Nick Rodriguez: Wrestle with me and I’ll ‘make you a highlight reel’

Nick Rodriguez spoke to Grappling Insider about his upcoming WNO match against Elder Cruz, and called for matches against Felipe Pena and Tim Spriggs.

On Friday, January 21, ADCC silver medalist Nick Rodriguez will make his second career Who’s Number One (WNO) appearance when he takes on Checkmat’s Elder Cruz in a highly anticipated match.

In many ways, Rodriguez and Cruz are the same type of grappler. Both are explosive athletes and superb takedown artists. Both bring a wrestling-inspired mentality to competition, looking to break their opponents with pace and pressure. It’s an approach to grappling that Rodriguez has perfected, with his run at the 2019 ADCC’s ushering in the importance of wrestling at the highest levels of submission grappling.

“I don’t like to take too much credit,” Rodriguez told Grappling Insider, “but I do feel like my style and presence on the mat opened the eyes to other grapplers in saying if you have efficient wrestling and heavy top pressure, you can beat a lot of these guys. You can shut down their game.”

Cruz has used that gameplan — along with relentless, technical guard passing — to make a name for himself as perhaps the best brown belt in the world. For his part, Rodriguez is confident Cruz will try to wrestle with him.

“I think he’ll stand with me. Elder seems like a tough wrestler.”

But whether Cruz wrestles or not, Rodriguez keeps the same gameplan.

“No matter who you are, if you pull guard in front of me, I’m gonna pass you and I’m gonna take your back and choke you,” he said. “And if you wrestle with me, I’m gonna put you down and make you a highlight reel…

“Once we get into the scrambles, he’s either gonna choose to concede to turtle, which I’ll attempt to take his back, or he’ll concede to mount, and I have a few different things I can do from there.”

“I was just doing what’s best for me and my future”

In Rodriguez’s first WNO appearance — a March 2021 decision win over two-time ADCC champion Yuri Simoes — he was a representative of the famed Danaher Death Squad. But after that team disbanded in July, Rodriguez soon joined teammates Craig Jones, Nicky Ryan, and Ethan Crelisten to form The B-Team in Austin, TX.

Although Rodriguez has technically changed teams, the change is largely in name only.

“I was just doing what’s best for me and my future,” Rodriguez said about the move to The B-Team. “I see guys like Nicky Ryan and Craig Jones are really good instructors. Guys like Ethan Crelisneten, Damien Anderson, Nick Ortiz, we’ve all trained under John [Danaher] for years and years, so it was pretty much a no-brainer for me.

“I see how good I got training with DDS, and the majority of DDS is still together, just under a different name here at B-Team. So all of my coaches, essentially, I’ve kind of stuck with them. It’s not just one guy that teaches us at DDS it’s the accumulation of the room all together. It’s the conversations we have after practice figuring out moves, that’s how we get better.”

As for who is the best coach at The B-Team, Rodriguez doesn’t hesitate one second.

“Nicky Ryan. He might be the best coach in the world. He’s insanely good,” said Rodriguez. “From a young age he was just exposed to a high level of grappling and he’s been able to able inherit how to teach. It’s one thing, you have really good athletes who can perform, but not many of them can teach well at all.”

“Maybe they’re intimidated by the physicality of my grappling”

It comes as no surprise that Rodriguez’s primary goal for 2022 is winning the ADCC Championships, both the heavyweight division and the absolute division (he mentions the “gold medals” he plans to earn). But before that event, which is scheduled to take place in September, Rodriguez has his eye on several potential world-class opponents.

“I know a guy like Felipe Pena is kind of retired or waiting for ADCC, but it would be good to get a match against a guy like that. Kaynan Duarte is another one. I’d like to hop on the mat with him. I think he’s a really good athlete, he knows exactly what he’s doing. I’d like to hop out there with him. Tim Spriggs won the last Who’s Number One tournament; that would be a good match for me.”

Spriggs, the current WNO heavyweight champion, has talked a bit of trash toward Craig Jones.

“Craig and him had a match a few years ago and not only did [Jones] pop his arm in competition but he also submitted him with a heel hook,” Rodriguez said. “I think Tim is maybe a bit intimidated. Some of the trash talk seems a bit amateur, like he’s just trying to go viral a bit like it’s not really from the heart. I think he has a little bit of fear in his heart for guys like Craig and me.”

As for Pena, who was a 2017 ADCC absolute champion, Rodriguez senses he might already have the mental advantage.

“I had the opportunity to train one time with Felipe,” he recalled. “Felipe and Buchecha [Marcus Almeida]. Felipe came by Renzo’s while we were still in New York, and I asked them to roll, and they just kind of completely shut me down and denied it. So I don’t know maybe they have a little too much pride, maybe they’re intimidated by the physicality of my grappling. But I’m down, I’m open to it all.”

While Rodriguez may be outright asking for matches with Pena, Duarte, and Spriggs, it’s clear he’s not “talking trash” in the traditional sense. Rather, he’s simply seeking out the highest level competition possible, and he’s supremely confident in his abilities.

In other words, don’t assume Rodriguez is talking just to talk.

“I’m less of a talker and more of a doer. I’m happy to settle things on the mats. I feel talk is a little cheap.”

How to watch: Who’s Number One takes place on Friday, January 21 and will air live on FloGrappling (subscription required).

Ben Coate

Ben has been involved with grappling, whether through wrestling or Brazilian jiu-jitsu, essentially his entire life. After wrestling throughout his childhood, Ben found Brazilian jiu-jitsu as a young adult and quickly fell in love. He has been training for over ten years and currently holds the rank of brown belt, and remains involved in both the MMA and BJJ scene. Ben has been writing about combat sports since 2017. He has interviewed and profiled some of MMA's biggest stars, including multiple UFC champions.

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