For UFC heavyweight Shane del Rosario, returning to the cage is more than the progression of his career—it’s the result of soul searching and his refusal to have a lifetime of hard work taken away from him.
On April 14, 2011, it was uncertain whether or not Shane del Rosario’s fighting livelihood had been brought to an abrupt end after a drunk driver plowed into his car as he was stopped at an intersection. Hours before the incident, del Rosario had been at the gym preparing for the biggest fight of his young career against Daniel Cormier, but now he was left with a herniated disc, mounting frustration, and doubt about his future as an athlete.
It’s difficult to imagine a 28-year-old rising heavyweight star making a career comeback, but when you’ve had the year del Rosario has experienced, making a return to the fray is an applause-worthy accomplishment.
“I was coming off a solid win over Lavar Johnson, and I was set to face Cormier,” says del Rosario. “Suddenly, everything was gone. An entire year of my life was taken away from me. It was a rough time. I’ve had injuries in the past with broken bones, so I thought I would bounce back. As it turned out, the herniated disc was much more than I’d originally thought. I tried getting back in the gym, but I had to face the reality that I was going through a serious injury. I needed time off to do the necessary rehab to recover.”
Fighters, by nature, are forged from different molds, and it was del Rosario’s mental toughness that kept his head above water. The momentum that del Rosario had built over his first 11 fights was impressive, to say the least. As a former Muay Thai World Champion, del Rosario’s transition into mixed martial arts was seamless, finishing all 11 of his opponents in spectacular fashion, with only one fighter making it out of the first round. The American heavyweight knew it was going to be a long road back—one that would require diligence and patience and that would test his fortitude down to the core
just as his stock was on the rise.
Professional fighters rely on their bodies to perform at a high level, and del Rosario quickly discovered that the things that were once automatic had to be rebuilt. He had an internal sense of urgency to return to form and prove that he belonged in the cage with the best heavyweights in the world. The battles that he faced in the rehabilitation process created frustrations from within, as his range of motion and natural power were suddenly limited.
The California native would eventually come to terms with the pace of the process. Rushing the rehab would only stymie the outcome. After months of therapy, his mobility returned, and the snap in his kicks followed. With all systems firing, his confidence came back front and center, signaling to him it was time to get back to what he does best.
BACK IN ACTION
Now, with the darkest part of his journey behind him, del Rosario is prepared to begin the next chapter of his career. He is scheduled to step back into action against former UFC heavyweight contender Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC 146 on May 26.
“I was excited for the UFC to put me in a fight like this,” says del Rosario. “It shows they want me in tough fights, and that is where I want to be. Gonzaga is trying to reestablish himself and has built up some momentum over his past two fights. I’m in a similar position, coming off an injury, and we are both hungry for victory. The heavy-weight pool is stacked now that they’ve put the UFC and Strikeforce guys together. You have to prove that you belong. This training camp is going to be the most important of my career.”
In this particular matchup, del Rosario isn’t the only fighter scrapping for a piece of the suddenly crowded UFC heavyweight division. While Gonzaga was once considered a top contender in the weight class, a rough patch that saw him drop three out of four UFC bouts earned him a pink slip from the world’s largest promotion. But when the UFC made its return to Rio de Janeiro in January, “Napao” took advantage of his second opportunity and earned a first round submission victory.
“It’s going to be a great fight,” del Rosario says. “We are both dangerous, and there’s something to prove. He has to prove he can be a contender again, and I need to prove I belong in the UFC. I’m actually more pumped than I’ve ever been. I’m coming into this fight hungry.”
In the time between del Rosario’s last victory over Lavar Johnson and his return on Memorial Day weekend, the entire landscape of heavyweight MMA has shifted drastically. With Zuffa purchasing Strikeforce and merging the organization’s heavyweight roster into the UFC’s competitive talent pool, there is little room for error if his potential is to be realized. While the route traveled may not have been ideal, when del Rosario steps into the Octagon, it will be a dream come true.
“If the UFC signs you, that means they want you there and you need to show them that they’ve made the right decision,” he says. “All the hard work since the first day I stepped foot inside of a gym has been geared toward fighting in the UFC. The accident may have taken a year of my life, but things worked out the way they should have, and I’m going to be fighting in the UFC against a former contender. This is my make or break moment, and I couldn’t be more excited. The accident sucked, but I’m over being pissed about it. I’ve accepted it as something that happens in life, and it’s made me stronger in every aspect. When I get back to fighting on May 26, it’s only going to make me appreciate life that much more.”
Name: SHANE DEL ROSARIO
Class: Heavyweight (235 lbs.)
Born: Hacienda Heights, CA
Fighting out of: Irvine, California
Association: Team DeathClutch, Oyama
Style: Muay Thai, BJJ
Cage-side judges have been able to take the night off when Shane del Rosario goes to work. He has ended all of his professional MMA bouts by way of stoppage (8 TKOs, 3 Submissions). It’s an impressive statistic, but nothing new to del Rosario, as the former WBC World Muay Thai Heavyweight Champion has compiled an 8-1 record with eight knockouts.