"I want to look back at this and I want to know that I pushed myself. I want to be able to tell my kids that I competed against the best in the world at my time." - George Roop
From one fight fan to another, you’re going to remember George Roop.
Honestly, there’s nothing not to like about this guy. In his past six fights in the UFC and WEC combined, Roop has fought all top 10 opponents and across three different weight classes. After going 1-1 in his first two fights outside of The Ultimate Fighter house, Roop took on George Sotiropoulos at the start of Sotiropoulos’ tear through the lightweight division and six months later Roop battles former WEC bantamweight champion Eddie Wineland to a decision. Meanwhile, Roop’s proper weight division is featherweight, where he is 2-1-1 in his last four.
Now, Roop’s about to face a man many believe is the best 145er in the world who wasn’t previously in the UFC: Hatsu Hioki. At 12-8-1, people will not be making the argument that the Arizonan is the uncrowned champion like some do with the 24-4-2 Hioki. But that won’t stop Roop come fight night at UFC 137 when he plans on ruining Hioki’s debut and playing his favorite role: the underdog that wins. No one explains it better than Roop himself; he’s in the Octagon to fight the best - period.
“I actually got the choice of fighting Hioki or [Dustin] Poirier,” says Roop. “I was kind of shooting for the Poirier fight already, but then they offered me Hioki. I really do want to fight the best. If you look at all of my (UFC / WEC) opponents from Sotiropoulous to my last fight, each one of those guys were ranked in the top 10 at that time. I like to fight the best and I feel like it brings out the best in me. I want to look back at my career and say that I fought the best. I don't want to fight a turd. I'm not one of those guys asking for 'tune-up' fights, so I can make sure I get my win bonus. I've got a hot sugar momma who pays my bills for me, so I'm not worried about that. I would be graduating from pharmacy school this year if I wanted to make money at a secure job. I want to look back at this and I want to know that I pushed myself. I want to be able to tell my kids that I competed against the best in the world at my time. It's all about my life and my legacy. I might not have a legacy like Anderson Silva, but it’ll be a legacy to my family, my friends, and myself. I'm going to be proud of myself for taking on the toughest competition in the world.”
Seriously, there’s nothing not to like.
The 29-year old simply loves to scrap. He proved as much on the eighth season of TUF as Roop won his first fight by decision while suffering from a broken hand. And though he has been a nomad with his weight while searching for tough competition, he has finally found a home at 145 pounds. In his first two fights in the division, Roop won Fight of the Night in the draw against Leonard Garcia at WEC 47 and scored a highlight reel, head kick Knockout of the Night on Chan Sung Jung at WEC 51.
“All finishes come by surprise,” admits Roop. “I don't train to finish guys. I train for a three round grueling war. If anyone trains to plan on finishing a guy in the first round then they are making a huge mistake. I plan on putting the pressure on in all three rounds. I'm always happy with the finish. I do have that killer instinct that if I see a finish I go for it, but my plan is to win that war.”
Roop won a war of his own creation in his last fight at The Ultimate Fighter 13 finale in June. Roop’s opponent was the highly touted Josh Grispi, who no doubt was the favorite leading into the bout. Grispi went undefeated in the WEC and earned himself a title shot against UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo, before Aldo was forced out of their UFC 125 bout due to injury. But on that UFC 125 card in January, Grispi suffered his first loss in over four years to rising star Dustin Poirier. Roop expected the 23-year old to come out on fire in the first, which he did, but Roop cooled those flames in the following rounds with punishing attacks both standing and on the ground.
“I expected him to come out strong and fast and the idea was to take him into the later rounds,” tells Roop. “That's where I feel like I have the advantage and that's where I think I thrive in fights. The second and third rounds were great rounds for me. After the first round, I went back to my corner and I felt like I lost that first round. The second and third rounds, I hit him with everything but the car. It was a satisfying win. I was able to display a lot of my tools. I was able to display that I'm a complete mixed martial artist. I'm not just a standup fighter or I'm not just a wrestler or not just a jiu-jitsu player. I'm a complete mixed martial artist. I showed my submission defense in the first round and then I showed my heart that I bring to every fight and the pressure I put on him. On the other hand, he made me look good. He made me look good because his gas tank wasn't there. If someone's gas tank isn't there then you can do whatever you want to them.”
Roop finished Grispi with a right hand to the body at 3:14 into the third. It was easily the most complete performance Roop has given inside the Octagon. Roop dominated every aspect of the game: submission defense, takedowns, striking, ground and pound, cardio and sheer strength. Maybe the most impressive attribute of Roop’s in the June bout was his ability to overpower Grispi. Being 6-foot-1 and fighting at 145 pounds, Roop was able to pack on a surprising amount of muscle before his last fight, and he is doing the same for the showdown with Hioki.
