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MMA loses one of the good guys in Shane del Rosario

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Shane del Rosario was only 30 years old, which is too soon for memorials. The Orange County native passed away less than two weeks after suffering cardiac arrest at his home, where he was found unconscious by his friend, roommate and fellow UFC fighter, Ian McCall, on the morning of Tuesday, Nov. 26.

This time, even as those closest to him held on to the faintest glimmers of hope over this past week, he just couldn’t come back.

I didn’t know Del Rosario personally, but had talked to him before the events he competed in, just small snippets of perfunctory lead-up from which very little is usually exchanged. In every case, though, he came off as laid-back and egoless as can be found in this sport. There was a smile on his face, and a warmth behind the idea of what he was doing. At 6-foot-4, he was soft-spoken and bright. He had a degree from the University of California, Irvine in psychology, could have done anything he’d set out to do, but fighting was his path. And he had genuine affection for his coaches, Colin Oyama and Giva Santana, as well as a strong sense of pride for where he was from. He carried himself very lightly in his 245-pound frame. 

The lasting impression in those brief encounters was that he loved fighting, which isn’t always the case in this game. To the point that his UFC debut, which happened in May 2012, felt like a feat of perseverance and -- without exaggeration -- something like destiny.

Because by then he had already dealt in adversity that came from forces beyond his control. Del Rosario was a prospect in the heavyweight division who, with a reputation built around his muay Thai, put together an 11-0 record by early 2011. He defeated Lavar Johnson in February of that year as an alternate in the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix, and was slated to face the other alternate (and eventual winner) Daniel Cormier in June. At the time, with his kickboxing background and the addition of submission skills, courtesy of his coach and mentor Santana, he was making noise as a future contender. He had finished all 11 opponents he’d faced.

But in April of that year -- April 14, 2011 to be exact -- Del Rosario was in a car accident. While sitting idle at a red light he was smashed into by a drunk driver who hopped a median and made a beeline for his car. He suffered severe back injuries and the mental anguish of having been shelved, involuntarily, from his upcoming fight with Cormier. It was as if bad luck had actually zeroed in on him, had actively sought him out, to the point that he contemplated retirement. But the idea of overcoming his personal travail and fighting again pushed him forward. He treated the accident as an obstacle, just something to be gotten over.

It would be a full year before he did compete again, which happened at UFC 146 against Stipe Miocic. Whether he won or lost that fight was immaterial. The fact that he made it -- to the UFC, which had been his goal since he began training with Marcus Ruas many years before, and back to the cage at all, which wasn’t a certainty in those dark times of recovery -- was the story. He lost the fight, but he had returned.

Ultimately, he lost his next bout in December against Pat Barry. The accident may have taken a toll on him as a competitor, yet it didn’t take away from his competitive spirit. He was scheduled to face Guto Inocente at UFC 168, but had to withdraw due to a rib injury he suffered in training.

That was only a couple of weeks before he was blindsided again, this time by something more dire and harder to understand. We don’t have all the answers yet as to why Del Rosario ended up at the Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach, where he was taken off life support when his brain never regained activity. And even as the medical reasons are determined it's likely there won’t be answers to satisfy this particular "why," because there never are. It’s too much, too soon, with so much left unsaid. At some point it feels like we’re all just random targets left to dodge incoming bullets.

But if there was anybody who got the most from his short time on this Earth, it was Del Rosario. In a small documentary that FIGHT! Magazine’s videographer Rick Lee did, the man whose nickname was "No Limits" said more than he could have possibly known. 

"People should love life. I love life. Everyday I wake up I love life, especially being here [in California] you think, man, life is the freaking best," he said. "Even with accidents or whatever, we’re fortunate to be here. We’re fortunate to have what we have. And during my injury, I was reflecting on that a lot, thinking how lucky I am. Even though I was injured and I couldn’t fight, even though I was going through some dark times I felt I was so lucky to be where I’m at today."

We’re lucky to have had him for the short time we did. The MMA family lost a good one in Shane del Rosario. May he rest in peace.

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