Before GPS and Google Maps were so easily accessible and readily available there were maps. They were actually printed on paper, sometimes bound in a book, and practically impossible to fold. It was a challenge at times to read, especially if you didn’t know where you were. And lord help you if construction changed the routes and you were consulting an out-of-date atlas.

Still, having a map was better than not having a map. So, in the spirit of guiding some young or not so young aspiring fighter, The MMA Corner sat down with Cristina “Midget Twister” Rodriguez, to find out the direction one might go and the steps one might take to follow their dream of becoming a professional MMA fighter. It’s up to you to know where you are and which steps to take but hopefully you find some good direction.

Rodriguez

Rodriguez

Rodriguez is a partner in the World Class Fight League (WCFL) which is an amateur promotion that helps fighters go pro. Professor Cris is also the only female black belt in Gracie BJJ, trained under Rob Kahn (one of Royce Gracie’s first black belts) of Gracie Tampa with former UFC fighters including Matt Arroyo and Allen Berube, and loves to share her knowledge and passion for the sport by teaching at her gym, Gracie PAC.

First and foremost, her advice to aspiring fighters is to just do it. No matter your age. No matter your skill level. Everyone has to start somewhere, and the best time to start is now. If there are obstacles, then move them, climb them or go around them.

Once you’ve made up your mind to do it, you’re going to need a coach and a gym. You may already have a background in boxing, wrestling, jiu-jitsu, karate or taekwondo. If so, then congratulations, you are one step ahead. If not, no worries, you are going to learn them all at the same time with a focus on putting them together seamlessly.

Rodriguez also points out that the focus should be on the “mix” in “mixed martial arts.” Find a school that has experts in multiple arts and that takes part in top competitions. You’re going to need experience competing, especially if you are under the age of 18. Most states do not allow ages 17 and under to participate in a sanctioned MMA event, so competing in kickboxing and grappling competitions will hone your skills and prepare your nerves.

Rodriguez recommends learning Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu from a respected school.

“Getting better sponsors early on is a little easier when you come from a pedigreed schoo,” Rodriguez explained to The MMA Corner. “A good instructor will know when to supplement your learning and will encourage you to learn from other experts. The best gyms foster a competitive environment while offering support and encouragement to all.”

Once you’ve done your due diligence and picked your school and instructors, Rodriguez stresses to trust them. They are going to be the ones to push you past what you think you are capable of. Learn, be a sponge, don’t be afraid to try, don’t be afraid to fail.

“Do not be afraid to be honest with your coaches about injuries or exhaustion,” she adds. “An early injury can put your training and career on hold or even possibly derail it.”

“And, most importantly, always spar with your headgear on.”

Most schools and training regimens are male-centric. Before puberty, it doesn’t really matter. But after?

“Even if the guy is the same size, he is going to be stronger and probably less flexible than a female opponent,” explained Rodriguez. “It’s important to roll with females, because it’s completely different—the location and type of strength is different. The next best option is to roll with teenage boys, as they are strong but still more flexible. Here in Florida, we have a thing called ‘Amazonian Women’s Open Mat.’ It’s free. You show up and roll with other women.”

Before a major competition, two-a-days are important.

“You’ll want to run a lot of sprints, do some long-distance running and work on your strength and conditioning, usually in the morning. The evening is usually when you will get technique and strategy,” explained Rodriguez.

There’s also the aspect of making weight for fights.

“When you are readying for your first weight cut, keep this in mind: cutting weight is miserable,” laughed Rodriguez. “There isn’t anything you can do about that, but you can set yourself up for success. Nutrition is key. You’ve got to eat clean. If you can, definitely get some blood work done and take it to a nutritionist. A nutritionist can analyze the blood test and build a diet designed to give you the proper fuel and make sure you are getting the right mix of nutrients.”

When it comes to shedding pounds, again, men and women are different.

“Women just can’t cut weight as quickly or as much as the guys,” Rodriguez said. “So, where they can cut eight to 10 pounds with no problem, it’s better for a woman to be within four to eight pounds, depending on your body type.

“In the few weeks before, maintaining your weight while working to peak your cardio and strength can feel like juggling. Eating lots of smaller meals will help. Plan—I can’t stress it enough. Plan your food out, weekly if possible. Never leave the house without good snacks, plenty of water and a plan.

“Four days before the fight is when to water load. You will need to drink one to two gallons of distilled water each day. About 48 hours before weigh-ins is when you should have your last meal. Then, it’s the simple matter of starving and dehydrating your body to make weight.

“You can take an Epsom salt bath. Go in the sauna. But if you need to cut a lot of weight, have someone there to scrape the sweat off your body with a credit card to keep your body from sucking the sweat back in. You can make an oven in a sauna suit and wrap yourself up in hot towels. Do not drink any liquids. If you can arrange it, have someone give you a B12 shot for energy.”

