A lot has happened since UC Irvine psychology grad Shane Del Rosario last stepped into the Octagon for real.
It was February of 2011 when he submitted Lavar Johnson in a Strikeforce heavyweight bout, and Del Rosario seemed to be on the mixed martial arts fast track. But a car accident a couple months later caused a back injury that kept the former Dana Hills High basketball player on the shelf for nearly eight months.
He eventually returned to the gym at Team Oyama MMA and Fitness in Irvine, and got back to work. And now, he’s ready to resume his quest to be the UFC heavyweight champion.
Del Rosario, 11-0 in his MMA career, has signed to fight in the UFC and will make his UFC debut on May 26 in UFC 146 against another undefeated heavyweight, Stipe Miocic (8-0), at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
Del Rosario has had to make a sharp adjustment in his pre-fight preparation, as he initially was slated to fight Gabriel Gonzaga. But the UFC was forced to scramble the fight card after Alistair Overeem tested positive for an elevated testosterone level.
Overeem had been scheduled to fight UFC heavyweight champion Junior Dos Santos in the main event.
So when the dust settled, Frank Mir was given the title shot against Dos Santos, and Gonzaga was moved to fight Roy Nelson.
That opened the door for Miocic to fight Del Rosario, who had to switch gears.
“It definitely changes training a little bit,” said Del Rosario, who suffered multiple herniated discs in the car accident last April. “You go from fighting a 255-pound black belt in jiu jitsu and a veteran in the UFC, to Miocic.
“But I can’t overlook him, he’ll definitely be a tough opponent. He seems real athletic, he was a Golden Glove boxer and a (NCAA) Division I wrestler. It’s going to be an exciting fight.”
Del Rosario is confident he belongs in the discussion of potential UFC heavyweight champions. He has sparred with Dos Santos as well as middleweight champ Anderson Silva and held his own.
But climbing the ladder to a title shot requires strategy. Sometimes patience along the way is the best way to go, holding back and facing the best in the division only after taking care of lesser fighters first.
Del Rosario doesn’t have that luxury, and in his case, ring rust also could be a factor. When he steps into the Octagon on May 26, it’ll have been 15 months since his previous fight.
So maybe getting Miocic instead of Gonzaga is a good thing, though it wouldn’t be accurate to call Miocic a “tune-up” fight.
“I’m not fighting the big name, but I’m happy with it,” Del Rosario said. “It’s my first fight in the UFC. [Ring rust] is definitely something to think about. I was not only out for a while but I was injured and I didn’t train for six to eight months.”
Del Rosario said his back is still not 100 percent, “but I train smarter because of the injury.”
Del Rosario has stayed with his coach, Colin Oyama, from day-one, and feels good about his development as a fighter. Del Rosario was a Muay Thai heavyweight kickboxing champion who was reluctant at first to put in the time on the ground, but has since embraced the ground game.
“I think my skill set is there,” he said.
Just as long as he can handle the bright lights of the UFC, he’ll be fine.
“There will be some nerves,” he said. “Not being able to fight for a while, and then you go into the UFC, which is a huge stage. But I will channel all my energy into a positive direction, thinking about all those hours in the gym with the goal of getting to the UFC.
“Ever since I started working with Colin Oyama, this is what the plan was.”