Category Archives: Ricco Rodriguez

Post-Finals Reflection and Ramblings

One of the things I’ve always loved about fighting is that it is a prism through which a man’s true character can be viewed.  Never was that more evident to me than at last night’s IFL Finals, particularly in the bout between Ben Rothwell and Ricco Rodriguez.

If you’ve been following my coverage of the Finals, then you already know I am hopelessly biased in Rothwell’s favor.  But that doesn’t change what happened last night.  

To begin with, Rodriguez landed an accidental kick to Rothwell’s groin.  That’s bound to happen from time to time, but Rodriguez’s reaction to it – throwing up his hands in frustration, as if he believed the kick hadn’t hit Rothwell in the groin – was very telling. 

Trying to embarrass your opponent by basically accusing him of being a faker is a classless thing to do.  Rothwell countered by pointing at the big screen and telling Rodriguez to watch the replay so he could see for himself that the kick was a foul. 

By the third round, when Rothwell was clearly in control and on his way to a decision victory, Rodriguez got so frustrated he spat on Rothwell.  That’s just inexcusable.  He later tried to write it off as his competitive nature getting the best of him, but that doesn’t fly.  Spitting has never helped anyone win a fight, at least none I’ve ever heard of.

Rodriguez apologized for the incident after the fight, but as Rothwell said in the post-fight press conference, that doesn’t change much.  He still did it.  Rothwell accepted his apology, but clearly wasn’t about to forget it had happened.

“I’m just upset I didn’t knock him out for that,” he said afterwards, musing in the bar with fellow fighters like Bryan Vetell (pictured with Rothwell above, obviously having a great time).

As for the other fights, we couldn’t have asked for a more exciting and dramatic climax to the season.  The Pitbulls jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but Rothwell’s win followed by Ryan McGivern’s complete domination of Fabio Leopoldo (now I know why the Silverbacks always say McGivern is one of their best fighters) brought things to a 2-2 tie with one bout left.

Andre Gusmao looked fierce as he came down to the ring, without a hint of nervousness.  A little over a minute into the first round, I could see why.  He dispatched Mike Ciesnolevicz – a very tough 205-pounder – with relative ease, knocking him unconscious with a knee from the clinch.  With that the horde of Pitbulls (both those officially and unofficially on the team) poured into the ring for an emotional celebration. 

It was a great moment for the IFL.  You could really see that these guys took the team seriously, that it wasn’t just a gimmick to them.  They picked Gusmao up on their shoulders and paraded him around the ring.  The Silverbacks – even those who had won and should have been savoring their victories – could only watch.   

While you can’t help but feel for the Silverbacks, it does seem like a good thing for the league to have a new champion.  It proves that the competitive balance has improved, and if they had to lose their title there couldn’t have been a more deserving team than the Pitbulls to take it.

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Filed under Ben Rothwell, IFL, MMA, Ricco Rodriguez, Sports

Blogging the IFL Finals: Day 3

When Ricco Rodriguez finally got on the scales at last night’s weigh-in, he answered a lot of questions without ever saying a word. For most fighters, the weigh-in is pretty routine. But with Ricco, who has struggled with fluctuating weight gain, you could almost hear the collective sigh of relief from the crowd when they saw what appeared to be a well-conditioned version of the former UFC champ.

Simply put, Ricco looked strong, like a fighter who’s actually been training full-time. Renzo Gracie told me afterwards that Ricco had been training for a different fight that fell through, so it was a no-brainer when he found out that Tom Sauer was hurt.

It’s difficult to read how Ben Rothwell is taking all this. Some sources claim he’s upset about the change of opponents, though others say he’s just very focused, having realized the importance of this bout. I can’t say, except that he’s not as eager to talk to members of the media as he usually is.

Before yesterday’s weigh-in (which was moved from Hooters to a conference room by the finicky Athletic Commission in order to accommodate the large crowd), I saw him trying on gloves and attempted to lighten the mood by remarking that for twenty dollars I could find him a brake pad to put in the padding of his gloves. Not even a smile from Rothwell, who replied, “You think I need it?”

I left it alone at that point and went to stand next to Maurice Smith, who never fails to entertain. This time Maurice entertained us all by asking pointless questions after the weigh-in somehow turned in to an impromptu rules meeting by the referees from the Athletic Commission, thus making the whole thing take even longer. I was amused by Maurice’s antics, but Matt Lindland seemed less so.