However, the weight-cutting process doesn’t come to an end once the needle on the scale hits the proper mark.

“Once you have made weight, do not go nuts with food and water,” Rodriguez warned. “First, drink some water. Then drink some Gatorade or Pedialyte or coconut water. Have a small meal of protein and fruit. Later, have a steak and some veggies. Don’t eat a huge portion. Again, if you can arrange it, have someone give you an IV. Same thing goes for the day of the fight. Get your proteins early, make sure you get some clean carbs, and warm up properly.”

Technique and weight cutting aren’t the only areas of focus for an aspiring fighter. There’s also the aspect of how to approach fights.

“The best thing to do is not promote your first fight,” Rodrigues said. “Keep it relaxed, loose and treat it like any other competition or sparring. This will set the tone for the rest of your fights. Staying focused and not allowing your hormones—adrenaline—to take over is very important. If you can, meditate or use yoga to control your breathing. Be prepared and have fun. Remember, the amateur record is wiped clean once you go pro, so this is the time to experiment and take chances.”

Rodriguez (L)

Rodriguez (L)

The preparation doesn’t end there.

“To prepare to be a professional MMA fighter, there are a couple of other things to keep in mind,” Rodriguez said. “If you want to be able to feed yourself and pay your bills, you will need more than one revenue stream. The sponsorship and promotion game is all about your name, your reputation and your ability to draw fans to buy things—tickets, merchandise, etc.

“Build a relationship with promoters before you ever fight. Writing to great promotions can go a long way. Write them an email about yourself and why you think you’d be a good fit for their organization.”

If you can attend their events, too, Rodriguez advises to do so.

Relationship building is all about details, manners and keeping in mind what the other person needs. Be willing to volunteer to help when you can and make sure that you’re loyal to those who are helping you.

“For example, I know a fighter has a contract with a promotion,” shared Rodriguez, “but keeps mentioning in social media how awesome it would be to fight in another promotion. Sure, you might have ambitions, but don’t forget about your current responsibilities. The next promotion is keeping an eye on what you do for the one you are working with now. Integrity is rare and is highly valued.

“Don’t pay a manager until you know them. And you don’t need to pay anyone until you’re ready to turn pro. Your instructor should be the one helping you choose fights. This is another reason it’s great to be part of a ‘pedigreed’ gym—the promoters go there first to find the amateurs who are ready for the fights.”

Your instructor/manager will also help you strategize and come up with a proper game plan for who you fight, where you fight and when you fight. This is where relationships with other fighters and promoters will lend to making better decisions. Managers are paid to be great talkers and negotiators, but you need to find one that is also honest with a great track record of successful relationships.

Today’s fighter, like every other professional, needs to be aware of social media and its impact.

“It’s a great idea to start writing and blogging and using social media to build your persona, interact with fans and let them get to know you,” emphasized Rodriguez. “Have a private Facebook and a public fan page. Keep them separate. And make sure that what you post is either sufficiently private or fan-ready. It’s so easy for an athlete to blow sponsorships and deals by running off at the mouth.”

Another great idea is a highlight reel. At first, it might consist entirely of training videos, but as a you progress you will add your amateur fight footage and then your professional fights. This is a useful tool in attracting sponsors and can help you stand out from the crowd. Rodriguez points out to make sure your personality and your connection with fans is highlighted, as well as your skills and strengths.

Twitter, Instagram and Facebook can win extra sponsorship money and can even attract the bigger promotions quicker, Rodriguez notes. It’s as much a part of the job as weight cutting. For some, it’s about as enjoyable. But if you will let your fans get to know you as a person, whoever you are, you’ll have a group of people who will trumpet your successes and cheer you up when you fall.

Being a professional fighter won’t be easy and not everyone will make it. That’s okay. But with the right coaches and instructors, the right work ethic, and if you’re able to avoid the injury bug, you’ve got a fighting chance. And that’s all a fighter ever really needs.

Cristina would like to thank her coach and mentor, Rob Kahn, and all her teammates and training partners at Gracie Tampa. She’s also very grateful to her students and training partners at Gracie PAC, and No Judges Needed. Follow Rodriguez on Facebook

About The Author

Staff Writer

Amber currently resides in Tampa, Fla., a hotbed of MMA. She was introduced to the sport Memorial Day weekend in 2006 and quickly became addicted. Amber loves the fact that the biggest and strongest don’t always win, the respect the competitors show and that women are finally getting their shot. She also writes a blog for Fight It Out gear. When not watching MMA, Amber can be found at the beach playing volleyball, in the gym learning from Tampa’s only female BJJ Black Belt, cheering on her eight-year-old daughter in tae kwon do, or at her day job. She has a girlfriend, daughter, too many dogs and a cat who lives in the attic. Communication highly encouraged at amber at fightitout dot com.