Nick Rodriguez on Polaris and the Road to ADCC

Nick Rodriguez isn’t going to make you feel good about your BJJ. On May 25th he’s competing on the main card of Polaris, he’s the Fight 2 Win Purple Belt Super Heavy Weight champ, and he took gold at the West Coast ADCC trials and has a mind to go and win the main tournament. Oh and he’s only been training BJJ for a year.

I’ve got to be honest, Nicky is cocky – very much so. I’d had a look over some of his Instagram posts and I wasn’t sure what I was going to think about him, but say what you want, the man deserves to be confident. He’s ambitious, and he’s got a work ethic like you’ve never seen. As much bravado as he has, it’s not without reason. I wanted to look at what’s made Nicky the way he is, and the path he’s taken to get here. What made the man so murderous after a mere 12 months on the Jiu Jitsu mats?

Wrestling

Nick when it comes to grappling by any means. Athletics started for Nick Rodriguez with wrestling, kicking off in sixth grade in 2008. He’d tried some other sports before that, but nothing really caught Nick like the American martial art. That’s not to say he found it easy though.

“At the time it was the hardest thing I ever did. I liked the independency… On the mat you put the work in, or you don’t.”

From talking to him I think it’s this experience that set the tone for Nicks career. Wrestlers have a common theme of putting their nose to the grindstone, but Nick takes it to another level, and I can’t help but respect that. He understands that putting in the time, putting in the rounds and simply outworking people is how you’re going to get where you’re going. He didn’t expect to be winning as soon as he got there, and I’m not sure he could have had a better starting attitude.

“Just knowing that I got my ass whopped today, but if I just learn a little bit then soon enough I’ll be able to beat that dude up… that kick-started my training right there.”

He excelled at high school, ranking seventh in the state in his senior year. That wasn’t enough though. Nick feels that he didn’t take the top spot not because of his speed, not because of his technique, but because of his strength.

“I gained 50 pounds between the last match at states and the first match in college. I went from 170 pounds to 220, and it was the best decision I ever made.”

Again, that same work ethic. Putting on that kind of mass in such a short time frame is intense, and it required some serious work, and it’s not like he put on any chub. If you see Nicky Rodriguez he is enormous, and he is shredded. I doubt a single pound of that fifty was body fat. He’s done things properly, and I think it’s wrestling that’s really brought that mentality out in him.

“Nothing prepares you – mentally or physically – for life, like the sport of wrestling.”

Next it was on to college, but that didn’t last a long time. He started modelling just after the first year, and quickly realised that school wasn’t for him. I can’t blame him, if your heart isn’t not in the subject, and there’s greener grass so nearby, why would you stay where you are?

“Why would I pay for this school stuff when I can make money modelling?”

Nick Rodriguez find Jiu Jitsu

In 2015, Nick finishes a few classes the drops out of college to model. He starts to make some good money in the fitness industry, but then his life takes another turn. In May 2018 Nick is convinced by a friend to come down to a class, just to try and keep fit for the modelling career, and was hooked almost instantly. Like so many of us he got that BJJ bug, and the obsession crept in.

“It’s a passion now for sure.”

Two weeks later, Grappling Industries. He submits 3 of the 5 guys he comes up against, beats a black belt by points, and takes it away from there. That’s not to say Nick knows a lot of BJJ.

“I don’t even know the basics. I don’t know how to break fall – I’m not going to practice getting fucking taken down, fuck that… All I know is how to take your back, and squeeze your face off, so that’s what I’m going to do.”

It simple, and it works. But it’s all based on instinct and physicality, and if he was going to reach any higher that needed to change.

“I had a problem learning technique. I had to adapt, and I had to learn how to learn… Jiu Jitsu helped me learn how to learn way better.”

Now, the focus is on learning the technique, not just on victory. He leaves wrestling in the wrestling room, and BJJ in the BJJ class. I get the impression from talking to Nick that his learning style is adapting over time.

“It’s alright to slow it down, take a tap here and there; you’re just trying to get better. Competition is where you gut it out.”

And how are the two worlds different for Nick?

“Jiu-Jitsu is way easier.”

I couldn’t help but laugh at that. He makes me feel distinctly inadequate. Nick did have good to say about BJJ though – he also think’s BJJ is fun, which I can relate to. I asked him to compare the mentalities.

“In Jiu Jitsu I think that knowledge wins. In wrestling, it’s all about who wants it more.”

I wonder about that though. If he was training for just two weeks and beating black belts I’m not certain how much he could know. It definitely seems that the physicality and the drive from wrestling is what got him gold that day.

Even if BJJ is easier, Nick is still heavily involved with the wrestling scene. To this day he’s still heading down to New Jersey Regional Training Centre twice a week.

“They’re all way better than me. It’s good, you know, because it humbles you. It’s good getting your ass kicked.”

Training With John Danaher

Wrestling practice is hard, harder than competition if you believe Nick. Maybe that’s why he finds the BJJ competition so easy? Sweat in training bleed in battle, as they say. Now he’s sweating at the blue basement five times a week, possibly the best spot in the world. But how does a man training for one year get to Renzo’s academy?

“So pretty much I worked my way up through a tier… I started off at a Ricardo Almeida Association, beat everybody there. Then they sent me off to Ricardo‘s where there are a bunch of UFC guys and really great grapplers, beat everybody in that room, and then Tom DeBlass’, beat everybody over there, then Renzo Gracie’s with Danaher, and now I’m trying to beat everybody there.”

