Juan “Juanky” Rodriguez is a Puerto Rican fighter who learned the value of self-defense before ever stepping into a martial arts gym. Though known for its beauty, the island of Puerto Rico also has a high crime rate, which can make life challenging. The toughness Juan Rodriguez developed in his early youth would translate well to the world of fighting. He now trains in Florida at American Top Team Black Boxx and is hoping to bring home his second championship title on June 2nd.
How were you first introduced to MMA?
"I started at a local Jiu Jitsu school that I found in my area in Florida. I didn't have any experience but I grew up in Puerto Rico and it was a tough life. You have to know how to defend yourself and I wanted to know more. I trained here and there doing some boxing and then American Top Team Black Boxx opened up nearby. I started going there and fell in love with it.
When I first started, I never thought I would compete. I have been doing Jiu Jitsu tournaments since I was 15 or 16 years old. I love the adrenaline of competition and I guess I wanted a little more. When I turned 18 and was legal age to fight, I talked to the gym owners about it and we picked up from there.
Was moving to Florida a big change and how do you like it now?
"I live a little outside of Orlando. I came here from Puerto Rico because it was warm. Visited my aunt in Connecticut and couldn't handle it. It is a little humid in Florida, but I wouldn't have the life I do if I wasn't here. I wouldn't have started fighting, met my girlfriend or found my manager.
At 22 years old you are still pretty young. Do you have anything you want to accomplish in your amateur career before turning pro?
"I want to get this belt. This is my tenth fight coming up on June 2nd. The fight is for the World Class Fight League (WCFL) promotion in Tampa. I already have the American Combat League title.
It is generally agreed by industry professionals that the amateur career is where you should make your mistakes and try new things. Usually, this means changing weight classes or fighting tough opponents, but Juan Rodriguez made one exciting amateur choice that he won't soon forget.
"I went to corner a training partner for a fight and one of the other fighters had a girlfriend who was nine months pregnant. The show ran late and he got the call, so he had to leave before his bout. I stepped in and took the fight right there at the venue. It was a dumb thing to do but I was just excited. I had no training camp and was not prepared, but I won via armbar.
How often do you train?
"When I'm not in camp, I train five times a week. When I'm in camp it is twice a day with one day off. Fighting is hard on the body and recovery is important. Just the other day I got dinged up in sparring. I took an ax kick to the shoulder. It's not injured but it is just annoyingly sore.
What do you do or take for recovery after hard sessions?
"Before I started taking Receptra CBD oil I could feel my joints getting achy. Back when I first started training around 15 years old none of that ever bothered me. Then time catches up. My joints weren't as flexible as they use to be and there was always inflammation. The Receptra Targeted Topical is everyone's favorite. If someone is hurting after practice we pass it around. I love it.
Do you also work a regular job?
"Not everybody makes the money they want fighting and especially not as an amateur. I was just teaching at the gym for a while but bills needed to be paid. I also do Pizza Hut delivery. They pay me and feed me. I love pizza and I need to gain some weight, so it's not a bad deal.
What does your family think about your fight life?
"This is my dilemma. And a lot of us go through it. The support is not there from everyone. My sister goes to my fights and pushes me to succeed, but my mom doesn't like it. She knows it's what I want to do but she wanted me to be more white-collar than a cage fighter. I understand. If I had kids I don't know that I would want them to fight. That would be hard to watch.
What is the most difficult part of being an MMA fighter?
"The balance of family, training and bad days in the gym. Say someone got the best of you. That can get you down sometimes. If you carry that energy it can ruin your whole week. It's all about balance.
What can fans expect from Juan Rodriguez this year?
"I am going for my second amateur belt and going pro by the end of the year. You can also expect to see me showcase my stand up. A lot of people sleep on me because they think I am just a Jiu Jitsu fighter. I like to bang too. I am comfortable wherever the fight goes.