Seabrook strong: Charles Rosa wins world title belt after 16-year MMA odyssey

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With a glittering world championship belt draped on his shoulder, a jubilant Charles “Boston Strong” Rosa grabbed the mic in the center of the octagon at a sold-out Foxwoods Resort Casino last Friday.

The new champ offered a few heartfelt words to the throngs of fans pushed up tightly on the other side of the cage.

“My dad told me a long time ago that tough times don’t last, tough people do,” said Rosa to the crowd after dispatching Josh “Hook On” Harvey in the first round to claim the Classic Entertainment and Sports (CES) world championship lightweight title.

“I’ve had a tough road in my life. I’ve been through a lot of stuff. It’s all for this moment here,” said the 37-year-old mixed martial arts star from Seabrook.

Rosa’s life was turned upside down at an early age by the tragic deaths of his two older brothers to drug overdoses.

While it’s impossible to reconcile such a monumental loss, the support of his tight-knit family and the sport he mistakenly discovered when he wandered into what he thought was a boxing gym in Florida some 16 years ago, has been instrumental in keeping him on the right path.

“This sport saved my life,” said Rosa of mixed martial arts. “I just fell in love with it. It saved my life, and I really feel like it gave me a whole new life and a whole new inspiration.”

Along the way through a very eventful MMA odyssey, Rosa has fought in every conceivable venue, from makeshift cages in the backyards of friends, to packed stadiums in Mexico and Japan, to three sold-out UFC cards in Boston’s TD Garden with his beloved Boston Bruins in the stands cheering him on. 

Despite what the newspaper clippings and his passport might say, however, Rosa was quick to say Friday’s main event in Connecticut stood alone.

“My goal was to be the best, and when you are a world champion, you are the best,” said Rosa, who fought in 13 UFC cards and has also served as a commentator, motivational speaker and trainer.

“I’ve fought in all the best venues on the planet, but this one was so cool because it was everyone from back home, and it was for me,” added Rosa, who flew into Boston a week early and stayed with his parents, Chucky and Mary, on Seabrook Beach. 

“It felt like a hometown fight.”

The championship also proved to be the ultimate birthday gift for his dad, who was one of the first to greet him afterward in the octagon.

“He was never a big guy for presents or celebrations,” said Rosa of his dad. “So, to be in front of all of those people we love and to give him the gift of me becoming a world champion was special.”

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Charles Rosa comes full circle with win at Foxwoods

The venue was also special to Rosa as it was one of the first places he saw his uncle, Hampton Falls’ Tommy “The Bomb” Rosa, fight.

“They would fight two or three times a night,” Rosa recalled of the rugged Tough Man competitions his uncle thrived in. “I remember thinking it was the coolest thing I had seen in my life. Going to Foxwoods, and he’s on the posters and in the booklets, it was special.”

To climb into the cage on Friday with his face now staring back at him on those banners and his parents and his uncle ringside was almost surreal.

”It’s just crazy how things work,” Rosa noted. “To be there and to have them all there and to have him be there probably sitting in the same seat I was in 20-some years later, is pretty special.”

Tom Rosa, who at 56 still fights two or three times a year, said he was more nervous sitting in the stands Friday watching his nephew trade fists with the top-ranked lightweight in New England than he ever was before any of his 157 career fights. The relationship between the two is a tight one. Rosa moved in with his uncle when his family moved from Peabody to Seabrook. Charles said his uncle has always been an invaluable and constant role model who helped him navigate tough times. 

“I watched him grow up, and I watched him go through a lot,” Tom Rosa reflected. “I don’t know how to put this into words, but he’s just a very good and real person.

“To see him win that title and look so sharp, it was awesome. Driving back home, I knew I wasn’t going to get any sleep that night, and I didn’t.”

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Rosa trained hard for ‘flawless victory’  

After shedding better than 20 pounds to get to the mandated 155 pounds for the fight, Rosa (17-8) was back to a much more comfortable 172 pounds for the bout. Rosa and his corner were wary of the much larger Harvey, who was 8-2 coming in and was clearly planning on taking the title belt back to Bangor, Maine, with him.

After barely ducking a hellacious haymaker of a left hook from Harvey in the opening minute, not to mention suffering a bone-jarring collision of shins, the sense of urgency was ratcheted up for Rosa. He would score a quick takedown and countered with a flurry of punches only to see the larger Harvey still start to get back to his feet. 

“I was like, I don’t want to go back to this punching and kicking because I could feel his power,” Rosa explained.

Instead, Rosa expeditiously locked up his opponent in a submission guillotine (choke) hold, and just 2:45 into the opening round, Harvey succumbed, and the long-awaited world championship belt was headed to Seabrook.

“When people talk about a flawless victory, that’s just what it was,” Lucas Rosa enthused after watching his older brother make quick work of the dangerous Harvey. “It was flawless, and he worked really hard. A focused Charles Rosa is one of the best fighters in the world.

“I don’t think even I, who was training with him all week, recognized the magnitude of what he was able to accomplish there. It all just kind of hit me that he had a flawless victory against a high-level 8-2 guy who was the best in New England.”

Rosa: ‘I’m in the prime of my career’

After taking pictures well into Saturday morning with countless high school and college friends from Johnson and Wales, where Rosa earned a degree in culinary arts, Rosa was back in South Florida in time for church Sunday. Later, he was back at American Combat Gym, training Lucas for his professional MMA debut this Friday in Orlando. It has been a whirlwind for sure, and there’s no question that the title has suddenly opened quite a few doors.

Rosa says he’s already talked to UFC president Dana White, who expressed interest in a possible return. It’s just one of several options, including defending his world title for Classic Entertainment and Sports (CES) or fighting on other MMA promotional cards. 

“I’m in the position now, and I’ve got the ball, and I just have to dribble it where I want to go,” said Rosa.

And at 37 years young, he doesn’t expect to stop dribbling that ball anytime soon.

“I honestly feel like I’m in the prime of my career,” he said, without hesitation. “I feel better than when I was fighting those fights at the Garden.”

That youthful perspective has only been bolstered by a recent conversation with another pretty notable world champion, former welterweight boxing champ “Irish” Micky Ward.

“He told me that he had his two greatest fights against Arturo Gatti when he was 37 years old,” said Rosa of a pair of epic bouts the pugilist from Lowell had with Arturo Gatti in 2002, that was dubbed “The Fights of the Decade” by HBO.

“He told me that I could do it and that I was in the prime of my career,” Rosa said.

Rosa knows the future road will reveal itself shortly, but come Monday night, the former high school hockey standout and diehard Boston sports fan had bigger fish to fry. Rosa was off to watch the Bruins’ impressive Game 1 win over the Florida Panthers.

“Hopefully, I don’t get into another fight at the Panthers game,” Rosa said with a chuckle Monday afternoon, “because I’m definitely wearing my Bruins jersey.”

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