Sherdog.com: Let's talk short-term and long-term future. Short-term -- like the next two days -- what's going to be happening for you?
Rodriguez: Short-term, I'm going to watch a good show in Japan, and go see my old neighborhood in Musashi-Koyama and go buy some merchandise from Takada Dojo. Eat some great Japanese food, go get a couple mild runs outside, and enjoy my time here in Japan.
Long-term, I think I'm going to build a relationship with Dream and eventually get the opportunity that I would like to receive as a gentleman, and what I mean by that is, ‘Hey Ricco, you're going to fight this person at this time,’ and I'll train and do the right thing. I'm hoping and praying for that, and it would be nice.
If it doesn't, I'm going to go back home, train, and go back to the fights that I had scheduled. I pulled out of one, and I can't really do anything about that one.
Sherdog.com: To make it here?
Rodriguez: No, no, my fights back in the states. I have one fight at USA MMA on July 31 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. That one will stay on schedule.
Sherdog.com: Who are you fighting in your next two bouts back in the states?
Rodriguez: I was supposed to fight Bobby Martinez in Absolute Fighting Championship out in Indianapolis, but because of this fight, I had to pull out. Hopefully, we can put something together (with Dream) for September. That's what the talks are. I'm letting my agent and trainer work that out.
Sherdog.com: And that's something you mentioned earlier that you wanted to do at 205? Or would you still be fighting at heavyweight?
Rodriguez: Most of the time, I do a catch-weight of 220, or I fight at heavyweight. You know, I just try not to fight anyone at 265, just because I'm making the cut to 205. But the reality is that no one wants to fight me at 205 on the C and B-levels of MMA.
The reality is that the people that are stepping up to fight me now are the people who want to get that step over Ricco Rodriguez, meaning that, you know, ‘I beat a world champion.’ I'm giving them the opportunity, but I'm not getting the opportunity myself. The only time I got the opportunity was right now with Dream to fight Overeem, and I jumped on it because it would have put me right back in the top 10.
Sherdog.com: How long ago did you receive the offer to fight Overeem?
Rodriguez: Well, to be honest with you, it was on the table once before, and then it went off, and then I got a call about a week ago, and they asked, ‘Do you want it?’ And I said, yeah, I'll take it. And that's when I flew down here, to take the fight. I always knew that this opportunity was going to come. Training with Saul Soliz, we knew it was only a matter of time.
You know, it might not happen this weekend, it might not happen this month, but it's going to come back again. And I'm prepared. And that's the thing I think people don't really understand. I think I really freaked a lot of people out when I came to the weigh-ins today. They all saw how lean I was, they saw how great a shape I've been in.