Ricco Rodriguez knows that at 33-years-old, he has to take advantage of every opportunity presented to him.
That is why when he takes on Seth Petruzelli at Bellator 48 Saturday night, the former UFC heavyweight champion will be leaving it all inside the cage.
Rodriguez (47-11) has won his last 12 fights since the middle of 2009 and hopes that a win over Petruzelli will net him a spot in the next Bellator heavyweight tournament.
“Taking this opportunity to fight with Bellator is my final calling,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t plan on going anywhere else. I plan to compete in the heavyweight tournament, see how I match up with the heavyweights, really push myself to be a champion and finish my career here.”
Saturday’s fight takes place at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, which is the site of a career-defining moment for “Suave.”
Back in 2002, Rodriguez defeated Randy Couture to claim the UFC title. He would drop the title in his first defense to Tim Sylvia, and would only fight in the UFC one other time – a loss to Pedro Rizzo in 2003.
Since that time, Rodriguez has worked for several different promotions, taking fights in Mexico, the Philippines, Russia, England and even Israel.
“When you’re working for a smaller organization, you’re almost taking a chance in a circus act,” Rodriguez said. “It is awesome to work for an organization that treats you with class and respect.
“A lot of people don’t understand the politics. Bellator is looking for their own champions. They aren’t looking for former champions. They are not the company that’s taking the leftovers from the UFC and making them their champions. They are producing guys that are in the Top-10 rankings.”
Bellator CEO Bjoru Rebney was hesitant to sign Rodriguez, has he comes with issues of substance abuse in the play.
Rodriguez hopes to show Rebney, Bellator and the rest of the MMA community that he is in it for the long haul.
“I’ve been wanting to fight better opponents,” Rodriguez said. “Seth is very unorthodox, and he’s very elusive. He is a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Everybody thinks I should win, but a fight is a fight. Anyone can get knocked out at any time.
“It’s just a great opportunity to come back to (the) Mohegan Sun, where I won my UFC heavyweight title, and show people I belong in Bellator.”
Bellator 48 will also feature the finals of the featherweight tournament between Marlon Sandro and Pat Curran. Other main card bouts include Cole Konrad, the current Bellator heavyweight champion, in a non-title fight with Paul Buentello, and Juan Barrantes taking on Rene Nazare.