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MMA Fighter Daniel Rodriguez Says Cannabis Helped Him Make His Way to the Top

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Daniel Rodriguez entered his career as a mixed martial artist (MMA) at 28, an age where many athletes are already considered to be in their career peak. Though, through his life, he’s surely had experience in fighting, he is currently boasting 16 wins and two losses and ranked the 16th best welterweight fighter in the world. Rodriguez opened up about his career with The GrowthOp, noting that cannabis is one of the reasons he’s been able to reach success in his sport at the quick pace he has.

As Rodriguez entered his mid-20s, following a history of dipping in and out of juvenile hall and jail, he found employment in construction and stability in fatherhood, though he cites his daily walk to work, passing a downtown Los Angeles gym and wondering how he could polish his fighting skills with proper training and instruction.

His girlfriend bought him a gym membership as part of an anniversary gift, which gave Rodriguez the chance to start training, his coaches immediately loving his raw and aggressive energy. One of his coaches, Kathy Long, is regarded as one of the greatest kickboxers of all time, holding winning records in professional boxing and MMA. 

She had previously told UFC.com about the “hunger” in Rodriguez’s eyes, adding, “He came to me as a construction worker by day, and he trained harder than anybody else at night.”

His dedicated training shortly led to wins in his first five amateur fights by knockout in the first round, and the rest is history. Nine years later, Rodriguez is now 34 and enjoying his career in fighting. His first love was boxing, which he got from his family full of fans, though he began training in other avenues like kickboxing and jiu-jitsu to deepen his skill set.

He also cites the switch to MMA was not only a better fit, as he loved every aspect of the sport, but that it made it easier for him to talk about cannabis.

“Boxers are not so open about cannabis consumption,” Rodriguez said. “They’re more cautious when it comes to that. Those guys would probably be tripping out that I made it this far being such a cannabis user.”

In a year where cannabis and athleticism has been a hot topic, following Sha’Carri Richardson’s disqualification in the Tokyo Olympics after a failed drug test for cannabis, he said that many question whether or not his cannabis use is performance-enhancing, affecting his cardio or endurance. 

Rodriguez, however, sees it as more of a training tool, which helps him accomplish his goals, rather than a hindrance holding him back. He said, if you see him smoking, it will be followed by training.

“I think it’d be different if I smoked and didn’t work out or wasn’t doing what I’m supposed to be doing,” he said.

He elaborates on his experience training with cannabis, saying that he often gets lost in training when he uses cannabis.

“Like this morning, I smoked a joint, drank some coffee, threw on my headphones and went for a long run. It gets me a little more focused, gets me in my zone, and I’m not really thinking about the difficulty of the run,” he told The GrowthOp, adding that cannabis also helps to bring him back down at the end of the day. As a professional athlete, he cites the high pressure he faces and says that cannabis gives him a mental focus he might not have otherwise.

Other MMA Athletes Speak Up

Other MMA athletes have been open about their cannabis consumption as well, like Max Griffin, who has a line of CBD products, and Nick and Nate Diaz , whose cannabis products earned a shoutout from Willie Nelson.

Frank Shamrock also spoke to The GrowthOp last year and mirrored many of Rodriguez’s sentiments. “All the world championship titles, everything that I achieved, I used cannabis on a daily basis,” he said.

This handful of athletes are also far from the only MMA fighters who have used cannabis for recreational or recovery purposes: A 2020 survey by The Athletic found nearly half of the 170 mixed martial artists polled use cannabis and even more (almost 80 percent) have used CBD.

Before a reform measure UFC embraced earlier this year, MMA fighters could be punished for their cannabis use. They are still tested for cannabinoids, though positive tests over the THC threshold are no longer a violation.

When the change was announced, UFC Senior Vice President of Athlete Health and Performance Jeff Novitzky said, “The bottom line is that in regard to marijuana, we care about what an athlete consumed the day of a fight, not days or weeks before a fight, which has often been the case in our historic positive THC cases.”

Rodriguez’s open dialogue about cannabis has also led to a partnership with LA-based cannabis retailer, Tradecraft Farms. Petros Papahadjopoulos, CMO of Tradecraft Farms, said that Daniel’s charisma, authenticity and trajectory in the sport caught their eye.

All of that along with his passion, and affinity for the plant aligned with our values,” Papahadjopoulos said.

Rodriguez is currently recovering from surgery on his left knuckle and plans to return to training in early 2022. He said his unique story often resonates with fans, who feel similar doubts around whether or not it’s too late to start their careers.

“It took me nine years to get to this point,” he said. “Now people are looking up to me. Before this, I was nothing. I was nobody. I only started doing this because I had no other choice. I didn’t know what else to do. I just chose fighting and just stuck with it because it’s all that I know.”

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