George Roop has to be better than the plan to stop him.
When the featherweight sets foot inside the Octagon on Saturday night at UFC Fight Night 23: Fight for the Troops 2 at Fort Hood, outside of Killeen, Tex., he will not only have to overcome his opponent, Mark Hominick, but also a strategy devised by a trainer with inside knowledge of his abilities.
“Without a doubt, Shawn Tompkins is one of the greatest coaches in the world,” Roop told host Joe Rizzo of Rear Naked Choke Radio on the MMA DieHards Radio Network. “He’s going to be able to put together a great gameplan for Hominick in order to try to beat me at everything.
“On the other hand, I have great coaches here in Tucson as well. We’ve put together a great gameplan as well. You’re a different animal when you’re in there in the cage. It’s not training. You become a different animal when you step in there to fight. It’s a whole different level, and I plan on taking it to a whole nother level.”
Once upon a time, Roop trained under Tompkins and alongside Hominick. Now, he’ll stand opposite his former teammates and try to play the spoiler. With a win at Fort Hood, Hominick has been guaranteed a title shot against the UFC’s first ever featherweight champion, Jose Aldo, but a win for Roop does not come with the same assurances. Roop’s plan is to change that.
“They’re not going to have any choice after this fight but to give me the title shot,” said Roop. “Really, who else are they going to give the title shot to? I’m not going to give them a choice in the matter.”
The ride to this stage in Roop’s career has seen a roller-coaster’s worth of ups and downs, both in weight and fight outcomes. He began his career as a 145-pounder, competing primarily for the Arizona-based Rage in the Cage promotion and capturing the organization’s featherweight crown. However, a move to the bright lights of the UFC also meant a move up in weight, and so Roop went to 155 pounds to compete on season eight of The Ultimate Fighter.
“The Ultimate Fighter changed my life completely,” Roop said. “It really showed me what I needed to do to get to that next level and become a mixed martial arts fighter. I was fighting at 155 pounds – I was walking around at 155 pounds at that time, so it was a tough weight class to compete in, especially with those bigger stronger guys.
“When you get an opportunity, whether it be at 185 pound weight class, I’d have been fighting at that. You get an opportunity, you run with it.”
Despite fighting larger men, he advanced to the semifinals of the reality series before being eliminated by Phillipe Nover. He then competed on the TUF 8 Finale, losing his official lightweight debut to Shane Nelson. Roop fought twice more at 155 under the UFC banner, defeating Dave Kaplan and losing to George Sotiropoulos, before receiving his walking papers from the promotion.
The Tucson native returned to his roots – and the featherweight division – by defeating Matt Dell in front of a hometown crowd at Rage in the Cage 137. The win earned him another shot with a Zuffa-owned company, World Extreme Cagefighting.
Roop again shifted weight classes, cutting down to 135 pounds for an unsuccessful bantamweight debut against Eddie Wineland.
“I tried to drop down and flirt with 135 pounds,” he said. “It’s definitely not something I’ll ever do again.
“You know, 145 pounds, I feel very comfortable at. It’s my natural fight weight. I feel like I can dominate the 145-pound division.”
That was it, Roop had finally pinned down his ideal competitive weight after changing divisions four times. He returned to the featherweight ranks at WEC 47, fighting to a draw with Leonard Garcia. The contest might not have produced a clear winner, but it did earn both fighters “Fight of the Night” bonuses.
The bonus money didn’t stop there, as Roop’s next outing delivered a “Knockout of the Night” check and put him back in the win column. His victim was “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung, and his weapon of choice was a head kick – after all, how else would you drop a zombie than with a headshot?
The lighter weight divisions come with a reputation for delivering consistently entertaining action, and the arrival of these legions of 135- and 145-pounders in the UFC could spell a decrease in bonuses for the bigger guys. As for the featherweights and bantamweights, the letters U-F-C spell bigger bonus money than what was available in the WEC.
“It would be big money,” Roop said. “I’m definitely shooting for the bonuses. My main goal is to win the fight. Hopefully I can walk away with two bonus checks – Knockout of the Night and Fight of the Night bonuses.”
While Roop hopes to take home multiple bonuses on Saturday, his goals do not end there. He’s also seeking to insert his name into the featherweight contender conversation. However, his former teammate and training partner, Mark Hominick, stands between him and that objective. Their history won’t deter Roop on Saturday, as his focus remains clear.
“Friends aside, I’m going in there to take him out,” Roop stated. “It doesn’t matter to me, at the end of the day it’s a job and I’m going to get paid.”