Brazilian Marina Rodriguez will have her first main UFC fight this Saturday when she faces American Michelle Waterson at UFC Fight Night. At 34, Rodriguez began training MMA just a decade ago, inspired in part by her brother Roberto, who was born with spina bifida and is a two-time Parapan American Games medalist.
Although he entered the world of mixed martial arts late, Rodriguez required just 10 fights to win a contract with the UFC and begin to show himself on the top circuit. The Muay Thai specialist has managed to position herself among the best of the strawweight (she is currently sixth in the ranking), thanks to her three wins and two draws in the UFC (13-1-2 in all promotions).
Following her last bout, a knockout of compatriot Amanda Ribas that awarded her the Performance of the Night award, Rodriguez seeks to continue her rise in a division that boasts some of the best female fighters in the UFC, including champion Rose Namajunas.
-See Rodriguez vs. Ribas at UFC 257 on ESPN + (solo en EE.UU.)
ESPN had the opportunity to talk with Rodriguez about his peculiar path to the UFC, the family bond that gave him momentum and his next fight, the first star of his career.
When did you fall in love with MMA?
When I started training Muay Thai, I had a (office) job and felt like I needed to have a little more physical and mental health. Have a healthier life. I got into a Muay Thai class with coach Marcio Malko, from the Thai Brasil Floripa team. That’s where I started my life in the fighting world. I was there for two or three years and we decided that I would have my first amateur fight. I won it, and we realized that this was the way.
What do you remember most about your first fight?
I remember I trained a lot because I was going to debut with an experienced fighter, and I beat her in the first round. It was a great experience because debuting with a victory was very rewarding, and it gave me the conviction that I was on the right track to pursue a career in MMA.
What is your favorite fight and why?
Let’s say it’s the last [ante Amanda Ribas] because it was my first knockout in the UFC, but I’m sure to change my mind as soon as I win another fight by knockout.
Before fighting, you worked in the world of graphic design. Now that you’re into this, what are your passions outside of the fighting world?
At this time, none. I only think about fighting. When I am not training, I am always thinking about the next step, my next training session. For me, everything is rest and training.
I know that your brother showed you MMA videos when you were children, was that where your passion for the sport came from before practicing it?
Long ago my brother [Roberto] I watched those events on television. He is a great fan of this universe and yes, he showed me some videos, but I didn’t pay much attention to him. And now it is very gratifying for him to be able to see his sister on the biggest stages of the fighting world. The world takes many turns.
Are there other athletes in your family?
Roberto goes swimming. He won a world championship in Canada in adaptive swimming. People ask me sometimes if he inspires me. He inspires me as an athlete because he left the city where he lived, he left his family to live alone in Sao Paulo to live his life as an athlete and dedicate himself one hundred percent. I remember watching it and thinking: ‘I can also make a living from sports. If he can, I can too. ‘ I started after that and everything worked out.
What are the most dangerous characteristics of Michelle Waterson?
She is a very experienced athlete, she does very good karate for this category, she has a very good kick. I think his difference is experience and his ability to kick. But I don’t think it’s anything to write home about either.
You are 34 years old. How much longer do you think you can fight at this level in the UFC?
My retirement is a long time away. Today, we see women fight until they are 42. For me, it is just seeing how I am going to handle myself until then, to see if my body can hold up, if it can stay at a high level. And that’s the only thing that can stop a fighter at this level, if your body and mind don’t follow desire. If all goes well, I’m going to keep fighting for as long as I can.
How do you feel about having your first main fight in the UFC?
It’s a great opportunity for me, even though I was given this fight just 11 days before the event. For me, it is a great gift to have a main fight against such an experienced athlete. I’m ready to show myself, show people that I can fight five rounds and be in this great event. It is a great gift and I will do my best.