On Friday, October 20th, Charles “Boston Strong” Rosa returns to New England and the CES Cage to take on Jonathan “The Junkyard Dog” Gary at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, CT.
The bout serves as the main event for CES MMA 75, a stacked card that also features a featherweight world title bout between “Shameless” Don Shainis and Regivaldo Carvalho, a clash of styles between Nate “The Snake” Andrews and Ali “VIP” Zebian and a battle for New England bragging rights between Eric Spicely and Justin Sumpter.
A portion of the night’s proceeds will benefit cancer research at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston in honor of JoAnne Sullivan, mother of CES matchmaker Patrick Sullivan. Tickets are quickly selling out, so fans are encouraged to purchase them online at Ticketmaster.com or CESFights.com.
For “Boston Strong,” the fight signifies a return to the organization that helped propel his successful MMA pro career, amassing a record of 9-0 before catapulting him to mainstream audiences around the world with 13 UFC appearances, 3 of which earned him “Fight of the Night” honors.
“I’m really excited to be coming back,” said Rosa (14-8) when he spoke to The Final Bell podcast a few weeks from fight night. “I’m undefeated in the CES Cage and I’m looking to add to that when I fight in Connecticut on October 20th at Foxwoods.”
Rosa comes from a fighting family. His grandfather, Dominic Rosa, was a Navy boxing champion. His uncle, Tom “The Bomb” Rosa, is a 150-fight veteran who competed and won several Tough Man competitions across New England. In fact, it’s his uncle Tom who inspired Rosa to one day fight at Foxwoods.
“The first time I ever went to a fight was to watch my uncle Tom ‘The Bomb’ Rosa compete in a tough man tournament, where they fight 3 or 4 times in one night,” recalls Rosa. “I went to Foxwoods and watched him fight in that competition and he was the same age that I am now. 20 years later, I’m fighting at Foxwoods. It’s been a dream of mine since I was a little kid to fight at Foxwoods like my uncle did and now, I’m in the main event. It’s really special to me.”
While his uncle inspired him to fight, Charles Rosa believes that his fighting spirit comes from the resolve he had to develop after tragically losing two older brothers to substance abuse when he was a teenager.
“I had 4 brothers: 2 older brothers, 2 younger brothers who are identical twins and a sister who is a year younger than me,” explains Rosa. “Francis and Lucas are twins, and Lucas is also a fighter. My sister Teresa is my Irish twin. I lost my two older brothers, Dominic and Vincent, to drug overdoses when I was 16 and then the following year when I was 17, so that was extremely difficult for me to deal with.”
In the blink of an eye, Charles went from younger brother to the eldest sibling in the family.
“I think it’s what made me a fighter,” reasons Rosa. “I was as close to my older brothers as you could be to somebody. If they told me to do something, sometimes crazy things around the neighborhood, I would do it. Once they passed away, it was hard because I went from being the younger brother to being the oldest brother. Lucas and Francis are 10 years younger than me, so they were babies when my older brothers passed away. I went from always having 2 people to look up to and ask questions to being the one that my little brothers would go to with questions. The tables were turned, but it made me grow up and become a man much quicker. It’s the reason why I’m able to wake up every morning and push it to the limit in whatever I do.”
As the eldest brother, Charles accepted the responsibility of providing a different model for his siblings to follow. In fact, he provided several examples throughout his life and continues to do so.
While it may seem obvious in retrospect that Rosa would pursue a career in combat sports given his family history, the 37-year-old initially sought to become an NHL player but wound up working as a chef at a top steakhouse in Florida.
“I was a triathlete in high school: I played hockey, lacrosse, and football for Peabody High School,” recounts Rosa of how this came about. “My senior year of high school, my guidance counselor asked what I want to do, and I said that I wanted to play hockey. I really just wanted to be an enforcer like Milan Lucic was for the Boston Bruins. My guidance counselor said that’s kind of unrealistic. How about something more educational? I said, well if you tell me I can’t go to college to pursue being an NHL player, I like food and I love to cook.”
“I kind of said it sarcastically,” laughs Rosa. “I come from a large Italian family and my Dad always had me rolling meatballs since I was a kid. The guidance counselor said, ‘well, there is a school named Johnson & Wales that has a hockey team and has an extensive culinary arts program.’ I thought, well, food and sports are my two favorite things, so I was able to play hockey there and graduate from a great school with a degree in culinary arts and nutrition.”
The rest, as they say, is history. Once Rosa graduated from Johnson & Wales, he bought a one-way ticket to Florida to find work as a chef.
“After I graduated from culinary arts school, I was a little lost,” admits the Peabody native. “I was getting into a little bit of trouble in college, so I wanted to get out of New England and get a fresh start. Luckily, I had my culinary degree, so I moved to South Florida where I had a few cousins I could stay with while I found work. I found the most beautiful restaurant I had ever seen, a five-star steakhouse named Cut 432. I walked in and said, ‘Hey I want to work here’ but they told me they weren’t hiring. I asked where the chef was, and I just walked right into the back of the kitchen to find him because I was so desperate. I found the chef and told him, ‘Hey, can I work here?’ He said, ‘what makes you think you’re qualified to work here’ and I said, ‘I went to culinary school’. He asked if I had a passion for food and I responded that I wouldn’t have gone to school for four years if I didn’t. He told me to come in the next day.”
