At age seventeen, Raul Rosas Jr. might just make history as the youngest fighter ever signed to the UFC – that is, if he passes the gauntlet set by his upcoming Contender Series matchup against twenty-five-year-old Mando “El Toro” Gutierrez on September 20.
“To be honest, I haven’t really thought about a plan [for the fight] yet, because I haven’t really checked him out, but I’m confident that whatever he tries to do, I’ll do ten times better,” Rosas tells the Jiu-Jitsu Times. “So I’m just going to try and finish the fight – if it goes three rounds, every second of the fight, I’m going to try and finish it. I’m just going to go out there and put on a show for everybody, and let them know that even though I’m only seventeen years old, I’m ready for the UFC, and I’m ready to go for that title shot.”
With an undefeated 5-0 pro record, Rosas certainly has the chops to back up his ambition. Though he only had a couple of years of competitive wrestling experience from middle and high school, he’s successfully combined those foundations with his 10th Planet jiu-jitsu training to become a truly formidable grappler in the MMA cage. Four of Rosas’ five victories have arrived by way of submission – which according to Rosas, is no accident. At one point, he was slated to take multiple fights in consecutive months, so Rosas recognized that he’d have to preserve his body in order to survive the ordeal.
“I knew that if I went in there, took them down, and tapped them out, then I wasn’t going to take any damage, and I’d be back in the gym on Monday,” he explains.
Which isn’t to say that Rosas can’t throw hands – in fact, he won his most recent fight with a first-round knockout. “I actually started with striking,” says Rosas. “I started with karate and kickboxing, and then I started doing jiu-jitsu – and I didn’t do as much wrestling, but I already had the striking and the jiu-jitsu. I started when I was four.”
What do Rosas’ parents make of raising a teen cage-fighting sensation? “They actually always supported me,” says Rosas. “They weren’t really surprised when I turned pro because they’re always with me, and they know how hard I work, so they know my level – I feel like a lot of people just look at my age, and don’t know my level yet. They just see a seventeen-year-old stepping into the cage, but I’ve been training for a long time.”
According to Rosas, he’s known he wanted to turn pro ever since he hit his teens. “Ever since I was thirteen, I always thought I’d turn pro around this age,” he explains. “And when I was fifteen, I heard that you could go pro in Mexico at seventeen. So I talked to my parents about it, and told them I wanted to go pro. And they agreed with me, but all they said was that I’d have to work hard – and I’ve been working hard. And because they’ve always supported me, I did turn pro.” He grins. “And now we’re here.”
Rosas has always been precocious. He smiles impishly, remembering his early jiu-jitsu days, when he used to lie about his age to enter the adult divisions of local grappling tournaments. “I started going with adults when I was thirteen,” he elaborates. “They were purple belts already. And I would always lie about my age, and say I was eighteen, when I was fourteen, because I wanted a little more competition.”
Were his parents in on the ruse? “Yeah, because I told them that if I was going to pay for a jiu-jitsu tournament, I didn’t just want to go in there, go with a kid my age, and tap him out in five seconds,” says Rosas. “I wanted to test myself. So I knew that if I went with adults, it was going to be a little more competitive. So when I was about fifteen, I started going with the adults in the black belt division, and I’ve just been competing in the adult black belt division ever since.”
Does facing off against adults in a combat sport feel any different to Rosas than facing members of the juvenile divisions? He shrugs. “It didn’t really feel any different,” he admits. “When we were little, we were in a small town, me and my brother, and we were the only kids. There was no kids’ class, so we never got to experience a kids’ class. My entire career, I was rolling with adults.”
Which, according to Rosas, occasionally got a little dicey with brand-new adult white belts who hadn’t yet learned how to control their strength. “They would really go hard on me, and I would have to learn how to deal with it, and I just ended up getting used to it,” Rosas remembers. “So now, me fighting with adults, I feel like it’s nothing.”
While much has been made of Rosas’ current youth, he’s already got his sights set on the future and is chomping at the bit to make his mark on the UFC, regardless of age. “I want to win this fight on the Contender Series, I want to get that UFC contract, and I want to fight that same weekend or the next weekend. I just want to build up as much [time in the Octagon] as I can.”
Rosas hopes to inspire other teens to get an early start on chasing their dreams. “Everybody tune in on September 20,” he urges. “I promise I’m going to put on a show. I promise I’m going to come out with the finish and get that UFC contract – and I’m just going to open a lot of doors for young people coming up [in the sport]. You don’t have to be twenty-five to make it in the UFC. You can be any age you want – just work hard, there’s no secret. It is a tough road, trying to become the youngest UFC champion and all that, but I know I have what it takes, and I know it’s going to be hard, but I’m going to make it look easier than it is, and I’m going to work hard for it.”
Tune into Raul Rosas’ showdown on the Dana White Contender Series come September 20 via UFC Fight Pass.
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