For Marcelo Rojo, being a contestant on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) Latin American 3 was just one of the steps in trying to fulfill his dream to make it under the bright lights of the Octagon. Unfortunately, Rojo -- who hails from Argentina — lost to Claudio Puelles in the semifinals, who eventually came up short in the finals to Martin Bravo.
For Rojo, his mixed martial arts (MMA) journey is now taking him on a different road, as he gears up to headline Combate Americas 12 against Ivan Flores, which is set to go down tonight (March 30, 2017) from inside Auditorio Fausto Gutierrez Moreno in Tijuana, Mexico.
MMAmania.com caught up with “Pitbull” prior to his fight — which will air exclusively on Azteca America and then on UFC Fight Pass at a later date — to talk about his upcoming challenge, his aggressive style and much more.
MMAmania: You were quoted on TUF as saying that your main purpose is to entertain fans during a bout with an aggressive style and absolutely hate boring fights. But you also stated that your mind is one of your greatest weapons. How do you find a balance between fighting smart, all while providing an entertaining fight that doesn’t “bore” fans?
Rojo: Yes, my objective is to always go forward, be aggressive and keep the fight on the feet. My strategy has always been the same, it’s no secret. My opponent always try to take me down, but I always try to dictate where the fight goes. You can still be smart on the feet, use a good strategy and not be a boring fighter who just waits for an opening and wastes time.
MMAmania: A perfect example of a fighter who has your same mentality is Brad Pickett, who recently got knocked out by your friend Marlon Vera. He was up in the fight two rounds to none and could’ve easily taking “Chito” down in the final round to preserve the win, but opted to stay on the feet in order to stick to his mantra of providing an exciting fight. Seeing as how that decision ultimately cost him, does that danger play in the back of your head when in the cage, knowing that you have a win locked up, but yet you still want to keep it on the feet instead of holding a foe down to secure a win and avoid the risk getting clipped?
Rojo: Yes, I totally get you. But, see that goes back to how I feel that you should always fight with your head instead of your heart. Still, anything can happen whether your winning or losing, which is why I always stay aggressive regardless. That’s what I was taught and I never have it in my head that I will stall just to secure a win. My goal is to entertain fans, win, exchange on the feet and give the best show possible.
MMAmania: As a young, Latino fighter, do you take inspiration from the likes of Yair Rodriguez and Kelvin Gastelum — two people you know well — that are young and Latino, like yourself, take out living legends of the sport in BJ Penn and Vitor Belfort in thier last bouts while climbing the ranks
Rojo: Definitely. First off, I do know them very well, I lived with Kelvin for a while and they are both good people. So they deserve everything happening to them. And when I see something like what they are doing, it motivates me. They work hard, I work hard. Knowing that I know them, have been around them, inspires me knowing that I can one day do something like that.
MMAmania: There has been an explosion of Latino fighters in MMA over the years, more-so know with the help of Combate Americas; do you think the sport can one day be dominated by legendary Latino fighters like the sport of boxing had been?
Rojo: I think so. Little by little the sport is still growing everywhere. You see where it was 20 years ago, to know, and no one would’ve imagined it. The Latino community has always been on of a “warrior’s mentality” and we love to fight. I’m just glad the sport is growing more and more in Latin America. More fighters are now traveling around the world in order to learn more, improve their games. And now we have the platforms to show just what we can do.
MMAmania: Do you see yourself competing inside the UFC’s Octagon again down the road?
Rojo: Every fighter, of course, always wants to test themselves in the biggest organization in the world, against the toughest fighters, regardless of who you are. I am happy fighting for Combate Americas, it’s a great opportunity that was presented me and I’m honored that they gave me main event status. Whoever, wherever I fight, I take all my fights seriously. I like that Combate Americas focuses on the Latino market and it’s helping the sport grow all over Latin America.
MMAmania: Let’s talk about your upcoming opponent Ivan Flores. What dangers do you think he poses for you in the fight?
Rojo: Ivan has a strong right hand and he’s just physically strong overall. He’s a complete fighter and he likes to strike. That is going to be an entertaining fight for me because he has almost the same mentality as me. It’s going to be one heck of a fight I tell you that. At the end, I imagine myself finishing this fight either by knockout or submission. Either one works for me.
MMAmania: You once said MMA in Argentina is still growing, albeit at a slow rate. What would it mean to you, or do you feel a responsibility to be the man to bring Argentinian MMA to the spotlight much like Conor McGregor did for Ireland and Yair Rodriguez is doing for Mexico?
Rojo: Man, to carry the flag for my country is an honor and to be that guy would be amazingamazing. All of my people support me, my friends and my family. I appreciate the loyalty and support from my countrymen, my friends and my camp. In this sport you have to make a lot of sacrifices and leave a lot behind in order to go forward. You have to go through the ugly days to win the best ones of your family. I miss them all, I will see them soon. Ultimately, I do it for myself, to realize a dream of mine.
To see who else is fighting at tonight’s Combate Americas 12 event click here.