This is the fifth in the This Fighting Life series by Underground Blogger DeLeon DeMicoli, whose column is insipred by NPR's "This American Life." It covers in long essay form fighters and those that train.
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DeLeon DeMicoli writes and trains in San Francisco, CA. He is currently writing a novel on Mixed Martial Arts.
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Saturday, October 29th – Before the Storm
A week before mixed martial artist Kevin “K-Rod” Roddy (15-14-1) was expected to fight Jay Haas (9-11-0) at Cage Fury Fighting Championships 19 in Atlantic City, NJ on November 3rd, there was another battle he had to face first. Her name was Hurricane Sandy.
The national weather service predicted the hurricane would cause massive flooding with wind speeds reaching seventy-five miles-per-hour. Atlantic City and its twelve casinos were ordered to evacuate after water breached protective barriers and damaged the Boardwalk. The New York City subway system and commuter trains were shut down in preparation for the hurricane to make landfall on Monday, October 29th. Fifty million people were expected to be affected by flooding and power outages; some were told to evacuate before the storm hit. Was Kevin on that list?
He texted, “Not where I am. They are all over the place…Towns above me and below me…Its gettin crazy tho. I tried to go to the beach an hour ago. (The police) wouldn’t let me on. Its gonna hit hardest tonight tho.”
A week before his fight with Haas, Roddy was at Grappler’s Quest supporting friends competing.
“The tournament was in my town, Asbury Park. Nobody showed up though. It was gonna be no-gi today and gi tomorrow, but because of the storm, they moved it all to today. We got the perfect storm coming. It’s supposed to be really bad.”
The last time a “perfect storm” hit the east coast was back in 1991 when a nor’easter macro scale storm absorbed Hurricane Grace and transformed into a full on cyclone. The damage totaled over two hundred million dollars and became the premise for the 2000 Hollywood movie “Perfect Storm,” starring George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg.
If surviving cataclysmic storms wasn’t on Roddy’s fight record, it should have been, alongside notable opponents Jim Miller, Dennis Bermudez and Rafaello Oliveira.
If all of what you know about New Jersey and its residents stem from episodes of the “Sopranos” and “The Jersey Shore,” then Kevin breaks the stereotype. The tough guy bravado typically portrayed in “Jersey” pop culture doesn’t dangle by Kevin’s waist side. He’s the opposite of what you expect from a Jersey shore native – long hair, scruffy face – he’s laid-back with an aloha-spirited mentality that makes all of Bob Ross’ trees happy ones. But don’t go thinking his go-with-the-flow attitude is a weakness inside the cage. At any given opportunity during a fight the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt won’t have any qualms knocking your block off or submitting you.
Roddy’s first taste with MMA came when he was in third grade growing up in Bricktown, NJ. “Most people don’t believe me when I tell them this, but my dad made me watch the first UFC.”
Raised in a blue-collar community where playing sports was the norm, aspirations of becoming a professional fighter and competing came natural. He played soccer and hockey, and occasionally settled disputes with fistfights since “nobody takes sh—in Bricktown.”
“I remember watching the first fight when Gerard fought that Samoan guy and kicked him in the face, making his teeth fly out of his mouth. I was hooked after I saw that fight.”
With no interest in the usual suspects that hung on young boy’s walls like Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky or Barry Sanders, Kevin sought out a unique hero in Royce Gracie since he was, after all, “a small guy that was breaking limbs.”
Kevin got his first crack at combat sports in 2002 when he began training under Danny Ives (2001 Pan-American Champion) at a wrestling school on the Jersey Shore twice a week. That was where he met UFC vet and current Bellator fighter, Kurt Pellegrino.
From 2002 to 2004 Kurt had only one loss out of five fights. He was an up-and-coming contender and decided to open his own school in Bricktown, NJ. Roddy followed, and under Pellegrino’s tutelage, began competing in gi and no-gi tournaments. He made the transition to MMA in 2005, and received his black belt in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu under Kurt in 2010.
