Raul Rosas Jr. Isn’t like the other high school seniors. Then again, he wasn’t like the other freshmen, sophomores or juniors, either.
“They're just happy and they've always been,” said Rosas of his classmates’ reaction to his fighting career. “Since they don't know how the MMA game works, they're like, ‘When are you gonna fight for the UFC,’ and stuff like that. And since they don't know anything about weight classes, they're like, ‘Oh, you should fight Brock Lesnar.’”
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Well, they’ll get half their wishes on Saturday when the 18-year-old Rosas officially becomes the youngest fighter in UFC history and faces Jay Perrin on the UFC 282 card in Las Vegas. There will be no APEX for this one; instead, the New Mexico native will have a packed house at T-Mobile Arena welcoming him to the big show.
“This is just like another fight,” said Rosas. “It's more exciting because it's at T-Mobile, but I'm not nervous or nothing like that. I'm just excited and looking forward to it.”
Teenagers aren’t supposed to be this cool about fighting grown men in front of an arena full of fans on the biggest platform in mixed martial arts. But Rosas has been doing this kind of thing ever since he was a kid, when he saw his father fight and got hooked immediately.
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“When I saw him fight, I remember how the crowd was cheering him on and I saw the process, like him being backstage and getting ready to fight, and I knew that's what I wanted to do,” said Rosas. “Right after he got out of the cage, I told him that I wanted to fight.”
Raul Sr. supported his young son’s ambitions, with only one rule:
“He told me ‘You just gotta train hard.’”
Rosas trained hard and trained as much as he could, and it wasn’t long before he - and everyone around him - realized he had something special.
“When I was little I knew I was special because I've always been so creative with it,” he said. “I feel like some people just have the hard work ethic and I think I was blessed with the talent, as well. So the talent and the hard work makes me even more special. But I realized I was special when I was 12 because I was already being able to dominate grown men at that age. That's when I realized I could be in the UFC. I knew the level that I had already at 12 was big, so I knew when I was 17 it was gonna be even bigger.”
At 17, Rosas was 5-0 as a pro and about to fight Mando Gutierrez for a UFC contract on Dana White’s Contender Series in September. The hype train kicked into overdrive for the talented teenager looking to make history. It was the perfect scenario for a letdown, but Rosas stepped up and delivered, taking a three-round unanimous decision win that got him that contract.
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“For this fight, a lot of people knew that I was gonna win, but they weren't sure if I was gonna get that contract,” he said. “But I was sure I was because I knew I was a different 17-year-old with a different style. I was a hundred percent sure I was gonna get that contract.”
More impressively, he was as cool as an old pro the entire way.
“I think it's because I've done it so many times already,’ Rosas explains. “I had so many fights as a little kid, there are so many times that I've been in there, and when I get in the cage I just feel comfortable and I feel free, like I can do anything. And I know I'm prepared, and that's why I'm stepping in the Octagon because I know I'm ready to prove my skills, and I know I got what it takes to do it. I'm just out there having fun.”
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It’s a beautiful thing, really, someone having such clarity of vision at such a young age, and while the road is wide open ahead of him, it’s also filled with pitfalls, ones that are even more dangerous for someone who isn’t even 21 yet. But Rosas knows sacrifice already, and he’s more than willing to keep sacrificing to leave his mark on the sport.
“I'm giving up a lot of stuff to get to this point,” he said. “Moving from state to state, leaving everything behind - friends, family - but the most challenging part is that I wasn't really able to go to school parties or hang out with friends outside of school because I had to be at the gym. But I always think about it, like, suffer now, enjoy later. So right now I'm making all the sacrifices, and soon, I feel like after my career I'll be able to live the party life and I won't have to worry about anything. I'll have all the money so I'll just be doing whatever I want.”
In the meantime, Raul Rosas Jr. is chasing glory.
“I can go really far with this because I barely turned 18, so I know that I've got a lot of years and I'm just gonna be here in the UFC breaking records,” he said. “I'm gonna become the youngest UFC champion and I'm gonna go for records that haven't even been made.”
UFC 282: Błachowicz vs Ankalaev took place live from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada on December 10, 2022. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!