Rosa quickly found out that a culinary degree doesn’t necessarily prepare you for the tempo and stress that comes with a busy kitchen.
“I had to get on the line and learn how to cook the hard way because as amazing as school was, they don’t teach you how to ‘cook’ cook,” explains Rosa. “I definitely had more education than the average person, but I didn’t have the experience. My first day, the chef was throwing plates at me and telling me to get off the line, but eventually I caught on and worked there for many years.”
As much as Charles enjoyed the pace of working at a high-end restaurant, the fighting bug never left him. Once he settled in, he began working out at a boxing gym and then found an MMA gym, where he sharpened the skills he acquired from fighting in the street and in hockey games. After a few months, Rosa decided that he would find a way to balance his work in the kitchen with a career in the cage.
“My first fight I was so scared because you never ask the chef for a Saturday night off,” recalls Rosa. “He sometimes freaked out when people asked for a weekend night off, but I knew he was a martial artist himself because he said he did Aikido. I asked if I could leave work at 7pm to fight and that I should be back by 10:30pm. He said ‘you know what Charles, I respect what are you’re doing. Take the night off and just come back in the morning. Hopefully you’re healthy’. I went and knocked the kid out and came back the next morning.”
That started a trend on fight nights where Rosa would fight on a Saturday and either come back the same night or the next day, depending on how taxing the bout was.
“I worked as a chef for a long time, even while I was fighting in the UFC,” says Rosa. “I became more of a celebrity chef then, coming in twice a week but I stopped after COVID when everything shut down.”
Ever the multi-tasker, what Rosa balances now is his own pro career with commentating, giving motivational speeches to kids, sports teams and even the armed forces, and developing the next generation of MMA stars through the American Combat Gym that he owns alongside former UFC fighter Charles McCarthy. This affords Rosa a chance to not only keep in shape, but to also impart the wealth of knowledge he’s accumulated throughout his 13-year career.
“We have one of the top amateur teams in the country,” says Rosa of the team they’re developing, which includes his younger brother Lucas. “We have Matt Wagy, who is one of the top coaches in the world right now and some guys who made it to the highest level in the pros such as me and Daniel Marcos.”
Which brings us back to October 20th and Jonathan Gary, a 28-fight veteran with designs on scoring the biggest win of his MMA career against Rosa.
“I don’t know much about him,” confesses Charles of the 38-year-old Gary. “I know that he’s a former Marine, so I have a lot of respect for him being a veteran. As a fighter, he has over 26 professional fights and we have common opponents like Sean Soriano, a guy I fought in UFC, so he’s fought some of the best guys in the world. I’m definitely not underestimating him and I’m going to come in there like it’s a world championship fight.”
To ensure that he’s adequately prepared, Rosa enlisted the help of undefeated UFC fighter Daniel Marcos and his brother Lucas, who is 9-1 as an amateur.
“Training is going amazing,” said Rosa. “I’ve been putting some work in with my brother Lucas, who’s the #1 amateur in the country. My other roommate, Daniel Marcos, is 15-0 and 2-0 in the UFC, so I’m getting great work in.”
Rosa doesn’t think twice when asked what he has left to accomplish in the cage. “I love to fight,” says ‘Boston Strong’ of his career ambitions. “I’m excited to fight on October 20th at Foxwoods, especially for CES who have always been so good to me. I need to be active and show the world what I’m capable of doing. My goal is to become the CES World Champion, and the next move is a big money fight. I’d love to sell out the Boston Garden with CES. I’m 3-0 fighting at the Boston Garden. I passed Conor McGregor for most all time UFC wins in Boston.”
And as far as whether he believes that he set a good example for his siblings and is satisfied with how they turned out, the answer is an unequivocal ‘1000%’.
“My siblings turned out perfectly,” exalts Rosa. “The twins went to a four-year college and graduated with majors in philosophy. Lucas did end up fighting like me, but he does what he loves to do. I just want them to be happy. I saw Lucas in the gym today, he was happy. My brother Francis lives in Wisconsin, he’s happy out there and my sister is happy training her horses in Vermont. Luckily, we found the blueprint to make it right for them and set a good platform.”
While he’s content with the paths that he and his remaining siblings chose to take, his older brothers Dominic and Vincent are never far from his memory.
“I miss my brothers every day,” says Rosa, “but they’re part of what makes me a fighter and I look at them as two angels on my shoulders going into battle every time I get in the cage.”
Three fighting Rosas may be a little too much for Jonathan Gary to handle.
For more information on CES MMA 75 and all other CES MMA events, visit cesfights.com.