Ricco Rodriguez will return to the Mohegan Sun, where he won the
UFC heavyweight title. | Photo: Jeff Sherwood
HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- Ricco
Rodriguez struggled to find work with prominent mixed martial
arts organizations for a number of years, until he signed with
Bellator Fighting Championships in February.
Rodriguez (47-11) will meet Seth
Bellator 48 on Saturday at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville,
Conn., site of the most significant victory of his career -- his
September 2002 triumph over Randy
Couture, which netted him the
UFC heavyweight crown. Rodriguez believes he has found a place
where he can finish out his career while competing against some of
the top heavyweights in the world.
“Taking this opportunity to fight with Bellator is really my final
calling,” he told Sherdog.com. “I don’t plan on going anywhere
else. I plan to compete in the heavyweight tournament, see how I
match up with the heavyweights, really push myself to be a champion
and finish my career here.”
While searching for a new professional home, Rodriguez grew tired
of the unprofessional methods utilized by certain smaller
promotions with which he had dealt. He has not competed in
back-to-back bouts within the same promotion in more than three
years, as he bounced from one regional stage to the next.
“When you’re working for a smaller organization, you’re almost
taking a chance in a circus act,” Rodriguez said. “It is awesome to
work for an organization that treats you with class and
Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney was admittedly hesitant to sign the
heavyweight, who has had issues with substance abuse in the past.
Historically, Bellator has not gone out of its way to sign UFC
washouts and former champions, and Rodriguez was no exception.
“A lot of people don’t understand the politics,” Rodriguez said.
“Bellator is looking for their own champions. They aren’t looking
for former champions. They are not the company that’s taking the
leftovers from the UFC and making them their champions. They are
producing guys that are in the Top 10 rankings.”
Rodriguez believes Bellator provides a unique platform through
which to showcase his talents. The opportunity to compete on
national television via MTV2 intrigues the 33-year-old, along with
the way Bellator raises and grooms its own fighters.
“They have a different formula. They are coming at their
demographics in a totally different way, and they are finding their
own athletes,” Rodriguez said. “Look at [Bellator welterweight
champion and 2008 Olympian] Ben Askren;
you think that these guys couldn’t compete in the UFC? I’m happy
with Bellator. I believe they care more about the fighters.”
On a 12-fight winning streak, the longest such streak of his
career, Rodriguez will lock horns with Petruzelli in his
promotional debut. He has designs on competing in the next Bellator
heavyweight tournament, a victory in which would lead to a crack at
“I’ve been wanting to fight better opponents,” Rodriguez said.
“Seth is very unorthodox, and he’s very elusive. He is a brown belt
in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Everybody thinks I should win, but a fight
is a fight. Anyone can get knocked out at any time. It’s just a
great opportunity to come back to [the] Mohegan Sun, where I won my
UFC heavyweight title, and show people I belong in Bellator.”