Ricco Rodriguez was born in San Jose, California, and it wasn’t long before his family relocated. He spent his elementary years in Jersey City Heights, before moving to Paterson, New Jersey. After moving from Paterson, Rodriguez attended Toms River Intermediate East. It was here that he first pursued wrestling. He prides the school’s program and Coach Corall for the success he later achieved. After spending his freshman year at Toms River North High School wrestling under Coach Curtis’ guidance, the family found themselves relocating once again. Ricco transferred to Tottenville High School in Staten Island and continued his wrestling career.
After graduating, Rodriguez recognized that his family did not have the money for him to attend college. With $150.00 and his love for the sport of wrestling, Ricco moved across the country to California to pursue his dream. Shortly thereafter, he secured a job at Gold’s gym, in Redondo Beach. It was there that a chance meeting with Erik Paulson (the first American Light-Heavyweight Shooto champion in Japan) that led Ricco to begin training in the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with the Machado brothers.
In 1997, Ricco Rodriguez became one of the small group of Americans to win a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu World Championship, taking the Blue Belt Absolute title. He took gold in +99 kg in the first ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship in 1998, bronze in the Absolute (open weight) division in 1999 and Silver in the +99 kg category in 2000.
That same year Rodriguez began his MMA career with a win against Rocky Batastini. He won several of his first matches before losing to Bobby Hoffman at the Superbrawl 13 event in Hawaii. During this time, Ricco was asked to be a sparring partner for Mark Kerr who later assisted him in signing his first MMA contract with PRIDE Fighting Championship. In 2000, Rodriguez moved to Japan where he trained with Takada Dojo for Takada-San. With his new training partner, Kazushi Sakuraba, Ricco was 3-0 against Gary Goodridge, Giant Ochiai, and John Marsh in PRIDE Fighting Championship.
After moving back to the U.S., Rodriguez began training with Tito Ortiz and team punishment including Razor Rob McCullough, Tiki Ghosn, and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson. It was their influences and training philosophy that prepared Rodriguez for the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Rodriguez's first UFC match was at UFC 32 against former UFC Heavyweight Champion, and formerly #1 ranked pound for pound fighter in the world Andrei Arlovski. Rodriguez went on to win this fight by TKO in his home state of New Jersey at what is now known at the Izod Center.
Rodriguez went on to beat Pete Williams (UFC 34), Jeff Monson (UFC 35) and Tsuyoshi Kohsaka (UFC 37) to earn a shot for the vacant heavyweight championship against future UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture at UFC 39 in 2002. Rodriguez once again found himself on the east coast as he went on to win the UFC Heavyweight Championship. In 2006, Rodriguez received his black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu from Jean Jacques Machado.
In the last ten years, Rodriguez has won over 50 MMA fights, and continues to fight internationally. He feels incredibly grateful to be able to continue to do something he truly loves. Although his family did not have the money for him to receive a “formal” education, Rodriguez believes that NJ Wrestling programs provided him with a master’s degree by allowing him the opportunity to live and travel around the world, learn different languages and cultures, and ultimately introduced him to people who have become lifelong friends and mentors.
In recent years, Rodriguez has returned to New Jersey. He currently lives in Hoboken, where he spends each day doing what he loves- working as a coach/trainer. He maintains that none of his success would have been possible without the support of his best friend and guardian angel George Somers, as well as his MMA coach Saul Soliz who always believed he would be a UFC Heavyweight Champion.