Maurice and I, along with IFL Commissioner Kurt Otto, were guests last night on The Ron Show — an internet radio show that, for reasons I can’t explain, continually shows up at our events. We talked about O.J. Simpson, about Maurice’s fondness for leather, everything except tonight’s fights. That’s generally how it goes with Maurice. At least you’re never bored when he’s around.

I have to say that I genuinely have no idea what’s going to happen tonight. The Rothwell-Rodriguez fight has stolen the spotlight, and not many people are even talking about which team might win the championship at this point. It could come down to who wins in the heavyweight division, but all the other fights are tough to pick, too.

One side bet I have going is on the lightweight bout. I’m picking Bart Palaszewski over Deividas Taurosevicius, but IFL publicist Greg De Sanctis (seen here with his new friend from Hooters, where we reconvened after the weigh-in to watch UFC Fight Night) is taking Taurosevicius. I just don’t see how he’s going to beat Bart, who is as tough as anyone in the 155-pound division when he’s healthy. The guy’s a great striker and a strong wrestler. As long as he’s not still dealing with nagging injuries, I think he should take it.

As usual, we’ll be doing a live play-by-play of the event on IFL.tv tonight, though I’ll try and post some quick results here as well. After the event I’m sure I’ll get a chance to sit down and lay out a more detailed description of the evening’s festivities. Until then…

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Filed under Ben Rothwell, IFL, MMA, Ricco Rodriguez, Sports

Blogging the IFL Finals: Day 2

Since this is an MMA blog, I’m going to spare you most of my feelings on air travel and move on to more interesting topics, but first I have to say this: Jet Blue is what airlines should aspire to be.  They have TV’s in every seat, they apologize for delays by letting you watch free PPV movies, and they’re genuinely nice to you instead of treating you like they’re doing you a favor letting you hitch a ride on their plane.  Yesterday, the stewardess insisted on giving me an extra snack because it went well with the coffee I was drinking.  I ask you, would American Airlines ever do that?  And the snack was delicious!!!!

There.  That’s over with now.  Let’s move on.

I arrived in Florida late last night and got a quick bite to eat at the hotel bar with IFL publicist Greg De Sanctis.  If you haven’t checked out the IFL site recently, you should do so immediately after this post so you can read Greg’s first-person account of working out at Miletich Fighting Systems.  It didn’t go well for him, but the story is great.

Greg informed me that while our collective boss – VP of Communications Joe Favorito – didn’t personally tell him he did a good job on the story, he did tell other people that he liked it.  That’s about as close to a compliment as you’re going to get from Joe.  He’s an old school hard-ass in many ways, but he’s also very good at his job.  He recently wrote a book about sports marketing – that’s how much he knows about it.

Much of our conversation last night centered on the fight between Ben Rothwell and Ricco Rodriguez, which all of the IFL employees are talking about, even the ones who don’t know or care much about MMA (which is, sadly, many of them).

I called Ben on Sunday night when I first learned of this change in opponents, but he never called me back, which is odd for him.  When I relayed this to Greg he just shook his head and said, “He’s not going to talk to you about it.”

Apparently, I’m not the only one who’s tried.

I can’t blame Rothwell for being nervous/upset/focused.  I mean, he trained for Tom Sauer, and then a few days before the fight he finds out he’s facing Ricco Rodriguez, who is a great grappler, who beat Randy Couture once upon a time, and who can still be a major threat when he’s in shape.

And oh yeah, from what I’m hearing, he’s in shape.  Seriously.

I haven’t seen Ricco yet.  The moment of truth will be when he steps on the scales at this afternoon’s weigh-in, which, I might add, is at the always-classy Hooters.  Perhaps you’ve heard of it.  They’re known for their wings, if I’m not mistaken.

But I don’t think Rothwell should see this as negative twist of fate.  I think it’s a great opportunity.  If he beat Tom Sauer, no one would care.  They’d continue to claim that the IFL is protecting him (not true, just one of the side effects of the team format), that he hasn’t beaten anyone who matters, etc.  If he beats Ricco, it’s kind of a big deal.  Sure, it’s not the Ricco of old, but he’s still doing pretty well lately.  Then again, none of that matters unless Rothwell wins.

The other big news is that ticket sales are down.  It’s no secret.  I’m sure a lot of the IFL haters will claim this means the company is going to fold before the weekend, but it doesn’t.  I think the IFL knew they’d suffer from low ticket sales when they came down here, but they’re doing it to create some sort of fan base in Florida for future ventures.

