One of the top three grapplers representing Team USA in the Women's 55 kg weight class is Tampa, Florida native Cristina "Midget Twister" Rodriguez.
In September, FILA (the International Olympic Committee's governing body for Grappling) will be hosting its first ever World Championships of Submission Grappling in Antalya, Turkey. One of the top three grapplers representing Team USA in the Women's 55 kg weight class is Tampa, Florida native Cristina "Midget Twister" Rodriguez. Training under Royce Gracie black-belt Rob Kahn, she is a co-instructor at Gracie Tampa, and has quickly emerged as one of the most promising American female grapplers. We at OTM were able to catch up with Cristina to learn a little bit more about her, while touching upon other crucial information such as her thoughts on women learning jiu-jitsu, competing on the international stage, and the Tampa Bay nightlife.
Bevois: Hey Cristina, I know you're a purple-belt under Rob Kahn, but how long have you been training in jiu-jitsu?
Cristina: I found time between tae kwon do katas to fit in fundamental jiu-jitsu around the age of 14. I was never really a fan of the grappling, mainly because I was constantly getting man handled, until I met Hobby K. I have been training with Rob for almost 2 years now and he has completely changed my outlook on jiu-jitsu.
Bevois: Have you always been passionate about martial arts or was there something more appealing to you about jiu-jitsu?
Cristina: Well I think the fact that jiu-jitsu actually works is what is most appealing, but yes, I have always been passionate about the martial arts. I have been training since the age of 8 and I don't ever plan on stopping.
Bevois: Rob has an old-school approach to jiu-jitsu, which is very technical, utilizes an active closed guard, and lots of head control. Would you say that is one of your strengths as well?
Cristina: To be honest with you, not really. I think Rob has a very strong, but incredibly technical, and aggressive game. I took the aggression aspect of his game and substituted the strength with speed and agility. I am more of a fan of an open guard due to my extreme flexibility. However, I ALWAYS utilize head control in all positions. Hobby K Lesson 101 - When in doubt: SMASH THE HEAD!!!
Bevois: Being a roughly 5 foot tall 100 pound female, what would you say are some of the most effective techniques for other women your size when rolling with bigger and stronger men?
Cristina: Well Rob taught me that you can't attack when you are too busy defending. I think when you are a smaller framed player, it is important to put emphasis on technique, speed, and agility. Countless hours on the mat is what tightens my game and allows me to be so aggressive. I like to be an in your face type of player. I want to take you out of your game and put you in mine. I personally think that chokes are the most effective technique when grappling a larger opponent. Many men can curl my body weight and almost all can leg press/curl my body weight. With that in mind, arm-bars and leg locks are very difficult for someone my size to obtain. Having small arms allows me to easily obtain chin control to set up my chokes and nothing feels better then putting a grown ass man with an ego problem to sleep.
Bevois: Are you an instructor at Gracie Tampa as well as a competitor… which classes do you teach?
Cristina: Along with managing the school, I teach the children and women's classes. I have the best job and the best boss in the world. I honestly couldn't be happier working anywhere else… I get paid to do what I love and nothing beats that.
Bevois: You just competed at the first Team USA Trials, which took place on the weekend of June 9-10 in Las Vegas, Nevada. How did you qualify to compete at the Trials?
Cristina: First place win in the expert division over Olympic Medallist Patricia Miranda at the New Jersey NAGA Nationals.
Bevois: On June 9th I saw you qualify for Team USA at the trials here in Las Vegas. Are you psyched about representing your country in Antalya, Turkey in September?
Cristina: Hell Yea! Wouldn't you be?!? I am fairly new to the tournament scene, so this is huge for me! I have never been so excited in my life!!
Bevois: In your first match at the Team USA Trials you submitted a good friend of OTM in Angela Magana via guillotine choke. Angela is a good MMA fighter having just won her last fight via armbar at Tuff-N-Uff on June 22nd. Have you considered doing MMA as well?
Cristina: After those 28 seconds, I would have to say…Yeah.