Roddy’s first pro fight was against Matt Perry (4-3-0) at Mass Destruction 20 in Boston, MA. The clean-cut red head controlled Perry from guard, throwing punches off his back. He swept Perry into mount and went for an armbar, but he couldn’t secure it. Later in the round, Perry attempted a knee bar and an ankle lock. Roddy, un-phased by the submission attempts, transitioned out and ended the round with vicious ground-and-pound.
In the second, Perry once again looked to secure an ankle lock, but Roddy wiggled his way out and lost top position. He placed Perry in his guard and attempted a triangle choke. Perry fought to survive, allowing Roddy to sweep him and switch from choke to arm bar, making Perry tap out.
“It was always my intention to be a pro fighter. The only reason I went to college and got an associates degree in Criminal Justice was to keep my health insurance so I could keep fighting.”
Luckily for Roddy, after his first pro fight, he began receiving calls from promoters to fight regularly, which resulted in him not needing a full-time job.
“I made a living fighting, it was a poor living, but still fun. I didn’t have to work a full-time job until I was about twenty-six years old.”
Roddy came into legal troubles that forced him to take up carpentry for some extra cash, but that in no way halted his training (he also teaches the advanced Jiu-jitsu class at Pellegrino’s Mixed Martial Arts twice a week).
“There was a period (2005-2008) when Kurt went down to ATT (American Top Team) in Florida to train. I didn’t roll gi much when he was gone for those three years. I focused on fighting and had about fifteen fights.”
During that time he and a few buddies would get summer rentals along the Jersey Shore to save on expenses.
“We bought mats and put them in our living room so we could train when we didn’t feel like going to the gym. We used to call ourselves Team No Job, Team NJ.”
In Pellegrino’s absence (2005-2008) Roddy trained with the Rhino Fight Team under coach Rob Guarino. A future UFC champ became a friend and peer during that time.
“Frankie (Edgar) was my training partner for years. We fought on the same cards, went to ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ tryouts together. I made it through to the final cut and he didn’t. A month later he was in the UFC.”
Frankie was paired up to roll with a “jacked monster” during tryouts. He threw the guy around like a ragdoll. How Roddy saw it, the UFC brass realized Frankie wasn’t fit for the “Ultimate Fighter” show, but instead fit for the UFC.
But what about Roddy, why didn’t he get the opportunity to square off against lightweight hopefuls Nate Diaz, Joe Lauzon and Gray Maynard on season five of “The Ultimate Fighter?”
“I was too small. It was at 155 (lbs.), but those guys were monsters on that show.”
Roddy may not have a strong work ethic when it came to a regular nine-to-five. But in terms of training and fighting he was always willing to put in the work so he could be prepared to fight when he got the call, even on short notice.
Side note: In mid-October while Roddy confirmed dates and times for this interview, he received a call on Wednesday, October 10th to fight on Saturday, October 20th for Shogun Fights in Maryland. His opponent pulled out on October 16th. Then on October 18th he accepted to fight Haas on November 3rd.
“If you stay in shape year around, you should be able to fight anyone, anytime.”
With over thirty pro fights under his belt, Roddy had the opportunity to fight for a number of organizations – CES MMA, M-1 Global, Global Fight League – but his favorite by far was fighting for Strikeforce on the Fedor vs. Silva card. His opponent was Jason McLean (6-5-0).
“Backstage everyone was really laid back, no one was uptight. Frank Shamrock came and shook everyone’s hand and told us ‘good luck, go prove something out there, maybe one day you’ll get the opportunity to be on another big show.’”
Roddy lost a split decision to McLean.
“I thought I won that fight. I beat him up pretty good.”
After watching a few of Roddy’s fights, you wouldn’t guess he was a black belt in BJJ. He can swing with the best of them with the intent to put on a show for the fans.
“I go to fight. I don’t lay on people for money.”
So who was his least favorite promoter he’s fought for?
“I went to this mountain resort called Gunstock in New Hampshire for a show. We did weigh-ins and everything appeared good. Then on fight night when we showed up, we noticed nobody was there to watch.”
Only forty ticketholders showed up for the “East Coast MMA” event. The promoter cancelled hours before opening the doors with no explanation, leaving several ticketholders and fighters empty handed.
“I was like ‘I want something then, some kind of show money since I drove here from Jersey.’ But he wouldn’t give me anything.”
