Just a few months ago, Nick Rodriguez was “just a white belt” with some crazy good wrestling skills and a knack for submitting his opponents even in the expert divisions of his local tournaments. Then the ADCC East Coast Trials happened, and suddenly, the jiu-jitsu world was made aware of the model-turned-grappler who was wearing a bronze medal after just six months of jiu-jitsu.
Of course, that was back in November, and not only is Rodriguez no longer “just a white belt” (having earned his blue belt on the podium at the East Coast Trials) — he’s also no longer “just” a third-place winner at the Trials. Yes, after under a year of jiu-jitsu experience, Rodriguez won the West Coast Trials and will be competing at the most prestigious grappling event in the world.
Rodriguez was participating in an intense training regimen back when he won bronze in November, and the difference in his place on the podium isn’t a reflection of any chances in his routine. He still trains jiu-jitsu and wrestling twice a day in addition to lifting, though now that he has ADCC to prepare for, he says he plans on training at Renzo Gracie Academy full time “once he figures everything out” with his sponsors.
Rodriguez’s victory may come as a surprise to some people, but he never had any doubts about his chances. He expressed his hunger for ADCC back in November, and he claims that this time around, he “knew” he was going to win. “I train with the best in BJJ as well as wrestling, so there is no reason why I can’t take out some of the top guys in this sport,” he told the Jiu-Jitsu Times. “I controlled every second of every match. I force my opponents to react the way I want them to react through technique and imposing my will when needed.”
In fact, Rodriguez didn’t even bother to look at his bracket, and he says that he didn’t know “anyone’s name or face” before he competed against them. “There was no one to be concerned about,” he says. “I train to beat everyone in every position, and I know my capabilities. My gameplay never changes: sub to win.”
Although this unexpected up-and-comer brings much of his wrestling experience onto the jiu-jitsu mats, it would be a mistake to dismiss him as just another meathead who doesn’t try to advance beyond out-muscling his opponents. Rodriguez had a submission-heavy performance at the Trials, and his gold medal match was won via rear naked choke against Jon Hansen. He expects that by the time he competes in the Championship, he’ll be even more advanced in his technique.
“By the time ADCC comes around, I will be a whole different animal. I will be technically fluid with every movement and have twice as much knowledge as I do now. I’m slowly picking up bits and pieces to this jiu-jitsu puzzle, and it’s coming together nicely. The system that John Danaher has instructed many of Renzo Gracie athletes to use is simply flawless when fully acquired. Taking steps towards understanding this system will surely elevate my game far past most people’s expectations.”
All that said, Rodriguez is aware that it’s the exception rather than the norm for someone with his rank and amount of experience in jiu-jitsu to qualify for what is essentially the Olympics of our sport. He doesn’t believe, however, that the odds should convince newer practitioners to count themselves out. “To anyone who is looking to jump into the competition world of BJJ, time on the mat is everything,” he says. “Experience and knowledge is king. The more matches you have and the more hours you put on the mat make all the difference. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. As far as confidence goes, you can’t have a single ounce of doubt in your body. Mentally prepare yourself for hand-to-hand tactical war. And always remember: real men don’t pull guard.”