Rodriguez (15-3 MMA, 10-2 UFC), the interim UFC featherweight champion, spent some time training with former longtime UFC light heavyweight champ and current heavyweight champ Jones at Jackson Wink MMA in Albuquerque, New Mexico, after winning “The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America” in 2014.
Jones saw Rodriguez’s potential at an early stage, which “El Pantera” used as fuel.
“He always was really nice to me,” Rodriguez told ESPN. “He had always good things to say to me. I know he has done a lot of mistakes and been through a lot of ups and downs in his life and his career, but I truly believe that everybody can do mistakes and still keep on doing better every time. Jon Jones is the perfect example of that.
“I remember one time when I was training in Albuquerque and then he approached me and said, ‘Hey, can you come here please?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, for sure.’ He was like, ‘What’s your name? Your skills are impressive. How old are you?’ I was 20, 21 years old in that moment. He said, ‘When I was 21 years old, I didn’t have those skills. You’re gonna get far in this sport. Keep going.’ Coming from Jon Jones in that moment, when he wasn’t my friend, he was just giving me inspiration, it was something really special for me. It made me believe in myself even more.”
Rodriguez lived up to that potential, going 9-2 in the octagon before capturing the interim featherweight title with a dominant submission of Josh Emmett at UFC 284. He will unify his belt with undisputed champ Alexander Volkanovski (25-2 MMA, 12-1 UFC) in the main event of UFC 290 on July 8 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
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For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC 290.