Only man to beat Renan Barao dreams of fighting in the UFC

Guilherme Cruz, MMA Fighting

You probably haven't heard of Joao Paulo Rodrigues before, but he smiles every time someone mentions Renan Barao’s only loss in MMA.

The UFC interim bantamweight champion has added another win to his impressive record recently against Eddie Wineland at UFC 165, and Rodrigues (34-14-2) celebrated in his home in Natal, Brazil.

Rodrigues, a 32-year old MMA veteran, welcomed Barao to MMA in 2005 and won via unanimous decision at Heat FC 3.

"I was brown belt in jiu-jitsu at that time, he was a blue belt," Rodrigues told MMAFighting.com. "He always trained boxing with his father since he was a kid so they thought my game plan would be take him down while he wanted to try to knock me out, but I started doing well in the stand up game and he wanted to take me down. I even broke a finger during the fight."

Despite the first loss in MMA, Rodrigues always expected Barao to do well in MMA – and he did, staying undefeated in the next 32 fights.

"He always worked hard," he said. "He believed in his dreams and worked for it. Thank God Renan Barao won again. I have to cheer for him. The more wins he gets, the better for me. If he has 1000 victories, and just one defeat, that’s good for me, right?"

Rodrigues has fought some of Brazil’s best fighters in his career, including a TKO victory over TUF Brazil winner Rony Jason, and most of his losses came against top-level competition like Patricio Freire, Patricky Freire and young prospects Renato Carneiro and Gleristone Santos.

However, financial problems have forced him to work as a security officer every day, so he couldn’t focus 100 percent in fighting for most of his career. He managed to rack up a 29-7 record until money became a bigger problem in 2010.

"I always worked as a security [officer] at night," he said. "I train three times a day then work as a security officer at parties, things like that. I basically never sleep, I only rest. I was working at a lot of parties at that time."

Rodrigues went 2-7-1 between 2010 and 2011, including losses to UFC’s Yuri Alcantara and Francisco Trinaldo, but he never gave up. He fought four times in 2012 and hasn’t lost, and then he heard of TUF Brazil 2 tryouts in Rio de Janeiro.

"I sold an old motorcycle I had to pay for the flight, and they approved me," he said. "I signed the contract to be on the show but they later decided to cancel my division (lightweight). I went to the hotel at 6 a.m. and trained, signed the contract and everything, but then they decided to go on just with the welterweights."

Being the only guy to defeat a UFC champion is good for your reputation, but Rodrigues wants to earn a chance to show what he’s capable of inside the Octagon.

And he won’t rest until he gets there.

"People always ask me why I’m here and guys like Renan Barao and Rony Jason, that I’ve defeated, are in the UFC," he said. "I’ve defeated them, but they worked hard to get there. They deserve it. I will work hard to get there too."

"I still work as a security officer," Rodrigues continued. "I have kids and a wife. My last fight was in December and the money of my purse was spent during my camp. I have no sponsors, so that’s the way I can do at the moment."

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