Marina Rodriguez

PhotoCred: Getty Images

From Contender Series to top contender: Marina Rodriguez

In 2014 the fighters within the 115-pound strawweight division got their turn to compete on the grandest stage in MMA. What was already a solid division to start has now blossomed into one of the very best in the sport overall. And among that batch of talent are some rather vicious strikers. One of which in particular is the unbeaten Brazilian, Marina Rodriguez.

In April 2018, Rodriguez found herself competing on season two of Dana White’s Contender Series: Brazil. She would end up earning her UFC contract at the expense of Maria de Oliveira Neta who succumbed to strikes in the second round.

As many of Brazil’s finest have, the Marcio Malko student worked her way up through the country’s regional scene. Debuting professionally in 2015, Rodriguez started her combat sports career with Muay Thai two years prior. From the start of her debut in MMA, Rodriguez needed three years to get to where every fighter aspires to be.

“I didn’t really mirror anyone [coming up],” she told MyMMANews, “But I was always looking for whoever was at the top of the division and I kept training to improve every day, at every fight. I knew that we would get a chance to show our work in the UFC to let the world see that I am a fighter that loves being in the Octagon and will always be ready for a brawl – with no fear and a lot of willpower.

“Looking back I think everything happened at the right time and pace. Every step was carefully planned by my coach Marcio Malko and everything was executed the proper way. There was no way that things wouldn’t work and it is indeed working very well. I knew that I would get in the UFC and at a time when I was ready to reach the top.”

Now currently 12-0-2, Rodriguez has fought inside the Octagon four times with her first and last fights seeing her, as well as her opponent, get their hand raised. Because of these results, Rodriguez now stands alongside Caol Uno, BJ Penn, Ken Shamrock, and Lando Vannata in the history books as the only fighters in UFC history to have had two fights end in draws.

Essentially, outside of two rounds, both of which happened in Rodriguez’s draws, she’s been a dominant force in the Octagon when utilizing her excellent Muay Thai background. Her first win came in impressive fashion when she battered her way through one of the division’s all-time greats, Jessica Aguilar. After that, another strawweight staple in Tecia Torres fell to the Brazilian.

The longer that undefeated records and streaks get, the more pressure that comes with them – at least that’s the assumption. And while two of Rodriguez’s 14 career bouts didn’t result in wins, they weren’t losses.

“I have never felt pressure about being undefeated,” she shared, “I have total awareness that in MMA there are wins and losses, and now for me – even draws. I am very confident in the work that we do for every fight and I am sure that its this confidence in the work that takes all pressure away from me.

“When I joined the UFC the new rules started to come into effect. In both of my draws, I won two rounds and lost one round giving margin for a 10-8 in the round I lost. Those were my first and my last fight for the UFC. And in both cases, they were fights that I believe that the judges could have given it to me, but things like this happen.”

Marina Rodriguez
PhotoCred: FanSided

At UFC Washington in December, Rodriguez drew with Cynthia Calvillo after handling her opposition on the feet in the first two rounds but dropped the third when she was controlled on the ground. It was a situation that was reminiscent of her first career draw but in reverse order.

Looking to rekindle her momentum, the Thai Brasil representative was then matched with a fellow countrywoman and perennial top contender. A fight that was easily the biggest of her career to this point. On May 2 in Oklahoma City, it was to be Rodriguez vs. former title challenger, Claudia Gadelha.

Unfortunately … fate had other plans.

As the spread of COVID-19 began taking its toll around the world, everyone was forced to adapt. Therefore leading to all sports temporarily shutting down. However, the UFC wasn’t willing to bow out as silently as the others.

Fighters were pulled from fights as cards were canceled and reshaped. Due to Rodriguez being a resident of her native Brazil, she was stuck in her country and unable to fight on the new fight date that was May 13. Instead, Gadelha got a replacement opponent in the form of Angela Hill.

Hill, a similarly styled fighter to Rodriguez, would put on a great fight with the top contender but ultimately drop a controversial decision. After watching the fight unfold and believing that Hill did enough to win, Rodriguez feels even better about the potential matchup.

“Yes, it is always frustrating to do a camp and prepare for a fight that doesn’t happen,” Rodriguez said, “And it’s even worse when you see that everything you trained and prepared for indeed worked against the opponent.

“I would still be very interested in having the match with [Gadelha]. I really believe I have the tools to beat her.”

Marina Rodriguez
PhotoCred: UltraSports.TV

Obviously, it goes without saying that the biggest story of 2020 for everyone has been COVID-19 and it’s unprecedented impact. What makes it arguably worse for professional fighters is that a good majority of their income is gained when they fight. They don’t have guaranteed contracts like all other team sports.

For many, they’ve been taking it in stride and making things work as best as they can. Still eager to fight and put on a show, Rodriguez is no different. Fans or no fans, fighting on an island, or landlocked.

“The quarantine made me even more focused on training,” she stated, “Since we signed to fight Gadelha in February we have been in camp and we are still at it today. Even though the entire world has been on hold we have been able to keep our work the same as usual. We work a bit differently than most teams, we work more on private sessions anyways, so things have been going as usual with my head coach Marcio Malko, my grappling coach Igor Soares and my teammate Daiana Torquato, just with a few extra safety measures.

“Our focus is to train and do the best fight possible, we always look for the positive in life. With or without a crowd we just have to go in there and put on a show. The best thing is to fight, wherever it is. If it’s on the island we will be ready for it. I love the idea and we know that the UFC is more than capable of pulling this off and I am excited [by] the prospect of fighting there.”

In a division as deep as strawweight is, there is really no going wrong with any fighters that you put up against another. And it’s apparent that the UFC is seeing the potential in Rodriguez by originally matching her with Gadelha. Despite her draws, she’s still unbeaten and proving to be one of the most exciting fighters to watch.

Combine those two components together and who knows … maybe we’ll be seeing her getting a crack at gold sooner rather than later.

“I believe we are not that far from [a title shot],” Rodriguez expressed, “Today in the UFC, in my division, you don’t necessarily need to beat everyone ahead of you in the rankings to get a shot. If you have good fights and you keep winning you can get a shot. Just look at the current champ [Weili Zhang]. She beat a fighter that is no longer in the UFC, then beat Aguilar and Torres, the same fighters I beat in my second and third fight. So everything is possible. We will keep working and staying ready for when the time comes, and I know when I get my chance I will put on a great fight.”

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