Roddy’s manager at the time, Ryan Ciotoli, calmed the fighters down by buying up all of the beer from the concession stands. Fighters protested in the parking lot and surrounded the promoter’s truck waiting for him to come out of the arena. Instead state troopers showed up and made everyone leave.
“It was a big ordeal and appeared in the papers the next day since he burned all of these people.”
Roddy has enjoyed the freedom of being a free agent and having the opportunity to fight for different organizations. How he sees it, it’s better than sitting on the sidelines for months waiting to get the call to fight like most fighters signed to major organizations. But if an opportunity came to be signed with a big organization like Bellator or the UFC would he take it?
“Money talks. I could lie to you and say, ‘Naw, I like the freedom,’ but if I was offered a contract that included sponsors and the opportunity to get Fight Night bonuses, f—- yeah I’d take it. I’m a whore that way.”
On a two fight win streak Roddy sees big opportunities if he wins his fight against Haas on Saturday night. But that doesn’t mean he’s looking past his opponent, only motivating himself for the good things that will come if he wins. But what Roddy didn’t anticipate was the other battle he’d have to face.
Sunday, November 4rd – After the Storm
The US death toll rose to one hundred and ten fatalities. Images of Seaside Heights looked like a scene taken from a post-apocalyptic movie with chunks of the boardwalk piled up onto the shore and waves crashing into the famous rollercoaster.
Wind speeds reached eight-five miles per hour. Eight million people were left without power. Cracked gas lines caused fires. Major flooding swallowed up homes, buildings and subway tunnels.
How was Roddy affected?
“The storm came Monday night. Time was lost after it arrived. I went five days without power. I lost hot water Tuesday morning.”
Roddy was expected to fight Jay Haas on Saturday, November 4th at Caged Fury Fighting Championships in Atlantic City, NJ. But once Sandy hit he knew there was a slim possibility the fight would happen.
“I was allowed in my apartment (he wasn’t required to evacuate) but I split because they (looters) started to torch s-–.”
Roddy and his girlfriend found solace at his parent’s home in Bricktown until the storm passed.
“Bricktown got hit hard. But it’s such a big city. Where my parents live was alright.”
But not all of Roddy’s family was as lucky.
“I had to help move some of my aunt and uncle’s belongings ‘cause their house got crushed in the storm.”
Late Tuesday Roddy was unable to reach training partners, coach Pellegrino, or the promoter and assumed the fight was still on. He returned home and attempted to go to the grocery store for some healthy food to help cut weight. But looters were out in full force.
“Some delis by my house were burnt down to the ground. At the grocery store people were pulling sh—off the shelves. It was crazy.”
By Wednesday Roddy stopped thinking about making weight and focused on being with family. On Friday he, along with his younger brother and girlfriend, went out on the beach in Point Pleasant, NJ.
“We went right up to the water. There used to be tiki bars on the shore, but they all washed away.”
Roddy received word on Thursday the fight was rescheduled for Saturday, November 24rd at the Borgata hotel and casino in Atlantic City, NJ.
“Weigh-ins are the day after Thanksgiving which sucks because it’s my favorite meal of the year. I’m planning on bringing Thanksgiving dinner with me to the weigh-ins.”
Roddy has two extra weeks to prepare for his opponent. Returning to a regular training schedule wasn’t difficult since his gym was unscathed. However returning to a normal life may not be as easy. He’s been forced to adapt to a new environment after seeing the town he grew up in submerged underwater, houses and summer rentals along the shore ripped to shreds from strong winds and high tides. But no excuse will get him to pull out of the fight.
“Anyone at anytime. You shouldn’t be able to pick and choose who and when you fight.”
Regardless of the situation Roddy appears ready. Whether he’s facing Mother Nature or fighting inside a cage all in the same month, he’s willing show everyone he can still keep his head above water.
Previous Pieces by DeLeon DeMicoli:
This Fighting Life 4: Mirko Büchwald
This Fighting Life 3: Bashir Ahmad and MMA in Pakistan
This Fighting Life 2: Diorelle and Brooke
This Fighting Life 1: Casey McEachern