- Brett Okamoto, ESPN Staff Writer
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LAS VEGAS -- Shane Del Rosario could have died.
That’s what the 28-year-old reminded himself during the darkest times of his long recovery from several herniated disks he suffered in a car accident in April 2011.
Del Rosario was in sitting in the passenger seat of his own car at a stoplight near his home in Southern California when a drunk driver collided with it after ricocheting off a nearby barrier.
For three months, Del Rosario says it was difficult to engage in any activity, even something as simple as playing with his nieces and nephews. After six months, he saw progress -- but not much. Doubt started to creep in.
“I started getting scared, like, ‘What am I going to do?’” Del Rosario said. “Should I go back to school?”
It was during those times Del Rosario forcibly told himself it could always be worse. Keep progressing, keep rehabbing, and make the most of whatever happens.
“I had some dark times not knowing if I was going to be able to get back to where I was,” Del Rosario said. “But I put it in perspective. There are people out there doing a lot worse.
“I could have died in that accident. I have some friends battling cancer. It put it all in perspective. My [problems] were not that bad.”
The one-time Strikeforce prospect is all smiles this week as he prepares to return to the cage against Stipe Miocic at UFC 146.
It’s been 15 months since Del Rosario last fought, but it appears the layoff has done little to slow down his progression in the sport. At the time of the accident, he was an alternate in the since-completed Strikeforce heavyweight Grand Prix.
Now fully recovered, he’s set to make his UFC debut on the first-ever all heavyweight card in the promotion’s history.
“We’re in a dangerous sport and you can get hurt at any point, but to have it happen outside of fighting is just, oh man, it threw me for a spin,” Del Rosario said.
“But it wound up being a blessing. I feel like a stronger fighter now and my first fight back is at UFC 146, one of the biggest [cards] so far this year.”
Del Rosario (11-0) draws a tough opponent in Miocic (8-0), who has opened eyes with back-to-back dominant wins over Joey Beltran and Philip De Fries in his first two appearances in the Octagon.
In many ways, although Miocic is relatively inexperienced, he may prove to be a tougher opponent than Gabriel Gonzaga, who was originally scheduled to fight Del Rosario but was reassigned to another fight.
“People ask, ‘Is this going to be an easier fight?’” Del Rosario said. “Although Gonzaga is the bigger name, I think Stipe is younger and more athletic. We’re both hungry and trying to make a name for ourselves.”
Truthfully though, it’s likely Del Rosario would be happy fighting anyone on the UFC roster on Saturday, as long as he’s in the cage. It’s been a long road back.
“I’d spent six years nonstop training,” Del Rosario said. “This past year with the injury has felt longer than my total career.
“This is great. This is what I’ve put all the work in the gym for. I’m just happy to be here.”
LAS VEGAS -- Shane Del Rosario could have died. That’s what the 28-year-old reminded himself during the darkest times of his long recovery from several herniated disks he suffered in a car accident in April 2011.