Over six months now since a devastating car accident put his soaring MMA career on hold, Shane del Rosario is still in recovery mode.
The undefeated former Muay Thai champion suffered multiple herniated discs after the injury and was forced out of his planned June heavyweight showdown with fellow top prospect Daniel Cormier.
Cormier would go on to earn an alternate slot in the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix, would defeat Antonio Silva and is now firmly entrenched with a top 10 ranking in the division, but del Rosario doesn't hold a grudge. He does wonder what could have been had he just been able to train and compete against the Olympic wrestler.
While still rehabbing his back and working on strengthening his core, the Team Oyama fighter has set his sites on a February 2012 return and he updated MMAmania.com on his frustrations, his training and his goals for next year.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): So how is the recovery process going?
Shane del Rosario: I was in Hawaii, just taking a mental break, just trying to get ready to go. I already started training lightly, doing some padwork and some light shadowboxing and movement. Definitely no wrestling or jiu-jitsu so far, no hard sparring. Still, I'm no where near where I need to be for a fight.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Yeah, I think many of us take it for granted just how important having the full use of our backs is. It affects every exercise, every action you do while training, you really do just have to wait until it heals up.
Shane del Rosario: Yeah, definitely and it's a time game and that's what's been the most frustrating thing especially because I was lined up to fight Daniel Cormier. I've got to congratulate him on doing a really good job and I'm happy that he's in the finals of the Grand Prix, if it were anyone else other than me, I'd rather it be him.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Yeah, you were supposed to fight Daniel Cormier at that June 18th show he goes and instead fights Monson and then steps in for Overeem and knocks out Antonio Silva. Now he's a top 10 heavyweight in the world. You said that it couldn't have happened to a better guy but is there a sense of, "I knew that could have been me?"
Shane del Rosario: Definitely. I knew when the tournament started and they were saying, "You're gonna fight for first alternate," that's just the nature of the sport. People are gonna get injured, there's gonna be scheduling conflicts so at any point you can be called up to fight in the tournament. When I went in as an alternate, I was thinking that not only was I gonna be an alternate for this tournament but chances are that I was gonna be in this tournament and no matter how many fights your opponents have or if they're legends or veterans of the sport, we're gonna train our asses off and fight as hard as we can and try to win this thing.
That was the goal but then I got injured. That happened to me, it happens to everybody, that's life, but the tournament obviously took a lot of turns. People thought Fedor was gonna do well and then he's out, then everyone thought Alistair was gonna take the whole thing but then he dropped out and now all of a sudden, Daniel Cormier is coming up, we were both up an coming fighters and now he can win the whole thing. That's cool for me. A fighter that wasn't picked to even participate in the tournament might win the whole thing.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I've got to ask, I know you're really close with your jiu-jitsu coach, Giva Santana. You haven't been able to work with him as much since the accident, can you talk working with him?
Shane del Rosario: Giva Santana, he's obviously paid his dues in the sport and he's an eight-time world champion. I call him "my pops" at the gym because he's almost like my dad over there because he's always looking out for me and he's obviously increased my ground game exponentially throughout my career. I've spent two years of dedication working with him every day or every other day and I've learned so much more and I've been finishing fights with submissions because of that.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): It sounds like he's built a strong mentor relationship with you and we've definitely seen a drastic improvement in your submission skills lately. Can you talk about that relationship a bit?
Shane del Rosario: I met Giva about four years ago and I was thinking I'd just do straight Muay Thai but I was on the borderline on whether I'd do MMA. I was the guy at the time that during jiu-jitsu or wrestling practice, I'd like sneak out the back door before it was over (laughs). I could hit pads or spar all day long but when it came time to do wrestling or jiu-jitsu, I was done. But then I started seeing him more at the EliteXC Challenger series, it was some of my first fights and we fought on a couple cards there and he was just able to control people so well on the ground.
I realized that I wasn't a complete fighter yet, sure I could knock people out but on the ground I couldn't do anything. I made a big switch, realizing jiu-jitsu was important and I dedicated myself, shadowing him everywhere. I don't have to rely on my stand-up anymore. It ended up being a huge help because in the Brandon Cash fight I got dropped but then I was able to control him on the ground and I won by omaplata. It opened up my game and made me more of a threat.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I've got to ask you about preparing for fighting again. Are you concerned about your skills regressing a bit with all this time lost?
Shane del Rosario: Well I'm at the gym every day, I still go to all the jiu-jitsu classes, it's just more that I'm watching now, seeing the other guys training and absorbing knowledge that way. Sure, you're gonna lose out on stuff while your injured and there's new heavyweights coming up all the time. I'm 28 now, not as young as when I first started when I was 22 so it's time for me to get going, get some fights. Last year I had that broken hand and fights fell through with Bobby Lashley and other stuff so I thought this year would be my year but here we go again. I've had a streak of bad luck with injuries and fights getting booked but hopefully the third time's the charm and 2012 will be my year. I'm hoping to get 4-5 fights in. I'm just trying to get stronger right now with my core and strengthen my back as much as I can without injuring it and I'm gonna start picking up the pace soon and see how it feels. It's just a matter of time I suppose in determining how much I can push my body right now. We're shooting for February. That's my goal. If I have to push it back, so bet it but that's my goal for trying to get a fight and get going.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You were ready to take that next level right before your accident, so are you still hoping to be at that level for when you eventually do get back in the cage, or do you feel like you'll need a tune-up fight?
Shane del Rosario: Yeah, I don't think I need to go back at all. I've paid my dues on the smaller shows in this sport and I'm in a position where I definitely feel I can compete with these guys and beat these guys. Daniel Cormier is a great fighter and a great wrestler but I feel I'm a great fighter too and I could be in the same position as him. I just need to get healthy and give myself that chance. That's my goal. Hopefully in February I can get on that and I definitely don't want to take a step back. I'm gonna train hard and get back to where I was before without a doubt. I want to get back to where I was before if not stronger by early next year. It is really frustrating sitting here at home and seeing these guys cashing paychecks. That's life and there's other people with worse struggles than me so I'm just trying to keep it in perspective and get healthy and go from there.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): With all this downtime, I've got to ask about the video game. Did you get a chance to play as yourself in MMA Supremacy since you've had to rest and relax a lot more while recovering?
Shane del Rosario: I did a few promotional things for the video game. I didn't know too much about it. It's been about a year and a half and I went and did a big signing for the release but i don't have my own copy yet. I'll have to give them a call. (laughs) I never thought I'd be in a video game, that is always the dream of an athlete. You know you're doing pretty well if you make it to a video game. I can't wait to get myself a copy and play it.
Shane would like to thank his team, Colin Oyama, his coach Romie Odanza and Giva Santana, all his training partners that have helped him through this injury and especially his family. He'd also like to give a shoutout to a friend, Eddie Sullivan, a professional bodyboarder who passed from leukemia. Seeing friends keep a positive attitude while battling adversity has inspired him to not get down and get healthy.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
Should del Rosario step right in against elite competition when he's healthy? Or should he take it easy as he returns to the division in 2012?