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A 24-hour reign: How Gregory Rodrigues landed deal for short-notice UFC debut one day after winning LFA belt

Gregory Rodrigues
Zuffa LLC

Gregory Rodrigues couldn’t have foreseen the wild ride that’s led him to the UFC.

Rodrigues, who on Saturday steps in to replace Maki Pitolo against Dusko Todorovic at UFC Vegas 28, signed a deal with the promotion 24 hours after capturing the LFA middleweight title on May 21, and just a few months after coming close to retiring from the sport.

“I never imagined this, not even in my best dreams,” Rodrigues said in an interview with MMA Fighting after his LFA 108 knockout over Josh Fremd. “The fight was over and I was like, ‘I’ll celebrate.’ And now I’m a former champion [laughs]. I held the title for a few hours, and got the news that I was in the UFC the next day.”

Rodrigues was so excited after becoming the LFA champion, he barely slept that night. He hopped on a flight from South Dakota to Florida on Saturday morning and was welcomed by his wife and friends with a barbecue to celebrate his victory. At 7 p.m. that day, his manager Ed Soares gave him a call.

“I’m still celebrating here, I don’t think I’ve fully understood that I’m champion and I didn’t even sleep yet,” Rodrigues told Soares on the phone. His manager responded, “You probably won’t sleep again tonight, because you’ve just signed with the UFC.”

Nine months after he came up short in an attempt to earn a UFC deal through Dana White’s Contender Series, getting stopped by Jordan Williams in half a round, Rodrigues saw the opportunity as a “sign from God.”

“That fight changed a lot of things for me,” Rodrigues said of losing in front of UFC chief Dana White. “Taking that fight was the pinnacle of my career up until that point, and we started creating high expectations. My wife and I made plans, [saying] ‘It’s our time now.’ I believe I’ve added an unnecessary weight over me even before I was in the UFC. And when I lost, man, wow, that broke me in many pieces. My wife and I were bad, man.

“I went back to California and tried to encourage my wife that we would bounce back, but at the same time, I was desperate. I thought about quitting and abandoning everything. It was hard, but thank God I had friends by my side that helped me get back on my feet. I really thought about stopping.”

Rodrigues left Black House and joined Kings MMA and decided to move to Florida. He wanted to be close to his friends and the minister of his church in Brazil, who had just moved to the United States. That was when Ed Soares called with an offer to be part of the LFA middleweight grand prix.

“That Contender fight wasn’t meant to be a test for me and to see if I was good or bad,” said Rodrigues, who joined Sanford MMA after moving to Florida. “It tested me to see if I was ready or not and make me stronger. I became more mature as an athlete and as a person. I can look back and thank God for everything I went through. That loss made me readjust my compass and put me back on the right track. Imagine if I had given up, maybe I wouldn’t be experiencing this or having a frustrating life because I gave up in a critical moment in my career.”

Rodrigues will meet Todorovic in his UFC debut, an opponent he says he was expected to fight back in 2017 in Austria, but a deal with Final Fight Championship wasn’t finalized. Todorovic is a fellow DWCS contestant who dropped to 1-1 in the UFC after losing his most recent bout to Punahele Soriano by first-round knockout following a debut victory over Dequan Townsend.

Fresh off back-to-back knockouts in 2021, Robocop doesn’t expect to go the distance in his return to the UFC APEX.

“I believe it’s going to be a tough fight but I see myself better than him on the ground even though he’s a black belt,” Rodrigues said. “His striking is OK. He has a solid chin, but he keeps his chin way too high. I believe I have all the tools to end this fight inside three rounds.”

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