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George Roop - This Underdog Bites

"I’m gonna play the underdog role and there’s no pressure on me. I’m gonna go in there, take it to him, and give the troops what they deserve.”
When it comes to gutsy pre-fight gamesmanship, you’ll have a tough time topping George Roop’s decision to wear his opponent’s t-shirt to the weigh-in. But that’s just what the Arizona featherweight did before his bout last September against Chan Sung Jung.

For a little context, remember that Jung, more familiarly known as “The Korean Zombie”, was the talk of the MMA world after his stirring three round war with Leonard Garcia earlier in 2010 that prompted commentator Joe Rogan to declare it “Fight of The Decade.” Roop, a former member of The Ultimate Fighter season eight cast, was seen by some as the sacrificial lamb for Jung, who seemingly couldn’t be hurt in the prize ring.

So Roop, no one’s stepping stone, decided to make a statement.

“There was all this hype around, him saying he was “The Korean Zombie” and he can just walk through punches, and that was me saying, look, everybody’s human and everybody can be knocked out,” said Roop. “I don’t sell t-shirts, I’m a mixed martial arts fighter.”

It was a move that could have easily backfired, but Roop had no doubts about what he was going to do in that cage on fight night.

“I knew that I could win the fight in any way possible. I knew I could win the fight by knocking him out, by TKO or submission, and I knew I could decision him if I had to.”

Roop went right to option number one, drilling Jung with a head kick in the second round that knocked him out as soon as it landed. It was a defining moment in his four year career, and the perfect end to what was a tumultuous year that began with Roop still coping with the tragic death of his seven-year old son Julian that previous October.

Add in that Roop was in professional limbo as well, and 2010 didn’t look that promising at first. After going 1-2 as a lightweight in the UFC before being released after a loss to George Sotiropoulos at UFC 101, Roop returned to his natural weight class before the year was out, decisioning Matt Dell at featherweight in November of 2009. Then, as the WEC beckoned, he decided he was going to drop another 10 pounds and compete at bantamweight. It was a good idea at the time.

“My initial thought was I’m gonna be the biggest bantamweight on the planet,” he laughs. It wasn’t a joking matter once the cut began for the 6 foot 1 fighter, who quickly realized he was making a mistake.

“It’s definitely the hardest thing I ever had to do,” he said and you can almost hear him re-living the weight cut as he speaks. “At the weigh-in my eyeballs were poking out like that ‘Machinist’ movie. (Laughs) My cheekbones were sticking out real bad, I looked terrible and it was very unhealthy. My fight was cutting to 135 pounds. When I made it, I thought okay I’m done.”

He wasn’t. He still had to fight, and against former WEC bantamweight champion Eddie Wineland no less. Roop lost a three round decision to Wineland in January of last year, a feat which was impressive in and of itself considering the drain it took to get to 135.

“I was thinking that I was gonna be the bigger, stronger guy, but in all reality, the speed at 135 pounds was hard for somebody my size to deal with, especially with Eddie Wineland,” he said. “And I felt okay the day of the fight, but Eddie’s tough. I just wasn’t able to approach that fight with the right gameplan. I really didn’t have a gameplan, my gameplan was to make 135 pounds.”

It wasn’t the way he wanted to begin the year, yet slowly, but surely, things started to click for Roop. He moved back to featherweight, and in March he engaged in an entertaining three round draw with Leonard Garcia that earned Fight of the Night honors. September saw not only the win over Jung, but a new arrival to the family, as Roop and his fiancé welcomed a son, Payden. All in all, not a bad 12 months, and as 2011 gets underway, Roop has the opportunity to make a statement to the featherweight division on national television when he takes on former teammate Mark Hominick on Saturday night in Texas.

And while fighting someone he’s trained with for so long is a first for Roop, he’s ready for it and unafraid to pull the trigger on Hominick should he get him in trouble.

“I’ve never been in that situation with somebody as close as Hominick,” he admits. “We’ve worked a lot together in the gym, so he definitely knows what I bring to the table and I know what he brings to the table as well. And I’m not saying we’re best friends, but for the most part, I like almost everybody I’ve fought, so I’ve really had no ill feelings toward anybody and it’s going to be easy to put the hurting on him. It’s what I do, it’s what I enjoy doing, and afterwards, it’s gonna make us respect each other even that much more.”

Roop, a pro since 2006, has a quiet confidence about him, something that probably served him well back when he was a high school quarterback, and which fits him nicely these days. He’s not a braggart, won’t make a lot of noise, but it’s clear that when it’s time to train or fight, he’s there on business and eager to show just what he can do. And that doesn’t come overnight. It’s taken an ability to navigate plenty of potholes, detours, and bumps in the road, and he doesn’t regret one step of the journey.

“If you look at my record, I don’t have one of those 12-1 records or just a couple losses, and I haven’t trained MMA since I was a little kid either,” he said. “I started training a couple years before The Ultimate Fighter show, so I’m evolving every day as a fighter. I learn new stuff and I pick up stuff from everybody and those losses on my record are big learning experiences for me and that’s the way I look at it. It might sound silly, but I’m happy for those losses and they’ve made me the fighter that I am. I truly believe that I match up with (UFC featherweight champion) Jose Aldo better than almost anybody else at 145 pounds. I’m big, I’m strong, my technique has definitely come very, very far, and my wrestling is improving every day, as well as my striking and jiu-jitsu. I’m an evolving fighter and I’m changing it up every fight. You’re just gonna see me getting better and better.”

Having said that, Mark Hominick is the man in the spotlight, the one who will receive a shot at Aldo’s crown should he win on Saturday night. George Roop likes that feeling of being the underdog, and he embraces the role. He won’t wear a Hominick t-shirt to the weigh-in, but his fight night intentions remain the same as they did last September – to show that this underdog can bite.

“I feel like I’ve gotten the underdog role in my last three fights and it’s the best role they can give me,” he said. “I wasn’t supposed to beat Leonard Garcia, I wasn’t supposed to beat Chan Sung Jung, I’m not supposed to beat Mark Hominick, and I understand this, but I’m gonna play the underdog role and there’s no pressure on me. I’m gonna go in there, take it to him, and give the troops what they deserve.”

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