"Your life makes you or breaks you, and it translates to the cage. You either rise up or you fold." - Aaron Rosa
An approximately 17 hour flight from Texas to Australia would be torture for most. For Aaron Rosa, it’s just part of the job.
“You gotta do what you gotta do,” Said the UFC light heavyweight, who faces James Te Huna on this Friday’s (Saturday in Australia) UFC on FX 2 card in Sydney. “It’s my job, so I pack it up and get ready to go. I kiss my daughter, kiss my wife, and say ‘see you next week.’”
As matter of fact as that sounds, that’s the way Aaron Rosa approaches life in and out of the fight game. He wasn’t a highly recruited athlete waltzed up the ranks and placed square in the middle of the world’s premier mixed martial arts promotion. He worked for everything he got, battled through plenty of obstacles, and finally made it here in 2011. But what made the Del Rio’s native’s journey even more impressive, is that even as he was introduced to the UFC faithful last June against Joey Beltran, he was still working an 11 hour shift driving a truck and delivering Red Bull.
So each of his previous 16 wins (and three losses) came while working a full-time job. That’s an impressive feat any way you slice it, but when he got stopped in the third round of the Beltran fight at UFC 131, he knew things had to change if he was going to compete at the elite level. The first was dropping back to the light heavyweight division; the second was putting his day job to the side.
“I got heavy,” admits Rosa, who fluctuated between fights at heavyweight and 205. “I was working 11 hours a day, delivering Red Bull. So I was working most of the day, eating fast food while I was driving and not training like I should have been, so I really let myself go. I didn’t stick to a diet, and I was just working so much I couldn’t really do it. So after the Joey Beltran fight, I was like, man, if I’m gonna really do something with this, I need to take it seriously and just concentrate on fighting. I spoke to my wife and she said ‘yeah, this is your shot. Try it, see what happens, and God willing everything works out. If not, then you move on and do what you gotta do.’”
That support from his wife Christina was all he needed. Now Rosa was going to live and train as a full-time professional mixed martial artist and see where the sport took him. Needless to say, having his wife in his corner is no small factor in his positive mindset today.
“It’s the most important thing,” he said. “She suffers with me. When we’re down on our luck or barely scraping by, she picks up the slack and she really pushes me when I get down on myself. I don’t like barely making it or being barely on time with stuff. But she’s there for me and she really helps me out. She takes care of our daughter, she’s a really good supportive wife, and I can’t ask for anything more.”
Rosa and his bride are also parents to a year old daughter, giving him even more motivation to succeed in a career that started off in 2004 under conditions that would give the shakes to some young fighters who only know the modern version of the MMA career path.
“My very first fight, an amateur fight, was in Louisiana, and that was my opponent’s hometown,” recalled Rosa. “It was a smoker, and it was 2004, so there really weren’t regulatory bodies. I fought in a bar and his whole family showed up. And when I came out, they booed the s**t out of me.”
He laughs about it now.
“I drove to Louisiana. And I didn’t get paid. I drove eight hours just to get in a bar fight, basically. (Laughs) I said ‘What am I doing?’ But I guess it worked out.”
And at least when he steps into the Octagon against local favorite Te Huna, he won’t be rattled by any boos.
“I’m near-sighted, so I can’t see anybody except the guy inside the ring,” he laughs. “I can’t see the people in the crowd or nothing like that.”
Yet all joking aside, the path traveled by Rosa is one that you see less and less of these days. In one way, that’s a good thing, because it means that fighters are being taken care of financially and in terms of regulation and safety measures. But in another, you don’t see hard-nosed scrappers like Rosa who came up the hard way and stuck with the sport when it was far from a mainstream entity.
“I think it just makes you push forward and keep going,” he said. “I always tried to push myself as hard as I could when I’m training or doing anything. I keep going and keep going. If you grow up with adversity, it’s gonna show. Your life makes you or breaks you, and it translates to the cage. You either rise up or you fold. I think I rise up all the time.”
Last November, in his first bout as a full-time fighter, Rosa did just that, decisioning Matt Lucas over three rounds. It wasn’t a typical Rosa barnburner, but it was a win – his first in the UFC – and as he admits, he is still a work in progress.
“It was really good, but I was kinda disappointed in my performance,” he said of getting his first UFC win. “I couldn’t get the stop, and the guy just kept holding on to me all the time, and it made the fight kinda boring. I was trying to tell him ‘dude, let’s just fight.’ But he kept holding on to me the whole time and I don’t like that type of stuff. If we’re going out there to fight, and they’re paying us money, let’s fight. But I’ve got to do a better job of creating my opportunities. I just can’t wait for him to engage. The best fighters make their opportunities in the cage, so I was disappointed because I should have stopped that guy. I had the conditioning, I had everything; I just couldn’t make my opportunities. Hopefully, now I’m a lot stronger than I was for that fight.”
“He (Te Huna) is a strong guy, explosive, he comes at you, but he’s also a wrestler who likes to take guys down and ground and pound them, so he has a little mixture of everything and I’ve got to be ready on all fronts,” said Rosa. “Hell, I might even take him down, I really don’t know. (Laughs) I let the situation dictate what happens. I go in there, punch him in the face a couple times, maybe he backs up and I’ll take him down. But I always go into a fight thinking I’m gonna kickbox a guy all night. That’s all I think about - hitting the guy in the face.”
This week, he gets his chance. He’s a long way from Texas, and an even longer way from that first amateur fight in Louisiana, but when it comes to Aaron Rosa in Sydney, a fight’s a fight.
“I’m flying 17 hours to go get into a fight, so once I’m there, I’m there.”