LAS VEGAS — Raul Rosas Jr. will still be a few weeks from his 19th birthday when he faces Terrence Mitchell on Sept. 16 at T-Mobile Arena on the Noche UFC card to celebrate Mexican Independence Day. Nothing, he said, will be different than it was on April 8, when he met Christian Rodriguez in Miami at UFC 287.
Rosas has been arguably the UFC’s top prospect since he earned a contract on Sept. 20, 2022, following a win over Mando Gutierrez at Dana White’s Contender Series show at Apex. When Rosas was riding high, blowing away White, the UFC president, and hearing knowledgeable MMA experts suggest he could become the youngest champion in UFC history, there was precious little criticism.
Rosas, of course, was boastful, but he never came across poorly or in a negative way. The kid knew nothing but winning and success, and so when he was asked how he thought he’d do in the UFC, he replied confidently.
But at the first sign of trouble, MMA fans on social media turned on him and let him have it. He was largely dominated by Rodriguez at UFC 287 and lost a unanimous decision. He seemed out of his depths and not prepared for a guy with age and experience.
It wasn’t shocking to anyone who has been around the fight game for a long time, because there are few 17- or 18-year-olds who have been able to compete with experienced, elite men on an equal basis in any combat sport.
Rosas, though, took a beating on social media.
But as he’s prepared to return to the Octagon for his fourth fight in a year, he’s remained as confident as ever. Neither the loss nor the snark he heard from others on social media was able to diminish his belief in himself.
“I know I’m ready, and so I’m going to go out there on Sept. 16 … because I am who I say I am,” Rosas said following a workout for the media at Apex on Wednesday. “I’m going to go out there and show it to myself.”
No matter how talented, professional athletes need time to adjust to a new level and gain the experience that’s required to compete evenly against the best. It’s why rookies in any sport rarely win the MVP and often those who do turn out to be generational talents.
Whether Rosas is a generational talent remains to be seen, but he’s clearly got the talent to win at the sport’s highest level. He sloughed off the loss because he said that while his team properly him, he simply failed to execute the way he needed to and the way he believes he can.
“A lot of mistakes,” he said when asked what went wrong. “There were a lot of them, so many I can’t even count. But it was my fault. My team did the work and everyone worked with me, so it’s on me.”
A lot of it, to be honest, was probably due to Rodriguez simply being very good and too experienced for Rosas at the time they fought, but Rosas at least gets that it’s never a good idea to blame the coaches or one’s training partners for your own failures.
He’s excited to fight on Noche UFC because it’s a celebration of the contribution of Mexican athletes in combat sports. It’s traditionally been a big night in boxing for Mexican or Mexican-American stars such as Oscar De La Hoya and Canelo Alvarez, who regularly fought on this weekend. It’s the first time the UFC has attempted such a card, and Rosas was pleased to land a spot.
He was never able to attend those past fights because his family was too poor, but they all huddled in front of the TV to watch. And Rosas, even as a very young boy, had a feeling he’d one day be on that stage.
“When I watched those superstars fight on TV, it was great because I knew I was going to be one of them soon,” he said. “Now, I’m on my way to becoming a superstar. I just can’t wait for everybody to watch it.”
And that brings us back to his mistakes. They’re not going to keep watching if he continues to perform as he did at UFC 287. He hung in and fought until the end, but he was clearly beaten and there was no doubt how the decision would go.
He said the mistakes were physical, not mental, and that he knew what he needed to do but couldn’t do what he wanted.
It didn’t dim his confidence one bit, though, which is a good sign for a guy who doesn’t just want to be one of the best, but dares to dream as big as anyone. He’s thinking of making history, breaking records and becoming one of the biggest stars in the sport.
He’s got the back story: a poor kid from Mexico who came to the U.S., learned how to fight and bought his mom, a housekeeper, a new van she badly needed.
He still believes and is ready to get back on the horse to complete the journey.
In my book, I have always been humble, just confident,” Rosas said. “I was just saying what I think, just picking it because I know it’s real. So I still think the same way. That didn’t change my mentality. The only thing that loss changed was my record, and that’s just about it.”