Fight Time Promotions lightweight champion Vagner “Ceará” Rocha has achieved a plethora of feats over the course of his martial arts career. He is a decorated Brazilian jujitsu champion, a two-time Alliance MMA champion, and a seasoned veteran with two stints under the UFC banner.

All of Vagner’s experiences over the years have served him well. He has learned to appreciate those around him, and approach the fight game with a calculated mentality.

Owner of Vagner Rocha Martial Arts in Pembroke Pines, Florida, the Brazilian born Rocha has lived in the U.S. for over ten years now. He will always remember his roots, but it is America, and promotions like Fight Time that have given Vagner a permanent home.

“Howard was an amazing man. Outside of his accomplishments in boxing, he was a outgoing, charismatic, human being. He was always so easy to talk to and he was a really big influencer. Whether you were fighting or playing checkers, he was always looking to help you be a better version of yourself. His passing was a major loss for this world.

I like to call Karla the boss. I’ve said that from day one. Being married for over ten years I can tell you there’s one person who is gregarious and goes out to make things happen, and there’s the person who knows when it’s time to say ‘Ok let’s do this now, or it’s time to get this done.’ That’s Karla – she’s just the boss. I know this has been very hard on her, but she still runs the show as smooth as ever.

I love fighting for Fight Time Promotions. It’s local right here in my backyard and the promotion always has great talent. They’ve put on some really awesome shows. I’m 6-0 with them, so that’s cool too.”

When asked how he is going to prepare for his opponent Yoislandy Izquierdo, Rocha explained that his specific approach is to not have on at all.

“Years ago I through aside this thing called game planning. I try not to lay all of that out and just stick to what I do best. I try to fight around my strong points. The problem with game plans is if you shoot for something really specific and it doesn’t work, then you freakin’ panic. So, I don’t do that. My strategy is just to go out there and do what I’m good at. If I can get my hands around him, get him down, and sub him that would be great. It would be an easy night, but if I have to throw hands with him that’s what I’m going to do. In the process, I’m always going to make him worry about the takedown because that makes it easier for me to hit him. I know his skills on the ground are lacking. It’s shown in his fights, especially his losses, so for me it’s just a matter of making him scared of going to the ground. If I have to use my hands to set that up I will, and if I have to use my grappling to get the win I will do that too. Whatever it takes.”

This fight between Rocha and Izquierdo has been in the making for quite some time. Both men have dominated the Floridian MMA scene, and now they meet in the center of the cage this Friday night.

“Lots of things have happened over the course of the past few years. Yoislandy originally came into Fight Time Promotions when I was the champion. At that time I had 4 fights for them and my contract ended. At the same time that it ended, I got called to go back into the UFC. So we obviously didn’t cross paths there. Then, from what I understand, he retired at one point. I guess he had to work a full-time job and make some money.”

Despite not meeting in the center of the cage during Rocha’s first stint with Fight Time, the two wouldn’t be able to avoid each other forever. Once Rocha had been released following his loss to Jake Matthews at UFC Fight Night 55, he realized there was only one place to go.

“When I got released from the UFC, I didn’t really think about where I wanted to fight next, but deep down I knew where I belonged. I knew that if I’m not going to be in the UFC, I want to fight for Fight Time Promotions. I enjoy the atmosphere, the professionalism, the location; I just like everything about it. To me it’s been more of a thrill to fight there, than it has for any other big show. So I reached back out to Karla after my release, and because I vacated my title she put together a four-man preliminary to see who would fight for the title. I won my fight, and Yoislandy actually lost his. So I fought the guy who beat him, (Rafael Alves) and got my title back. Since then, Yoislandy won another fight and the fans have wanted to see this one for a while now, so here we are.”

Rocha has pretty much done it all in the sport of MMA. At 34 years-old, Vagner Rocha does not have an eternity left in this sport. He’s aware his time is limited, but life after MMA still looks bright.

“Once I’m done fighting, I’m going to continue to teach. I have my own gym that I own here in Flordia, and it’s pretty established. I’ve been there for almost ten years, and now it pretty much runs itself. So, honestly I want to keep competing in jujitsu until I’m much older. I know that’s something I love and I can continue to do. Fighting is a totally different sport. You have to have a totally different mindset. But I don’t think I’m anywhere close to hanging up the gloves. At the same time, it’s not going to get easier for me. I don’t want to be over working myself when that time comes. I honestly don’t do this for the money. I truly don’t need it. I have my gym, and I make a living off of that. So, fighting is just kind of like my own thing.

It’s not even the damage over time that I worry about. It’s what you do leading up to the fight. You have to train totally differently. Jujitsu is a lot safer. For example when you are training MMA and you hit a bag the wrong way, you wake up the next day with a messed up ankle or wrist. Your body has to be able to take those injuries, and if you can’t then what are you going to do?”

As true in almost every sport, one day your body decides it can’t do what it used to. When that day comes, it’s time to hang up the gloves. Vagner Rocha has most certainly not reached that point yet, but acceptance of that feeling when it arrives should make his transition much easier.

With two UFC contracts under his belt already, Rocha is still not counting out a third if he keeps on winning. He has another destination in mind however, for where he’d like to close out his career.

“I honestly don’t have a plan. I’m just fighting because I enjoy what I do. I know I don’t have many years left. I’m 34 years-old now, and I don’t see myself getting any younger. Obviously I’d like to fight somewhere that gets me the exposure I deserve. If it’s the UFC, or another organization here or overseas I’ll take it. I would honestly love to wrap up my career with a fight in Japan. The RIZIN tournaments are pretty huge over there. That would be a good way to sum things up. I feel like I’ve done it all at this point. I’ve fought for in StrikeForce, Bellator, and UFC, so somewhere like Japan would be something else to check off the list. But if that doesn’t happen, I won’t be disappointed. I think I’ve done a lot already. With the UFC, I think going back there maybe would be like a shot at redemption. All of the blemishes on my record have been in the UFC, so I’d like to have some success there.”

Taking replacement fights has been something that Rocha has not shied away from over the years, but unfortunately not many of them have worked out in his favor.

“Yeah, all of my losses have come on short notice fights. I didn’t have a full camp for one of them. So, it sucks because I can’t turn down those opportunities. The last fight I took with the UFC, I lost, and then got cut. One fight, that’s it. That’s not even a real chance, you know? My record speaks for itself though. I have a lot of finishes in different ways, so we’ll see if that time ever comes again.”

Rocha says he uses his support system to keep him going strong. Whether it’s family, teammates, or fans, Rocha has deep appreciation for it all.

“Number one most important to me is of course my wife. She is my brains and operations behind everything I do. She’s involved with the school, we work out together, we have two kids together, and she is all over taking care of them. My family just stays really close together, and a lot of it is because of what she does. To me, family is always number one and if fighting or jujitsu ever got in the way of that, I would abandon it all together. But, god willing, they are with me every step of the way enjoying every minute. They support me in whatever I’m doing, and they are competitors in their own rights.”

“At my school I have a lot of people who support me. With fights like this one coming up, they are out in full-force screaming and letting everybody know what time it is. I know that whether I go in there and kill it, or I end up not doing my best, they are all still going to tell me how proud they are. They really appreciate all I do for them, so that support system really makes a big difference. Then there’s the people I train with. I treat them all like family too. They are all my motivation.”

To catch Vagner Rocha’s bout vs. Yoislandy Izqueirdo this Friday night at the James L. Knight Center, you can purchase tickets by clicking the link below.