As the saying goes, it’s hard to get into the UFC and even harder to stay there. So think about how difficult it is to get back once you’ve already had your shot.
Few fighters can speak to the frustrations of having to prove yourself all over again like Julian Erosa. The 29-year-old gets a second chance with the UFC on Saturday, when he fights Devonte Smith in a lightweight bout on the preliminary portion of UFC Denver.
A veteran of 27 pro bouts, Erosa (22-5) has been through the UFC meat grinder in his quest to join the elite of MMA. He is one of only two fighters (the other being current Professional Fighters League light heavyweight Dan Spohn) who has fought inside the Octagon, lived in The Ultimate Fighter house, and also competed on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series. To say that Erosa jumped at the opportunity to fight in Colorado, at the UFC’s 25th anniversary show, would be an understatement.
Erosa’s first run with the UFC was brief. He defeated fellow TUF 22 cast member Marcin Wrzosek by split decision in December 2015, but was released following a knockout loss to Teruto Ishihara three months later. After just two fights, Erosa was back on the regional scene.
Looking back now, Erosa can honestly say that the loss to Ishihara changed his perspective on the sport for the better. He recently explained to MMA Fighting why he expects take two with the UFC to go far better.
“What that had done for me, particularly the Ishihara fight, I got knocked out in front of millions of people,” Erosa said of his UFC struggles. “Everybody watched that fight, so for me, the worst thing that could possibly happen to me has happened to me already. Not only did I get knocked out in front of everybody but I got cut from the UFC from it. I’ve already had the worst things happen to me, so I literally have nothing to lose now, for me, in my own mind.
“Every time I go and fight now, I’ve already accepted the fact that anybody can knock anybody out. I could lose, I could get choked out, I could get knocked out, anything can happen. So why worry about that? Just put it aside and do my thing and I think a lot of people, even guys like maybe Devonte, don’t have that type of experience yet. The lights and stuff can kind of get to them, seeing Dana White sitting there, having Joe Rogan and people talk, hearing those voices, and seeing all those faces can really get to somebody. Honestly, that’s what happened to me too when I fought Ishihara. Ishihara’s a guy I should beat nine times out of 10 as well and I let the lights get to me, but now I think I’m way more relaxed.”
Erosa won six of his next eight fights after being cut, and he attributes much of the positive results to a move from Washington to Nevada that saw him briefly fall under the tutelage of recently deceased coach Robert Follis. Though he didn’t know Follis for long (the former Xtreme Couture coach committed suicide in December of last year), Erosa says Follis’s support and training went a long way to convincing him that he still belonged in the UFC. He also credited 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu coach Casey Halstead with helping him to keep his confidence.
That wasn’t always easy for Erosa, who’s had to watch other TUF 22 alums carve out space on the UFC roster. That includes the man who knocked Erosa out in the show’s semifinals, Artem Lobov. Though Erosa bears no ill will towards Lobov, who has received high-profile bouts in the UFC despite mixed results, he’s eager to someday rematch “The Russian Hammer”.
“That’s something that I think about all the time,” said Erosa. “There’s a handful of guys that are still in the UFC from my season and I was the last American standing in the house. The only guy who beat me was the guy they brought back. I beat the guy that beat him. I should beat Artem Lobov nine times out of 10. I really want that rematch. … It’s definitely difficult to see somebody like Artem — but you know, I don’t blame Artem for it.
“I don’t think he’s the best fighter, but what he’s got going for him is that he’s the number one training partner of the number one guy in the world in MMA. You talk about Conor McGregor, when you’re that guy’s number one training partner and best friend of that guy, you’re going to get treated like it.”
Making Erosa’s situation even more frustrating is his relative inactivity this year. He fought five times in 2017 and four times in 2016, but trusted that his Contender Series win (which did not immediately yield a UFC contract) and work on the regional scene would be enough to get him another look from the UFC’s matchmakers.
Less than two weeks out from UFC Denver, Erosa got the call and now he’s glad he waited.
“If I’m in the gym and I’m healthy, I want to fight at least three or four times a year. When I first moved out here I had those first two fights and then it had been — between my second fight out here and the Contender series — it had been, like, six months. That wasn’t time that I like to take off, but I told myself I’d rather be patient for a big opportunity than be impatient for a smaller opportunity, because you never know, even those regional guys are tough as s**t.
“If I’d taken a fight on a regional show and get beat by one of those guys, then I get even deeper in the hole of trying to get back in the UFC. So I told myself I wanted to be patient and it paid off.”