“I hired on a great strength and conditioning coach here in Tucson,” explains Roop. “I put on a lot of muscle. I put on about an extra 10 pounds onto my frame. I felt very strong. My power lifting went through the roof from when I started my camp to when I finished my camp. I have also done the same thing with the training for this fight. I feel like I've always been strong. From watching Grispi fight on TV the dude looks shredded; he's got good genes or something. That was definitely something I was worried about, him having much more strength than me. But when we got in there I felt like I could have picked him up and tossed him out of the cage.”
Waiting in the wings for Roop is Japan’s most recent favorite son, Hioki. The 28-year old has won and defended about every notable featherweight belt he could have outside of the UFC/WEC, and he vacated one such title (the Sengoku belt) to join the UFC. Hioki has victories over several Japanese legends as well as two wins over Roop’s former teammate and opponent Mark Hominick. He is a well rounded fighter and has been able to defeat foes in all areas, but Hioki’s especially great on the ground, with 12 of his 24 wins coming by submission.
“Hioki is the toughest guy I have faced to date,” states Roop. “He's an awesome fighter. I'm going to have to fight the best fight I've ever fought in my life to win this fight. I will tell you this - I will be ready. I will get that W at the end of the day. He's a tough opponent. He's very good everywhere. He's spectacular on the ground. He's good standing up. I've watched those fights and honestly two of those split decisions he didn't even lose. He's the tallest opponent I've ever faced, but I think I'm the tallest opponent he's faced. I think he's almost the same as me in that he gets better as the fight goes on. He puts more pressure on you as the fight goes on as well and that's what I do. He's going to be in great shape. I know he's not going to gas out. He's fought title fights that are five round wars with Marlon Sandro. I expect the best Hatsu Hioki anyone's ever seen. I'm going to be ready for that. I'm going to be ready for this fight like I've never been ready for any other fight.”
For his toughest test, Roop is in his hometown of Tucson, Arizona, splitting his time between APEX Mixed Martial Arts and Boxing Inc. “I do boxing, jiu-jitsu, wrestling and mixed martial arts sparring Monday through Friday evenings and I do strength and conditioning Monday through Friday mornings,” reveals Roop, who is busily preparing for Hioki with hard sparring five nights a week. “I spar every single night; I do 'shark tanks' Monday through Friday and I feel like nothing gets you in better shape than specific training. Strength and conditioning makes me stronger, but for cardio, technique and timing, there's nothing better than getting in there and having a real MMA fight.”
Lastly, Roop was a member of Team Tompkins, overseen by the late Shawn Tompkins, who passed away suddenly on August 14th. As with most, if not all, of his fighters, Tompkins and Roop were friends and it was more than just a coach and student relationship. The loss of Tompkins was a terrible one to the sport of MMA and not just as a phenomenal source of knowledge of it, but as one of the good guys inside and outside of the cage, one who exemplified the quality of the spirit of the people involved in it. Much of Tompkins’ legacy will be his fighters and how they carry on his lessons with their own careers.
“Me and Shawn Tompkins were really close,” says Roop. “When I moved to Vegas, I moved up there just for Shawn Tompkins to train with him and we became real close. It's a huge tragedy to the sport and to a lot of us because he was an irreplaceable coach, an irreplaceable friend and an irreplaceable mentor. Shawn Tompkins was always there for you no matter where you were at in life. You've seen him really be there for all kinds of fighters who really didn't have their heads on straight and he helped them through that. For me, he was a great coach and he helped take my game to the next level. I know Shawn Tompkins is still looking down and we're all going to make him proud at Team Tompkins. We're only going to get stronger.”
On October 29th in Las Vegas at UFC 137, Japanese superstar Hioki will make his Octagon debut against the rabid underdog Roop. It’s a position Roop has come to know well and he half expects it. Either way, Roop gets what he wants, and that’s a chance to tangle with the best and write his own legacy one cage fight at a time. It’s also another opportunity to prove the doubters wrong, which is an added incentive.
“Heck yeah it affects me,” exclaims Roop. “I love playing the underdog! I know everyone says that, but I truly do love playing the underdog and proving people wrong. I love people saying I can't win because it makes me train hard and it gives me fuel. It gives me that nervous feeling like when you're a kid and someone says, 'I'm going to beat you up after school' and I've got that feeling for four months every day. I love it! I love that feeling. I think it helps me in my fights.”
Whether he’s a 3-to-1 or a 7-to-1 underdog going into this fight, when the cage door shuts it’s only Hioki and Roop in there. Meaning, Roop’s got a 50/50 shot of getting his hand raised no matter how prestigious his opponent may be. And Roop’s going to give it all he’s got to make that upset a reality.
“I just want the fans to be excited,” says Roop. “I just want them to remember me. I want them to really want to see me fight. Whether it was an exciting fight or a cool kick - I want them to remember me.”
If he beats Hioki at UFC 137, no fight fan will ever be able to forget Roop.