The Specialists
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO... Ricco Rodriguez: The rise and fall of the former UFC heavyweight champion
Nov 8, 2009 - 2:09:21 PM

By Bob Teal, MMATorch Specialist

Ricco Rodriguez was born in 1977 and grew up in the greater New York area. He moved to Southern California as a young adult and studied Brazilian Jiu Jitsu under Rigan and Jean Jacques Machado. With their help, Rodriguez would compete in and win several grappling tournaments; including a victory at the Abu Dhabi Combat Club's submission grappling championship in 1998. Ricco would begin his mixed martial arts career the very next year and go on to win his first three bouts before losing to Bobby Hoffman at a Super Brawl event in Hawaii. After that defeat, Ricco would reel off ten straight victories earning his shot at the UFC heavyweight crown.

Rodriguez was clearly a gifted heavyweight fighter and his talent and heart would be realized in his UFC Heavyweight Championship bout in September of 2002 against the legendary Randy "The Natural" Couture. Ricco was an underdog in the bout, but he possessed all the tools required in order to prevail against Couture. He was big, good on the ground, and was capable of putting Couture on his back.

In the first round, Couture threw solid punching combinations sprinkled in with a couple of takedowns. Ricco seemed beleaguered and was unable to establish any kind of rhythm. The second round would not get any better for Ricco. Couture took Rodriguez down and held him down while dispensing some ground and pound for the bulk of the round. Couture even came close to a possible referee stoppage in the waning moments of round two.

The third round saw Randy once again take Ricco down at the onset, but halfway through the tide started to change in favor of Rodriguez. With half a round to go, Ricco reversed his position and his fortunes when he took Randy down and delivered punishment until the end of that round. In the fourth and fifth rounds, Rodriguez once again put Randy on his back and began to grind him down with some overwhelming ground and pound. Eventually, mid-way through the fifth round, Couture tapped verbally securing the victory and the UFC Heavyweight Championship for Rodriguez.

Randy was 39 at the time and some thought this could be his final appearance in the octagon. Obviously we know better now that the Couture that Ricco faced on that September night was indeed still quite young in this sport. Rodriguez had ascended to the top of his sport at the age of 24. This triumph remains the defining moment in the career of Ricco Rodriguez.

In Ricco's very next fight he defended the heavyweight belt against “The Maine-ac” Tim Sylvia at UFC 41 in February of 2003. He was knocked out in devastating fashion by the 6-8 Sylvia in the very first round. He was subsequently sent to Pride to represent the UFC against Antonio Rodrigo "Minotauro" Nogueira. He lost in a controversial decision to Nogueira and then dropped another decision to Pedro Rizzo at UFC 45.

The Rizzo fight would prove to be the last for Ricco in the UFC. Rodriguez had defeated many established fighters during his peak in the Pride Fighting Championships and the UFC including Gary Goodridge, Jeff Monson, Pete Williams, Andrei Arlovski, and Paul Buentello. He was released from the UFC after testing positive for controlled substances and he continued to fight against less significant competition despite struggling with his weight and substance abuse issues over the following years.

Rodriguez has declared his struggle with drugs is over and he is now clean and sober. In fact, he has apparently been training with the Wolfslair in Widnes, England. The Wolfslair is the same MMA school that currently features UFC fighters Michael Bisping and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.

Rodriguez has fought recently for the Kings of Kombat promotion in August of 2009 defeating Justin Howard via TKO in round 1. That makes it two victories in a row for the former UFC champion.

Ricco's MMA future is uncertain at best. Years of weight and drug use issues can unquestionably decay the talent of any fighter. Whether or not he can get back to the form we saw in 2002 against The Natural remains to be seen. Ricco Rodriguez was without a doubt one of the best heavyweights in Mixed Martial Arts in the first half of this decade and it appears he might be poised for a possible comeback. Regardless there should be no argument that the heavyweight division is more exciting with a viable and healthy Ricco Rodriguez.


Bob Teal is a lifelong resident of Cincinnati, Ohio. He is grateful for the opportunity to bring you up-to-date on fighters you might have forgotten about or perhaps never even knew. He welcomes any feedback and suggestions you have. Please feel free to email him at

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