Raul Rosas Jr.’s life is part of a shared experienced lived by many in the U.S., but within that large part of the population, this 17-year-old’s story is far from ordinary.
Rosas is one of millions of first-generation immigrants chasing the American dream, looking to make his parents proud but also carrying the sense of responsibility of one day repaying them for what they had to endure as immigrants to give him a better life.
And for Rosas, his dream of a better future comes through professional fighting. “El Niño Problema” dazzled the MMA world last month when he made history by becoming the youngest fighter to ever sign with the UFC following a dominant win over 25-year-old Nando Gutierrez at Dana White Contender Series 55.
“I’ve been training and taking it easy, but yeah, my Instagram now has a lot of followers, and I’ve been getting many messages,” Rosas told MMA Junkie in Spanish regarding the aftermath of his historic win. “Also been doing a lot of interviews and all that, but we knew this was coming, so no problem.”
Despite being just a teenager, it’s been a long road for Rosas to reach this monumental point of his MMA career.
‘I’m very grateful for my parents’
Raul Rosas Jr. prepares to fight Mando Gutierrez at Dana White’s Contender Series 55 (Photo by Chris Unger, Zuffa LLC)
Rosas was born in November 2004 in Clovis, N.M., a small town with a population of less than 40,000.
Rosas’ parents, Raul Rosas and Oyuki Rios, originally came to the U.S. from Iztapalapa, one of Mexico City’s most dangerous and poorest boroughs. Raul Sr. works as a boxing coach, and Oyuki is a housekeeper and also does other part-time jobs on the side as she’s also focused on looking after Rosas and his brother, Jessie, who’s also a professional fighter.
Raul Sr. and Oyuki knew that their sons had a knack for combat sports, and they were also aware that just being stateside wasn’t going to be enough for their kids’ desire to become pro fighters. Raul Jr. and Jessie needed something that Clovis, N.M. couldn’t offer.
“I’m very grateful for my parents, because we lived in a small town – Clovis, New Mexico,” Raul Jr. said. “And we were comfortable. We had everything, and they left it all behind, so we could move forward in life.
“At Clovis, we reached a point where we couldn’t grow in level (in MMA), so we moved to Santa Rosa, California. We left everything – family, everything. And we moved into a tiny apartment. We shared a living room between like five people, and there was a lot of us in the apartment. It was like 12 people. But thanks to my parents and their sacrifice, we’re here. And yeah, we get tired of eating arroz and frijoles, and I told them jokingly, ‘Only rib-eye from now on.’
“But yeah, I want to help out my family to move forward, and so we can continue moving up.”
The move to Santa Rosa came in 2017 when Rosas was just 13. From there, he kept disinclined. He competed in Pankration, which is similar to amateur MMA, and also began high school wrestling. After a few years in Santa Rosa, Rosas’ parents decided to take another step in furthering their sons’ fighting career.
In late 2021, the Rosas family moved from California to the “Fight Capital of the World,” Las Vegas. Rosas set up his training at 10th Planet Las Vegas and Cobrinha Jiu-Jitsu, and at the same time, he began fighting professionally under Ultimate Warrior Challenge in Tijuana, Mexico – just a few hours drive from Las Vegas.
Fast-forward almost a year and five professional wins later, and the opportunity to showcase his skills at DWCS came calling – which was a rare chance. Normally, the Nevada Athletic Commission requires competitors to be 18-38 years of age, but it can grant licenses outside that range upon special approval.
After reviewing his case, the NAC liked what they saw and gave Rosas the green light. He made the most of it by putting on a dominant showing at DWCS 55 and completely outclassed his opponent on the ground – a performance that not only impressed UFC president Dana White but many watching at home.
Prior to the fight, Rosas was more than confident he’d deliver at DWCS and secure a contract with the UFC. He also had no doubt his parents’ support played a crucial role in taking one step closer to achieving his dream of becoming the youngest champion in UFC history.
“If it wasn’t for them, I would be in a small town in Clovis, New Mexico, because how could I just move out of the town being underage?” Rosas explained. “And not just that, the mentality that they always gave us to always move forward – even if we weren’t fighters, to go out there and get a degree. So I’m so thankful for them, because if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be speaking to you today.”
Not worried about critics
Raul Rosas Jr. reacts after being awarded a UFC contract during Dana White’s Contender Series 55. (Photo by Chris Unger, Zuffa LLC)
Rosas is still in high school and finishing his senior year. He has no plans to go to college for the time being, given how his fighting career has panned out.
While many have celebrated Rosas’ remarkable achievement in becoming the youngest fighter to ever sign with the UFC, others have remained skeptical by his age and perceived lack of experience.
Rosas’ response is that people aren’t aware of how much he and his family have sacrificed to get to the UFC, nor how much experience he’s been able to gain despite his young age.
“That’s OK, whatever they want to say or not say,” Rosas said. “Regardless, I’m going to win my fights in the UFC and climb up the ladder to the title. You can never please everyone, right?
“You see Khabib (Nurmagomedov), he retired undefeated, but now people are saying many were debutants when he was fighting them. Jon Jones, you see how they criticize him. So that’s never ending to tell you the truth, so what can you do about it? I only stick with the people that support me.
“Many people say I’m too young, but I have a lot of experience that people don’t know about. At 12 years of age, I already had experience. I’m a very experienced fighter, but it’s hard to believe because they say, ‘How can a 17-year-old be more experienced than a 25-year-old?’ It’s hard to believe, but that doesn’t matter. I’m going to keep fighting and moving forward.”