Only UFC fighters themselves know what they feel as they walk into the cage, glove up and fight one another. One can only imagine that it has to be a daunting sense.
First time ?Octagon jitters? are almost legendary among debuting UFC combatants. The lights, cameras, large arena, and quite conscious sense of how what?s about to happen is both an incredible career opportunity, after years of work and dedication, as well as perhaps the most dangerous and high-level fight you?ve ever been in, can doubtless make for an interesting brew of nerves for most fighters.
Maybe featherweight Charles Rosa (9-1) felt all of that, heavily, as he stepped into the cage for the first time on October 4 and fought top 10 fighter Dennis Siver (22-9). After all, Rosa had been thisclose to getting a UFC contract for some time, now, as a top prospect.
And when he finally got the call, it was to fight on short notice against a much more experienced fighter in Siver, on another continent, and after cutting nearly 30 pounds in one week. If Rosa felt the ?Octagon jitters,? he sure didn?t show it.
For three rounds, Rosa looked to be not just a top-level UFC fighter, but someone who was so at home in the Octagon, that he enjoyed every second of his close battle to Siver.
Rosa lost a close decision, but earned a performance bonus check and put the division on notice that he was for real. Perhaps he was able to look so comfortable, and even happy, while fighting a Hercules look-a-like on short notice because of how far he?d gone to get there.
Rosa, at just 28 years old, is a young man. He has already, however, lived plenty, and persevered through a lot already.
In fact, MMA may have very well helped him save his own life.
Charles Rosa is from the Boston area, yet he began his fight training down in South Florida. When we spoke with the featherweight some months ago, while he was still fighting on regional circuits and hoping to get a call up to the major leagues of MMA, Rosa revealed that it wasn?t training that initially brought him to Florida from Massachusetts years ago, but rather a drug rehabilitation program.
Rosa had experienced things many other young people his age had ? a sense of aimlessness, coupled with frustration and anger ? after losing both his first athletic love in hockey, and a beloved brother. Charles wasn?t doing a whole lot up North, and was eventually compelled to go to rehab.
Florida, he hoped, would be a fresh start. It became just that, thanks to a new sport for the man who would go on to be called, ?The Boston Strangler.?
?I was on the bus one day, heading to the facility and I saw a guy with a gym bag,? Rosa recalled, to us.
?I recognized it as a fight gym bag, and I asked him where he trained. He told me, and I decided to go check it out.?
Rosa had an uncle who boxed, and thought of himself as a tough guy, though he had little in the way of formal training. Still, when he walked into American Top Team black belt, and UFC veteran Charles ?Chainsaw? McCarthy?s gym for the first time, he sought out as much action as possible.
First, he unintentionally insulted Cole Miller by challenging him to spar. Miller obliged him and battered the rookie around a bit.
Most importantly, however, Rosa came back the next day. And the next, and the next day after that.
?I thought I was tough, and I was expecting them to say, ?good job,? or something like that. But nobody said anything, so I kept coming back and training more,? he said.
Eventually, Rosa?s diligent attendance in class did get McCarthy?s attention, and he sat the newbie down for a talk. ?He told me that he thought I could be good, if I trained hard,? Rosa recounted.
?When I first walked in, I knew nothing about MMA, so I didn?t know who all the guys around me were. Eventually, I learned that a lot of them were some of the best fighters in the world. I realized who I was working with. These were world-class guys and I was surviving with them, on just guts.?
Rosa took McCarthy?s talk seriously, and trained harder than ever, with the hopes of landing his own MMA debut, sooner than later. McCarthy initially rebuffed Rosa?s many attempts to have a fight booked, but there was a reason.
?Every week I?d come in and ask, ?do you have a fight for me?? And he would say, ?not yet, not yet.? Later, he told me that he had a plan for me,? Rosa said.
?They thought I could become a world champion one day. So, they wanted to take things seriously, slowly, and build a career.?
The planning and deliberation paid off for Rosa because once he made his pro debut, in 2012, he would rattle off nine straight wins over the next two years. More than that, Rosa had gotten clean and found a new calling.
?MMA kind of replaced hockey for me, I think,? he told us.
?This was something new that I loved, and got good at.?
To be sure, Rosa had a lot on the line when he made his UFC debut a week ago against Siver. More than that, perhaps, he was exactly where he wanted to be, and so he was able to look so fluid and confident against a savvy veteran, many years and battles his elder.
?I don?t think I could do a regular, nine to five job,? he told us.
?[MMA] fits my personality and temperament well. This is what I?m supposed to do.?