Sports News

How a local kid became a UFC fighter

Charles Rosa on how he went from working in a restaurant to fighting in the octagon.

Charles Rosa was always a competitive kid. He grew up playing hockey, but was too small to cut it as a pro. Instead, he decided to become a chef.

Rosa was happy working in a restaurant, but the competitive itch never left him. On a whim, he walked into what he thought was a boxing gym to blow off some steam. It turns out the boxing gym was a fighting gym, and Rosa was a natural.

Fast forward five years, and Rosa is a professional UFC fighter, ready to take on Kyle Bochniak in front of a hometown crowd Sunday night at the TD Garden. We talked with Rosa to learn more about how he went from making pastries in a Florida restaurant to pinning fighters in the octagon.

I grew up in Peabody in a big Italian family. My mom’s side is Irish, my dad’s side is Italian and they each have eight brothers and sisters. My dad was a big cook, so every weekend he’d be making sauces and meatballs, stuff like that. Ever since I could walk I’ve played hockey and skated. Most of my youth was spent traveling around Boston — East Boston, Somerville, Everett — playing hockey in the Boston area.

My dad was a boxer, my grandfather was a Navy boxing champion, and my Uncle Tommy has over 100 amateur fights. He actually just won the Ringside World Championship for his age group this year. There was always a punching bag hanging up in our garage, but I never really took lessons.

In high school I went to the guidance counselor’s office and they asked me what I wanted to do. I said I didn’t know, other than that I liked to play hockey. They told me that wasn’t a very realistic goal and asked what else I liked, so I told them that I liked to eat food. So the counselor said, “Johnson and Wales has a hockey team and they’re a culinary school in Providence. Are you interested in that?’’ I ended up graduating from Johnson and Wales with a degree in culinary arts.

Advertisement:

Basically after college, I was struggling mentally with what I wanted to do with my life. I was working at a couple of restaurants, but wasn’t doing much. I liked what I was doing, but there was something missing. So my friends told me to go to a boxing gym, since I’ve always liked fighting. The gym turned out to be America’s Top Team Gym, where I met [MMA fighter] Charles McCarthy, UFC fighter Cole Miller, and a few other guys. I didn’t know who they were, but on my first day they told me I was naturally gifted. I thought they were saying that just to get me to sign up for a membership, but I ended up making it with them. Now I work part-time at the restaurant, usually one day a week.

It’s really tough eating healthy around so much good food, but it’s part of the sacrifice as a fighter. There’s only one thing I love more than MMA, and that’s food. I would go to the restaurant and they would ask me to make the pastries or brownies. And I was like, oh yeah. But it can be part of the motivation, too. When I get in the ring, I’m thinking, this guy made me not eat to make weight, so I’m gonna make him pay for it.

Tom Brady is one of my heroes. I think the thing about him that inspires me is being an underdog. He didn’t start at Michigan, he was a sixth round draft pick, and he almost didn’t make it to the NFL. No matter how much of an underdog you are, you can be one of the greatest.

Advertisement:

Charles Rosa will be fighting Sunday, January 17 at the TD Garden as part of UFC Fight Night Boston, which starts at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are available on the UFC website.

Jump To Comments

Conversation

This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on Boston.com