TT's Sambo champ Rodulfo happy to serve country, community

Jeremy Rodulfo, MMA fighter and World Sambo Championship bronze medallist, at his Malabar Branch Road, Arima gym on Wednesday. - ROGER JACOB
Jeremy Rodulfo, MMA fighter and World Sambo Championship bronze medallist, at his Malabar Branch Road, Arima gym on Wednesday. - ROGER JACOB

EARLIER THIS month Jeremy Rodulfo made history being the first Trinidadian to capture a bronze medal from the World Sambo Championships in Uzbekistan.

This achievement was the latest in a series of accolades stretching back almost a decade as the Arima native has been dominating the local combat sport circuit.

One of his most prominent victories came when he defeated former heavyweight boxer Kertson Manswell in the Ruff and Tuff Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) tournament in 2018.

Despite his imposing figure and extensive knowledge of martial arts, Rodulfo, 26, says he enjoys keeping to himself as he finds joy in helping others sharpen their skills as a personal trainer and tending to crops in his Manzanilla garden.

Speaking with Sunday Newsday at his Malabar Branch Road, Arima gym on Wednesday, Rodulfo described his journey through combat sports from Arima to competing against world class fighters and the sacrifices he continues to make in pursuit of greatness.

Rodulfo said his introduction to fighting began when he was only 14 years old when his secondary school, Five Rivers Government Secondary School began a boxing programme.

He said while his mother was somewhat apprehensive of him signing up given the dangers of the sport, she eventually gave him her blessing when she saw first-hand his talent.

"They (my family) didn't take it serious at first, they thought it was just a phase, but when I went to fight and began experiencing some success, eventually some support came.

"As a mother she hoped I did a sport a little less rough, but when she realised that's what I was dedicated to she said 'Jeremy you have to hit them hard," Rodulfo joked.

When the gym that hosted the boxing programme closed Rodulfo, who was already immersed in boxing, needed a new gym where he could train.

Jeremy Rodulfo during a training session at his Malabar Branch Road, Arima gym on Wednesday. - ROGER JACOB

He said the only available boxing gyms at the time were in Port of Spain, which would have been difficult to travel to after school everyday.

He was first introduced to the sport of MMA after watching the movie 'The A-Team' where one of the main characters was played by MMA fighter Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson.

After watching one of Jackson's fights on YouTube, Rodulfo did not need much more convincing on what discipline he would focus on next.

"I thought it was the natural evolution of combat sports after boxing," he said.

"I was searching and searching for an MMA school until I found one in Port of Spain. That's when I heard about Jason Fraser from an event they had in the east."

Rodulfo eventually met Fraser and veteran fighter Joash Walkins when he began his MMA training when he was 17 years old and later introduced to sambo.

Sambo originated in Russia when military commandos with experience in judo modified certain throws and submission holds for use in the field.

Jeremy Rodulfo (right) and Jason Fraser, president of the Trinidad and Tobago Sambo Federation. - ROGER JACOB

In 2020 sambo received full Olympic recognition and will be added to the list of sporting events for the 2024 Games.

Rodulfo says he was fascinated by the sport, noting his background in MMA made the transition easier.

Rodulfo began a rigorous training regime which sharpened not only his physical strength but also his mental capacities, in being able to think quickly and counter attacks from opponents.

Despite such demanding training sessions, Rodulfo said he also made time to meet and train clients as part of his job as a physical trainer. He said while it has been challenging striking a balance between both roles, he takes pride in being able to help others find their strength and live healthier lifestyles.

To keep his clients without cutting into his training time, Rodulfo's day usually begins at around 3 am, giving him enough time to compose himself before going for a run, allowing him to get back home for 5 am, and meet with his first clients.

Trying to maintain such a tight schedule was a major challenge for him while the state of emergency was in effect, but Rodulfo maintains that sacrifices were necessary to remain at the top of his game.

"Because of the curfew I had to miss out on clients.

"If I had two or three more hours in the day, I would have to choose between going to a client or going to train and of course I chose to train.

"It was difficult and I lost a lot of clients."

While such a lifestyle can be tiring, Rodulfo says training for tournaments requires even more dedication as training sessions are longer and more gruelling.

Many times, Rodulfo is left exhausted and has very little time to do much else besides some minor housework and sleep but says this is part of the process in becoming a world class athlete. He takes his job serious in representing TT to the best of his ability.

