Local teen makes amateur Muay Thai fighting debut

Ariel Rodrigues with medals she has won from fighting exhibitions and tournaments. (All photos by Matt Ferris Photography)

She’s 15 years old, weighs less than 120 pounds and you don’t want to get on her bad side.

Lynnwood resident Ariel Rodrigues is an up-and-coming Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter—a venture she has already been pursuing for about seven years—and she is determined to win.

“This is my ultimate dream,” Rodrigues said.  “Having this dream that young and actually pursuing it, it was serious for me at the beginning but it has gotten more serious with every gym I go to.”

Rodrigues’ passion is evident when she talks about fighting. She trains six days a week and switched from public school to online classes through Insight School of Washington in fall 2015 to give her more flexibility in her schedule. Over the summer, she can spend up to 14 hours at the gym, both training and helping coaches instruct classes.

It all began when she was 8 years old. Her mother, Lisa Graves, brought her to Las Vegas to watch an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) match. While they were there, Rodrigues took a kids MMA class. After that, there was no getting her out of it.

Rodrigues (left) punches Joessie Pidgeon (right) during her debut fight on June 4 at EdCC.
Rodrigues (left) punches Joessie Pidgeon (right) during her debut fight on June 4 at EdCC.

“Everyone said, ‘Oh, she’s a natural,’ and ‘She’s going to be a fighter,’” Graves said. “She got to try kicking, kicking coaches on the pads, punching—she liked all of it.”

She began taking Tae Kwon Do classes as soon as she returned to Washington. She quickly expanded her repertoire to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai and kickboxing, among other styles, with the goal of fighting in an MMA cage professionally.

Though she has been in several exhibition matches, she made her on-record amateur debut on Saturday, June 4 during an Amateur event at Edmonds Community College against 16-year-old Joessie Pidgeon of Snohomish. Rodrigues lost the match by decision, meaning there were no knockouts, the fight lasts for a full three rounds and the judges gave Pidgeon higher scores.

Though the fight was a technical loss for Rodrigues, she does not count it a total loss.

“I told my team even if I lose, I will not give up. Even if it goes three rounds, I will not give up. When I was done, I was grateful to have that fight,” Rodrigues said.

Her efforts in the cage did not go unnoticed.

“People we didn’t even know came up to us afterwards and asked about her,” Graves said. “People we don’t know said it was a really great fight.”

The day after the fight, Rodrigues had a bloody lip and said she was sore everywhere, but she is already looking forward to the next fight.

“I want a winning record,” she said. “My goal is to fight again as soon as possible. I really, really want another fight by the end of summer. I have been working my butt off.”

Her most recent exhibition match, meaning it did not go on her record, was against an older opponent in Oct. 2015. Rodrigues was the winner, and her opponent left with a broken nose.

“During a fight, I’m pretty heartless,” Rodrigues said, then chuckled. “I just want to win. But after the fight, it’s all shaking hands.”

Rodrigues said she could not have accomplished what she has so far without her coaching team and the support of her mother.

“I do my best to be supportive of her dreams,” Graves said. However, she explained it is not always easy to see her girl climb into the cage.

Rodrigues (right) tickles her mom, Lisa Graves (left).
Rodrigues (right) tickles her mom, Lisa Graves (left).

“I had to watch 10 fights go by before her fight,” she said, then demonstrated her hands quaking in front of her. “I was like this!”

Rodrigues said her mom does not record any fights, because the video is so shaky that they can’t tell what is happening.

But because of Graves’ efforts, Rodrigues will participate in two Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournaments in July: the American National Kids Jiu-Jitsu IBJJF Championships in Las Vegas on July 10, and the Revolution Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament in Tacoma on July 17. (The trip to Las Vegas is also Rodrigues’ belated birthday present.)

She has no plans of stopping anytime soon.

“I want to get to the point where I own my own gym and fight for a living,” Rodrigues said. “I want to coach and fight for a living.”

–By Natalie Covate

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