BJJ brown belt Sebastian Rodriguez is currently one of the fastest rising athletes at one of the biggest jiu-jitsu academies in the United States. But before he became a Pans champion in both gi and no-gi, before he began training with some of the biggest household names in jiu-jitsu at Unity, and before he took the chance to compete at tonight’s Fight 2 Win 155, he lived far away from the hustle and bustle of New York City.
Rodriguez hails from Costa Rica: a tiny Central American country with a lot of biodiversity and a steadily growing jiu-jitsu community. Rodriguez began his jiu-jitsu journey at the end of 2012, but his introduction to martial arts started long before that. As a kid, his family got him into karate, where he’d eventually go on to earn his brown belt. His dad, who was an amateur boxer, seemed to have a hunch that his son would go on to do great things in the martial arts world.
“After school, my dad took me to the gym to see him train, and I didn’t like it because I wanted to get home, but he always tricked me, saying he’d take me to McDonald’s after so I’d go with him,” Rodriguez told the Jiu-Jitsu Times with a laugh.
Years later, Rodriguez’s best friend started training jiu-jitsu and invited him to come try a class. Rodriguez was hooked immediately, and with the support of his family, he began training 3-4 times a week. He became hungrier for success as a blue belt and began competing more, ultimately progressing to purple and then brown belt and achieving some major accomplishments (including medaling at both Worlds and the World Pro) along the way.
The decision to travel to NYC from Costa Rica to further his jiu-jitsu career was a logical one for Rodriguez, but like many athletes who have immigrated to other countries to pursue their dreams, he initially struggled with a lack of economic support. “I had a lot of big challenges, like a lot of people, but I had great people surrounding me that helped me overcome them,” he says.
Though Rodriguez has faced a whole new set of challenges as a competitive grappler at Unity, he feels prepared for them largely due to his experience as a man from Latin America. “My life in Costa Rica shaped me to be a good athlete,” he says. “The main difference between Latinos is if we try to do something, and we decide to go on a [path], you know you have to succeed… I dropped out of university. I didn’t study after I finished high school. If I didn’t succeed [in my goals], I’d take too long to get a good job. You go against so many odds that you have to put in all your effort to make it work, because if it doesn’t work, there’s no plan B. Costa Rica — and being Latino, mostly — shaped me to be like that.”
Thankfully, despite being so far away from his home country, Rodriguez has found his “second family” at Unity. “My professor, Murilo Santana, all my ‘brothers’… they have helped me to be a better person. More mature in life, more relaxed, really put effort into things I want in life. Being at Unity and being around so many people that I admire really changed and developed who I am inside,” he says.
As Rodriguez prepares for his 195lb no-gi match against Gregory Raffield, he’s feeling confident in his jiu-jitsu knowing that he has “talented and good people” who have helped him prepare for this opportunity. “My professor, Murilo Santana, helped me a lot to shape my techniques and the way I compete,” he says, adding that while he doesn’t know his opponent personally, he’s sure he’s training hard and he has nothing but respect for him.
After tonight, Rodriguez will keep his eyes on the horizon while keeping his feet firmly planted in the present, preparing for future success (including, he hopes, an eventual world championship title as a black belt) by continuing to train every day, lifting, and maintaining a healthy diet. “That’s the hardest part for me is to eat well, because I like food so much,” he says. “My plans right now are to focus on Worlds and being the best person I can be.”
F2W 155 takes place tonight in Philadelphia and can be streamed live on FloGrappling.