Roli Delgado admittedly has modest aspirations at this point in his mixed martial arts career.
“Fighting to my potential, fighting free of anxiety and just performing,” the 31-year-old offered when asked what he would like to accomplish before he hangs up his gloves.
But Delgado, a co-owner of Little Rock’s Westside MMA, is quick to point out that martial arts will continue to play a prominent role in his life long after he retires—regardless of his accomplishments in the cage.
“I don't ever plan on walking away from the sport; I will just transition to coaching full time,” he said. “I love my students; they are some of the biggest assets in my life.”
One may wonder if Delgado, a self-described insecure, goofy, dorky kid growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, was born to be a fighter, but the three-time UFC veteran and victor in Bellator FC believes that he is a natural on the coaching side of the game.
“I enjoy helping people and it comes natural to me, to be honest,” said Delgado, who began teaching Brazilian jiu-jitsu as a purple belt at a university club nine years ago.
“I've gotten better over the years, but when you really want to help people it shows and they really try to do you proud.”
Since Westside opened its doors in 2006, Delgado has had quite a bit to be proud about.
Delgado’s club, which is undefeated in its past 15 outings in Little Rock, has produced blue belts who have bested brown and black belts in tournaments and served as Hillary Williams’ home base during her quest to ultimately becoming a black belt world champion.
Delgado, who counts helping Williams beat Megumi Fujii to claim a bronze at the 2009 ADCC submission wrestling championships in Barcelona as one of his fondest memories as a coach, helped fellow Arkansans Seth Kleinbeck and Mike Wessel reach Strikeforce and the UFC, respectively.
“Communication skills, for sure, that and a true passion,” Delgado said when asked to what he attributed his success in coaching. “It doesn't hurt that I've done everything that I ask my fighters to do. The guys that came up around the time I did really paved the way for this sport.”
Delgado, who is partial to coaching over fighting, is happy with what he has accomplished in MMA, but he feels the best is yet to come for him in the world of martial arts.
“I think the program that me and Matt Hamilton have set up is going to lend us to having many more fighters in big shows, as well as some top grapplers regionally,” said Delgado, who may return to competition in 2014. “ ... I want to be known all over the world as a place in the middle of Arkansas where they grow tough fighters from scratch!”
Ed Kapp is a Regina, Saskatchewan-based freelance journalist. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations were obtained firsthand.