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Charles Rosa's Debut to Remember

"I felt like I belonged there, I believed in myself, but until I actually did it, I really didn’t know for sure." - Charles Rosa

If Charles Rosa’s Fight of the Night effort against a Top 15 opponent in Dennis Siver on five days’ notice last Saturday in Stockholm didn’t already mark him as something special in the UFC’s featherweight division, maybe his routine on the Monday after his fight will do the trick.

Note that Rosa lost close to 30 pounds in the days after being offered and accepting the fight, he went 15 hard minutes with one of the best featherweights in the world, and then left Sweden with an extra $50,000 in his pocket.

Sounds like a good time for a well-deserved vacation. Not for Rosa, who didn’t go back to his training home in Florida or back to New England to see friends and family. Instead, the 28-year-old went from Sweden to the Mejiro Gym Friesland, about two hours from Amsterdam, after the fight. On Monday, he was resting, sleeping on the mats in the gym. On Tuesday, it was back to work.

“I got the $50,000 bonus and it was very tempting because there are hotels with Jacuzzis in them, and there’s all this stuff I could be doing,” he laughs. “I could be living like a king, but I know that’s not the best thing mentally for me. I didn’t win the fight, so right now I’m staying in the gym, sleeping on the mats, and I’m back on the grind. My goal is to be the champion, and even though everyone’s saying ‘oh, you lost to one of the top ten guys, you did awesome and showed you belong there,’ I was expecting to win that fight. So mentally for me, it was a tough pill to swallow, and that’s why coming out here was the best for me.”

We can talk about having a warrior’s spirit and a fighter’s mentality all day and all night, but until it smacks you in the face, you don’t truly see what it is. For Peabody, Massachusetts’ Rosa, this last week has been a life-altering one, and it only became that because he was willing to risk everything for that possibility. And frankly, it was only a possibility, because the situation he threw himself into had the potential to go horribly wrong on a lot of different levels.

First, he was taking his first UFC fight on less than a week’s notice. That’s difficult in any circumstance, but in Rosa’s case, he was nearly two months removed from his last fight (and win) against Jake Constant in August, and though he was training, it wasn’t fight training, so when he got the call on the Sunday night before the event, he was clocking in at around 174 pounds. That’s past the welterweight limit for those of you keeping score at home.

“I was at a kickboxing show in Holland,” he said, “and once I heard about the fight, I started running around in my jeans.”

By the time he got on site in Stockholm on Tuesday, he was 165 ½ pounds, leaving him just a couple days to cut the remaining 20 pounds. He did it. Now he had to face Siver, a fighter so good and so experienced that the Swedish MMA Federation didn’t approve Taylor Lapilus for the Germany-based Russian because they didn’t feel he was experienced enough. In stepped Rosa, just 9-0 himself, but when the bell rang on Saturday, there was a fight, and a damn good one at that. And almost immediately, Rosa knew he belonged.

“Like with anything in life, until you do it, you never really know if you’re capable of doing it,” he said. “I know, because I train at American Top Team with the best guys in the world, that I can compete with them and all that stuff, but I’ve never actually done it where I’ve been in a real fight in the UFC. I felt like I belonged there, I believed in myself, but until I actually did it, I really didn’t know for sure.”

The final judges’ scores read 30-27 for Siver, but that wasn’t how the fight played out in reality. Yes, Siver won, and deservedly so, but each round was a pitched battle full of non-stop action, particularly on the ground, where the submission attempts and transitions made the seconds fly by. In an MMA world where some fans tune out when the bout hits the mat, Rosa put on a performance that could make striking fans into groundfighting aficionados.

“One of my nicknames before the fight was “Rapidinho” which means “fast kid,” and my style is very exciting,” Rosa said. “With my jiu-jitsu, I always go. I’m not like what they would call a lay and pray guy. My style of jiu-jitsu is really exciting and I take pride in that. I have a good gas tank so I’m always going and I’m a submission specialist. I learned a lot from (UFC vet and manager) Charles McCarthy and I definitely think I could make fans from it (his style). There’s no second on the ground when I’m just sitting there and not doing anything. I’m always looking to finish the fight from any position.”

He proved it last Saturday, and though you see plenty of impressive debutants over the course of any given year in the UFC, Rosa’s effort in defeat was one of the most memorable, simply because he took a situation that could have been disastrous and turned it into a win everywhere except the scorecards. And those wins will come. Just give him a full training camp and step back.

“You can expect an even more ferocious, even better, well-conditioned fighter than you saw in Sweden,” Rosa said of his Octagon future. “I’ll have a full training camp and I’ll be fully prepared and also have a game plan. It will just be a better version of what you saw.”

To watch the Fight Night Stockholm replay, click here