Make no mistake about it, Shane Del Rosario was excited about his last fight, a first-round submission victory over the respected Lavar Johnson in last Saturday's Strikeforce card in East Rutherford, N.J.
But as Del Rosario sat back in a chair this week at his training facility, Team Oyama MMA and Fitness in Irvine, the up-and-coming heavyweight mixed martial arts fighter seemed just as thrilled about his shorts.
Those shorts, adorned with the colorful logos of his sponsors like Power Balance, Extreme Endurance, Innovative Results and others, were "misplaced" at the IZOD Center in New Jersey. Somebody found them and sent them to Del Rosario for him to wear again.
Things are certainly looking good for Del Rosario these days, as his armbar submission win over Johnson improved his professional MMA record to 11-0. It positioned him as the first alternate in Strikeforce's current Heavyweight Grand Prix tournament, which included the MMA legend Fedor Emelianenko before Emelianenko lost his quarterfinal-round fight.
That Del Rosario has emerged as a potential heavyweight title contender in the next few years seemed improbable, considering where he's coming from. He didn't grow up on the mean streets of Brazil, learning jiu-jitsu to feed his family. And he didn't roam the ghetto in South Central and box his way out of oblivion.
No, Del Rosario went to Dana Hills High, hung out at the beach, surfed and played on the high school basketball team. After graduating from Dana Hills in 2001, he went to UC Irvine and graduated with a degree in psychology.
"In my last year of college one of my friends went over to Colin's gym," Del Rosario said of Colin Oyama, owner and operator of Team Oyama. "So I decided to go over there too. Not competing in anything was driving me crazy."
Oyama, who himself fought as an amateur Muay Thai kickboxer, guided Del Rosario to the WBC World Muay Thai heavyweight title in 2008, a belt he still holds today. Del Rosario, though, initially resisted the transition of becoming a "mixed" martial artist. He didn't want to get on the ground where he didn't feel comfortable — "I didn't want to roll," Del Rosario said with a smile.
Oyama didn't push him, but eventually Del Rosario began working with Team Oyama's ground coach, Giva Santana.
"That was the plan all along," said Oyama, whose gym currently trains 16 professional fighters and previously trained Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Tito Oritz.
Santana, who himself is 15-1 as a middleweight, has turned Del Rosario's ground game into a formidable part of his overall game. Del Rosario has ended two of his last three fights by submission.
"There was a lot of athleticism, but he was pretty raw," said Santana, a Brazilian known as "The Arm Collector." "He had no ground game at all but now he's starting to like it. He's seeing the difference it can make. When he goes to the ground you don't want him to feel panic."
Oyama and Santana are Del Rosario's only coaches, Oyama handling the stand-up. Oyama likes to keep training simple by not having too many opinions. He's worked in gyms where too many coaches worked against fighters instead of helping them.
"It's not so much having 'too many chefs in the kitchen,'" Oyama said, "but having 'too many chefs who can't cook.'"
Del Rosario's biggest obstacle these days seems to be simply getting time in the octagon. In five years as a pro he has just the 11 fights, all victories but only one opponent has reached the second round. While the dominance is nice, a three-round test would help in the long run.
"It's more a mental test than physical," Santana said. "It's knowing you can do it."
Last year Del Rosario had only one fight, as a scheduled fight with Bobby Lashley was canceled on three different occasions by Lashley's camp.
Del Rosario took advantage of the opportunity when he finally got back into the octagon with last week's fight against Johnson, who was 15-3 going in.
"Beating Lavar was the first real big step," Oyama said. "The promoter there told me they all get bigger and nastier from here on out."
Del Rosario's decision to get into the fight game instead of going to grad school seems to be paying off for now, but he knows he has a ways to go to get where he wants to be.
His deal with Strikeforce is for two years and six fights, the victory over Johnson the first of the six.
"I need to get fights and get more experience, and then I can go for a belt," Del Rosario said. "But I know I've still got a lot to learn."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times