As a fighter, Rodulfo has competed in locations across the world from Paraguay for the Pan American Sambo Championship in 2016 where he earned a silver medal at the World Championships in Bulgaria later that year.

Jeremy Rodulfo displays the Tashkent 2021 bronze medal and a few of his medals, as well as his MMA Ruff and Tuff belt on Wednesday. - ROGER JACOB

With these achievements Rodulfo emerged as a top candidate to compete in the Sambo World Championships in Uzbekistan after going through a rigorous selection process, along with other high ranking fighters around TT.

"My first flight out of TT was to go and compete. I never really travelled outside before," Rodulfo said.

"I didn't get into the sport to travel or to see the world, I just got into the sport for the love of it and wanting to do what I love.

"It just so happens that I eventually got good at it and that afforded me the opportunity to go to these different places which was really amazing.

"It's also good that I went to these countries not just to visit but to compete against others. It gave me purpose that I was good at what I do and I'm here to prove it."

Eventually earning a bronze medal at the tournament, Rodulfo said he was ecstatic that his hard work and hours of training had paid off.

He also said he was overwhelmed with the support from friends and fans of the sport on social media adding that these well-wishes have further strengthened him.

"Coming back with a medal is good because you get to represent your country and you get to compete and achieve something at a high level and be recognised for it.

"Coming back was really good," he continued. "Each time I come back with a medal it feels good to represent the country and compete at a high level knowing the local sambo federation and its president (Fraser) has enough faith to consider me good enough to carry me out there to compete against other world class athletes.

"For the first few days after I won my medal my Facebook account was flooded with messages from people congratulating me. It was incredible."

Coming from success in Uzbekistan, Rodulfo has little time to celebrate as he is also expected to compete in the International MMA Federation (IMMAF) tournament in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates next January.

With less than six weeks left the pressure continues, but between supporting himself as a personal trainer and preparing for one of his biggest tournaments of his life, Rodulfo still finds time for another skill he holds dear to his heart.

Just before the outbreak of the covid19 pandemic in TT, Rodulfo took an interest in farming after seeing a crop while on a hike to the mud volcano in Piparo.

"I just thought it was so scenic and peaceful and I wanted to have a garden for myself.

"I have some land in Toco. That's another thing sometimes on a Sunday morning after I train all day on a Saturday I have to drive to my crops which are pineapples and plantains, that's about two three hours of bad roads I have to put up with.

"I get some peace from being able to be around my crops, don't get me wrong it's hard work.

"Sometimes when I get home at night I don't want to touch a phone, I don't want to talk to anybody, sometimes I might put on a movie and I can't watch it because I'm sleeping on myself. It's just Sunday to Sunday hard work."

Between a demanding sport and an equally demanding livelihood, Rodulfo credited his success to his coaches Rondel Benjamin and Warren Gill who, he said, not only kept him focused but were also accommodating to his lifestyle.

Newsday also spoke to Fraser, president of the TT Sambo and Combat Sambo Federation, who said Rodulfo's success was testament to his discipline and dedication, noting that despite the challenges of the pandemic he was able to claim a medal for TT.

"This medal is a special one because it's the first one for Trinidad and Tobago from a world championship and what makes this medal even more special is the fact that it was obtained during a pandemic when all the odds was against us from training, preparation for training and having partners for training.

"The preparation was really a tough one and it called for dedication and this championship featured the best of the best in the world."

Fraser said while the Office of the Prime Minister paid for the tickets, the rest of the expenses for attending the tournament were covered out of pocket and hopes that government or private sector companies can see the merit behind sponsoring athletes after Rodulfo's performance.

"All the money Jeremy had for this trip was US $100 but when I saw his talent and ability I told him we were going.

"Because it was an Olympic year the Ministry of Sport didn't have a lot of funding to give us but they also helped us a lot with documents and getting arrangements done."

Fraser says his next goal is to get sambo registered with the TT Olympic Committee to get more support to prepare athletes in time for the next Games.

Outside of the battle ahead in getting sambo recognised by the wider community, Rodulfo is preparing for his own fight in January, dedicating mind and body to making his country and community proud while keeping pace with the demands of everyday life.


"TT’s Sambo champ Rodulfo happy to serve country, community"

More in this section