So again, maybe the confidence is warranted. Over the four gyms he’s had a lot of training partners, and that’s probably had something to do with the rapid progression.

“when you’re beating the same guys over and over, I don’t think your progress keeps going. You have to get your as whopped in order to get better, so I’m constantly mixing practice partners. I crave for somebody to take me down, for somebody to tap me.”

I guess this is a lesson we can all take with regards to training and improvement. Nick knows that pushing himself is the way he’s going to improve, and the best way for him to accelerate. If he can’t find people who can take him down and tap him then he’ll take the bad position, let other people take the dominant spot and work from there.

“If I play bottom or play legs in practice I’ll get my ass whopped… I don’t give a shit.”

Still, it’s not an easy life, and maybe at 220lbs he’s not facing the challenge he needs.

“Well, it was Gordon, but now he’s hurt. Like, I’m training with really good people, but when we go live… nobody touches me.”

And with Gordon out and injured this might be just the time to accelerate to the same level.

“…I’ll whoop his ass real soon. He knows it’s coming.”

He’s been training a year and thinks he’s coming to par with possibly the best grappler on the planet. He’s either progressing supremely quickly or mad, but Nick talks with so much confidence you can’t help but believe him. It only took six weeks or so at Renzo’s to take bronze at the East Coast ADCC trials, and then a couple more months to take gold at the West coast with ease. Since then it’s competitions every other weekend, taking the F2W Purple Belt Super Heavy Weight championship. Now, the competitions are taking him all over the country, and in fact the world – soon enough he’ll be at Polaris, here in England. For such a prestigious competition, I wondered if Nick planned on upping the anti, game planning, strategizing.

“No, it’s just more of the same, but I go hard every day. It’s just a bunch of hours with a bunch of killers. Nothing changes…. I haven’t looked at the opponent at all; the game plan never changes… It’s take you down, take your back, rip your head off.”

For all the confidence, Nick knows what he needs to work on.

“…I do work a lot of technical stuff, playing from the knees, sweeps, stuff like that. It’s not my preference, I don’t like it, but I do it a shit ton.”

Considering the environment he’s in, under the tutelage of Danaher, training with the likes of Garry Tonon, he’s going to realise the spots that need work. He’s mentioned before that legs are far from the strong point, but he’s working hard to patch it up, and finding ways around engaging opponents in those areas. I mean, good luck to anyone trying to take him down.

Nick is already looking beyond Polaris, with the ultimate goal being ADCC gold. Again though, he’s not fazed by the size of the competition, even if that is the ultimate goal.

“I don’t let the significance of anything affect my training or affect my mentality… When I tap my opponent then I’ll celebrate a little bit, feel that energy… but up until then I don’t even think about it.”

He’s also finding ways around his inexperience.

“I’m making sure my physicality is top notch, because I don’t have the technique yet, it’s just true. If you guys aren’t working as hard I am I’m going to capitalize on it.”

Honestly I wonder if so much competition has numbed him to the nerves of the bright lights, of feeling any excitement. Now, it’s just a chance for him to go after it properly.

“Practice is fun, but when I can let loose, having no regrets, attacking another person, that’s fun to me.”

WWE Aspirations

It seems like Nick is planning on cleaning up the competition scene, but maybe there’s a silver lining. The ultimate goal is WWE. He’s tried out, and just waiting to hear back on whether he’s in – this might have been the only thing in the entire interview that Nick wasn’t dead certain about. The goal is to be the best at whatever he does, but maybe that won’t be grappling. He’s got the WWE, he’s got TV opportunities, and he might be clearing up in the grappling world.

“If I could sign with WWE that would be a big step in my career for sure… Jiu Jitsu is fun, but you wanna take 50k from ADCC, or 500k from being on the road with WWE?”

It might not be the goal we’re all after, but he knows what his success looks like and knows how to get it. Nick is doing well – far too well perhaps. A lot of people might hope he gets his WWE spot and decides to move on from sub grappling. It’s not all given to him though. Nick knows what he’s weak at, knows what needs work, and knows how to get further:

“I plan on being rich and famous by at least 25. I want it all… My work ethic, my persistence, that’s what’s got me this far at 22 years old – wait till I’m 25, wait till I’m 30, see what I accomplish.”

Nick wants a lot for himself, but it’s not all about him. He can be very grateful:

“As far as motivating me, my family motivates me more than anything… Knowing that everybody around me is working hard, having my surroundings being what they are definitely helps me.I’m grateful to anyone who’s paid attention to me.”

For anyone starting off BJJ and wrestling, anyone looking to start off their journey and hoping for the same trajectory as him, Nick had this to say:

“Stay consistent. It’s a hard road but it doesn’t last forever. You’re in a ten minute match, you’re dead tired, remember it’s only a ten minute match. It’s ten minutes of your day, dedicating as much effort as you can… that’s what separates you.”

Think Nick Rodriguez has what it takes to beat Ash Amos? Bet on Polaris here.

Robbie Diserens

Training MMA out of Urban Warriors Academy, because I'm still not sensible enough to avoid getting punched in the face. One day I might be a good enough writer to make a living via combat sports without getting brain damage. You can follow my fighting stuff on instagram @diserensmma, and all my articles via twitter @DiserensRobert.