Jacob Rodriguez, 19, top, pins Aaron Maldonado, bottom, and punches him repeatedly during the Texas Rage in the Cage event at the Victoria Community Center. Rodriguez won in one round in 1:18.
Photo by Kathleen Duncan.
Fighters competing during Texas Rage In The Cage
Jacob Rodriguez smiles when he talks about Mixed Martial Arts. He loves the adrenaline of combat and competing at a high level.
A former Victoria West High School football player, Rodriguez, 19, transitioned from his life on the gridiron into a steel cage Friday night for his first fight. Rodriguez was one of five fighters from the area competing in the Texas Rage in the Cage, an amateur mixed martial arts bout, at the Victoria Community Center.
"This is a dream of mine I want to pursue," Rodriguez said. "My focus came from football to MMA."
Competitive sports such as Mixed Martial Arts are gaining popularity throughout parts of the U.S. Some states, however, consider the sport too violent. New York is just one of a few states that have banned competition. In Texas, the sport lives.
Similar to football, mixed martial arts is a sport that involves grappling. Keys to winning can be by submission, knockout or decision. Bouts go from three to five rounds lasting up to three minutes.
The equipment used during these bouts are just gloves, leaving fighters unprotected when getting hit. Fighters also enter the cage barefooted while others cheer as the action begins.
Sometimes watching nearby is a ringside physician.
Tywaun Tillman has been a ringside physician since 2010. Tillman said serious injuries rarely occur - the most can be a bloody nose or sometimes a broken rib - and considers mixed martial arts safer than boxing. As a physician, he has the authority to stop a fight, and he makes that decision based on how a fighter reacts after a hit.
"You're looking for subtle signs to see if they are hurt more than they really are," said Tillman. "It's brutal."
While Rodriguez said he has never been in an organized fight, he said he can take a hit. His father, Richard Rodriguez, said he can barely watch.
"As a father sitting in the stands watching your son get hit, your first reaction is to help, but you have to let it take its course," Richard Rodriguez said. "One punch and the fight could be over."
Jacob Rodriguez did not get into mixed martial arts on purpose. A friend suggested he participate in a fight at a gym one day. He thought it was going to be an easy fight.
"I went in, and they demolished me," he said. "I left with a bruised face."
Being competitive, Rodriguez decided that he couldn't take this loss and decided to tackle this new venture. He said he thinks about the possibility of getting hurt, but he doesn't let that stop him from continuing to train. For the past year, he's been training for his new career.
An hour before his debut Friday, Rodriguez held up backstage preparing for his fight. He said he wasn't worried.
"I've been looking forward to this for a long time," Rodriguez said. "It's like getting ready for a football game. It's just a different sport."
As the bout began, the crowd cheered when Rodriguez entered the ring. Standing in the blue corner, Rodriguez showed no emotion, only anxiousness, for the fight to begin. Once the bell rang, it was only seconds before Rodriguez got close to his opponent and took him to the ground.
Only 1:18 into the first round, Rodriguez was declared the winner by submission. After the fight, one of his biggest fans came to greet him, his dad, Richard.
"I can't explain my emotions," his father said, fighting back tears as he hugged Jacob. "He's always had a lot of heart."
Rodriguez said he knows he has a lot of fighting ahead to achieve his goal of becoming a professional fighter. He acknowledges that fights are part of the sport, but he will give it his all. Friday night was part one.
"I've got a thousand steps ahead of me," he said. "This is just one."
FOR MORE: See results from all of the fight's Friday night.