Otherwise, coming here makes no sense.  We’ve never been here before, don’t have any teams here or fighters from here, and we’re holding our finals here on a Thursday night – the same night the University of Miami plays Texas A&M in an ESPN Thursday Night Football game.  It’s a perfect storm for low ticket sales, in other words.

And yet, the card is solid.  Rothwell-Rodriguez should be a hell of a fight.  The undercard has guys like Ryan Schultz, Brad Blackburn, and Rolles Gracie (making his MMA debut).  And the team championship match-up has bouts like Bart Palaszewski against Deividas Taurosevicius and Andre Gusmao against Mike Ciesnolevicz.  I realize those names don’t mean as much to the larger MMA world, but I’ve been covering these guys for a while and they’re legit.

Personally, I’m very excited about it.  Almost as excited as I am about the wings at Hooters later today.  Don’t worry, I’ll post again tonight and let you know all about it.

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Filed under Ben Rothwell, IFL, MMA, Ricco Rodriguez, Sports

The Enigma of Ben Rothwell

Ben RothwellYesterday I learned that due to a biceps injury to Tom Sauer, former UFC heavyweight champ Ricco Rodriguez has been named as a replacement opponent for Ben Rothwell in the IFL Finals this Thursday. At first I was very excited, but now I’m just very nervous.

Having gotten to know Rothwell on a personal basis this past year, it’s often hard for me to set aside my personal feelings about the guy like a good sports writer ought to be able to do. But since this is my blog and not the IFL site, I’m just going to admit it: I like Ben Rothwell.

He’s a good fighter who doesn’t get the respect he deserves from a lot of hardcore MMA fans who feel he’s somehow being propped up by the IFL. He trains hard, he puts everything he has into his fights, and he wants to entertain the crowd rather than win a boring fight at any cost.

But beyond his abilities in the ring, I think Rothwell is a very genuine and good person. If I were forced to level one criticism against him, it’s that he’s a bit too sensitive.

The first time I realized this was soon after the Roy Nelson fight, which Rothwell won via a very close decision. I called him the following week for something pretty innocuous, probably to get a quick quote from him on an unrelated topic, and the next thing I knew we were talking for an hour.

At first he was almost hostile, as many of the Miletich fighters can be with the media, complaining about something I’d written. When I pointed out that I was just quoting Ken Shamrock, who had made a disparaging remark about the decision, his tone became suddenly vulnerable, like a hurt child.

“Why does he have to talk about people like that?” he said. “Why does one person have to get disrespected in order for someone else to get respect?”

Here I tried to explain what I took to be the Ken Shamrock world view, wherein every day is a constant battle for respect, but I don’t know how effective I was at communicating this. We kept talking and I began to see Rothwell as a regular guy under a lot of pressure, wondering if he was as good as people (like me) said he was, wondering if he could shoulder the weight he was being asked to carry.

I found this very refreshing. Most fighters want you to think that they believe themselves to be indestructible. They never seem to even consider the possibility of defeat. But Rothwell was more honest than that. If anything, he was a little too concerned about his own image, not wanting to seem overly confident.

Now when I write about Ben, it’s extremely difficult. In a way I consider us friends, as much as two people in our respective positions can ever be friends, and I know that he reads everything I write and probably over-analyzes it if it’s about him.

When we didn’t get a chance to talk much at the IFL Semifinals (which were in New Jersey and thus allowed me to spend more time at home in Queens instead of hanging around the hotel lobby for three days like at away events), he called me up the following weekend to make sure we were still on good terms. I told him we were, and I was glad to be able to say so.

This is one of the more surprising side effects of my job with the IFL. It’s hard not to like certain fighters and become emotionally involved with their careers and the outcomes of their fights.

For instance, I have a great deal of respect and affection for Bryan Vetell. I remember sitting ringside in Connecticut the night he got knocked out by Devin Cole, and seeing him lying there unconscious, his mouth piece on the mat next to his head, I got a sad, sinking feeling in my stomach.

That’s why I’m somewhat conflicted about Ben’s fight with Ricco Rodriguez, who is a very capable and dangerous fighter when he wants to be. I’m trying to be impartial, telling myself that I just want to see a good fight, but that’s not true.

I want Ben to win. I want him to win big. And I feel bad about feeling this way, about rooting for one guy over another just because I like him as a person. But I can’t help it. So I might as well own up to it.

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Filed under Ben Rothwell, IFL, MMA, Ricco Rodriguez, Roy Nelson, Sports