Bevois: In your second match at the Team USA Trials you got to compete against Felicia Oh, who is arguably the best woman in the world at your weight. How was that experience?
Cristina: Her name really got in my head. A few months earlier I was sitting in the stands in New Jersey at ADCC watching her compete. This was only my 6th grappling tournament that I have ever competed in, so just being on the mat with someone so accomplished was a victory in itself. After Felicia dominated me on the mat, she took me under her wing, and helped me out the rest of the weekend. Talk about a class act!
Bevois: In the third-place match, which determined the final spot on Team USA, you faced a very good wrestler in Carla O'Connell. Carla took an early lead by throwing you with a perfectly executed 5-point hip throw, before you submitted her with an RNC. What did you learn from that match?
Cristina: I learned that the takedown is only the beginning…. but yeah, she slammed the shit out of me. I know the weakest aspect of my game right now are my takedowns so I have been training with John Turner, a Division 1 Wrestler/MMA fighter, at Gracie Tampa to try to prepare for Turkey.
Bevois: Your nickname "Midget Twister" is a technique made famous by Justin "ChimChim" Garcia. Was he the one who showed you it? Has he helped influence your game?
Cristina: Hobby K actually showed the technique in class one night. I thought it was one of the most humiliating moves in jiu-jitsu, so I tried getting it on everyone that I grappled, and due to the fact that I am vertically challenged, the name kind of stuck. I have only trained with Chim one time, but I consider him to have had a major influence on my game. His game face alone is enough to make grown men quiver and wet their pants!
Bevois: Besides ChimChim, Rob, and other people you train with, who are some of your favorite MMA fighters?
Cristina: Anderson Silva for accuracy and sick clinch work, Sean Sherk for sacrifice and dedication, and Tara Larosa for being one bad ass chick!
Bevois: What about in sport jiu-jitsu and submission grappling. Who do you like to watch and model your game after?
Cristina: Joey Best and Travis Neagle. Both of these guys are brown-belts under Rob Kahn and have some SICK jiu-jitsu. If I could be half the jiu-jitsu players these guys are, I would be content.
Bevois: When you're not training, instructing, and going to USF, what are you usually doing?
Cristina: Have you ever heard of a hookah? I would never do that!! Edward 40 hands is fun though! (laughs)
Bevois: I used to live in the Tampa Bay area and dated a girl that went to USF. What's the more happening hot spot nowadays… Whiskey Park or Hyde Park?
Cristina: You can usually catch the Gracie Tampa crew at Whiskey Park. One of our fighters is a bouncer there.
Bevois: What would you say is more your speed… Channelside or Ybor City?
Cristina: How about both?!? You gotta love the revolving floor at the Amphitheater in Ybor though!!
Bevois: Where would I be more apt to run into some of the guys from Gracie Tampa on a Saturday night… Mons Venus or 2001 Odyssey?
Cristina: I don't know where they are, but I'm at 2001!! Ladies get in for 7 bucks!!!
Bevois: After FILA's World Team Championships in Turkey in September, we at OTM will be having a tournament right down the road from you in Orlando, Florida on the weekend of October 27-28. Should we expect to see you competing at the "Disney World Martial Arts Festival Grappling Championships?"
Cristina: If OTM is there…Cristina Rodriguez is there!
Bevois: Do you currently have any sponsors helping you out or should we put the Grappling World on notice that you are looking to rep them on the world stage this fall?
Cristina: I'm actually in the works on a deal with Nike…. you know, I'm what you call a real up and comer! (laughs) I'm being modest when I say, someone please sponsor me!!!
Bevois: Is there anything else you would like to add before we wrap this up?
Cristina: I just want to say thanks to everyone at Gracie Tampa who has helped push me to this level. I wouldn't be here without them. Thank you to the Coldstone Creamery for making it incredibly difficult for me to cut weight and thank you to everyone at OTM for an awesome interview and all the support!! I also need to give a shout out to my best friend and training partner Jeremy "Princess Buttercup" Thurlow. "You're the meaning in my life…you're my inspiration!!" (laughs)