WATERLOO - Travis "Ironman" Fulton has always been willing to take on any and all comers in his hometown.
Not many have stepped forward.
That won't be the case Saturday at McElroy Auditorium when Fulton, an Ultimate Fighting Championships veteran who competed at UFC 20 and UFC 21, takes on former UFC heavyweight champion Ricco "Suave" Rodriguez as part of a Cage Thug MMA pro event.
"I've never been afraid to fight anybody or fight a big-name guy in my hometown," said the 32-year-old Fulton, who will be appearing in his 284th career fight. "There are just not a lot of tough guys here or in the state of Iowa who can come in and compete with me.
"So every time I fight here, I'm fighting somebody that I'm way better than and it doesn't look good. That won't be the case with Ricco."
This will be the second meeting between Fulton and Rodriguez, but the last meeting was in 2000 in a King of the Cage bout in San Jacinto, Calif. Rodriguez won that bout with a armbar submission in 4 minutes, 49 seconds.
That was also two years before Rodriquez beat Randy Couture by verbal submission in UFC 39 to claim the UFC heavyweight title. Rodriquez lost his belt to Tim Sylvia in UFC 41 and eventually ballooned to more than 300 pounds.
But the fighter who showed up at a press conference this week in Waterloo to promote the fight was a svelte 218 pounds.
"This will shock a lot of people, but I'm really looking forward to dropping down to 205 and the light-heavyweight division," Rodriquez said.
"The last time we fought, neither of us were in great shape," added Rodriguez, a former world jiu jitsu champion. "I think what is going to be great about this fight is fans are going to see the best Travis Fulton and the best Ricco Rodriguez."
Rodriguez, a native of Staten Island, N.Y., is now based in Baton Rouge, La., where he runs a boxing and jiu jitsu club with more than 350 competitors.
He has won his last five fights to run his record to 40-11-0, including a knockout of Brian Ryan in an Extreme Kombat League bout in Ypsilanti, Mich., on March 20.
Fulton, who owns a career mark of 237-39-7, also comes in looking like a different fighter.
"I've lost 40 pounds and I'm walking around at about 220," he said. "This is the best shape I've ever been in. I've been training non-stop since September.
"The last time we fought I was the fat, out-of-shape Travis. Shoot, the last time we fought Ricco, he was big. This fight people are going to see in-shape Ricco and in-shape Travis.
"This is huge."
Rodriguez, 32, said this is an important fight as he looks for another shot at a UFC title.
"Travis is a very dangerous fighter," Rodriguez said. "This will be fun. Fights like this are important because it gets me closer to my dream."
In order to reverse his fate from his last bout with Rodriguez, Fulton said he can't let Rodriguez dictate the fight.
"He is one of the best grapplers in the world," Fulton said. "Obviously, the idea is to try not to fight his fight."
A big-name MMA bout like this hasn't been held in Waterloo since Fulton fought Dan Severn in 2001 in Iowa Challenge 3. That fight ended in a draw.
The fight card will also feature Scott Kinzenbach, Nihad Rosic, Andre Kase, Blake Breitsprecher, Chris Lane, Nate Williams and Mike Powell.
"The Fulton-Rodriguez fight really brought this on," said Cage Thug manager Brian Thompson. "The rest of the card are the greatest hits of our whole year, and it's tied up into one big show."