There was a time when it appeared nothing could slow Shane del Rosario's rapid ascent to the top of the heavyweight ranks in mixed martial arts.
Then in an instant, his career, and nearly his life, came to a sudden halt.
Del Rosario had just improved to 11-0, with 10 wins by first-round stoppage and the other lasting 67 seconds into the second round. He was preparing for the biggest fight of his life, a showdown against fellow undefeated prospect Daniel Cormier.
Del Rosario was on his way home April 14, 2011, sitting at a red light in Laguna Niguel, Calif., when a drunk woman lost control of her vehicle and T-boned his car at high speed. Del Rosario was left with severe damage to his back, including several herniated disks.
The fight against Cormier two months later was out of the question. Three months after the accident, there had been no improvement. Things weren't much better six months removed, either.
"I definitely had some dark times," del Rosario said. "As an athlete, you always want to be able to do what you want and do it right away. I couldn't do anything. Three months turned into six months, and it really started gnawing at me that I had nothing to do but just lay around and do physical therapy."
Even the simplest things, such as playing with his nieces and nephews, became difficult chores for del Rosario. He even questioned whether he would be able to resume his career.
"I started getting scared. What am I going to do? Should I think about going back to school?" said del Rosario, who has a psychology degree from UC Irvine.
He indicated graduate courses, most likely in business or law, would have been the preferred choice of his parents.
But the 28-year-old finally resumed training this year and says he has felt strong all through camp in preparation for his return to the cage, and Ultimate Fighting Championship debut, against Stipe Miocic at UFC 146 on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden.
Del Rosario, the first American to win the WBC Muay Thai world heavyweight title, resumes his career with a whole new mindset.
"The biggest thing I took away from this experience is that it really sucks not being able to do what you want to do," he said. "It really put things in perspective for me. There's a lot of people out there that have it a lot worse. I could have died in that accident. I have some friends battling cancer and some that have lost that battle. My thing was not that bad. I'm working my way through it. Knowing other people are going through a lot harder stuff, it helped me persevere."
Lavar Johnson, who was knocked out by del Rosario in a Strikeforce bout two months before the accident, knows all too well what del Rosario means. Johnson, a winner of two straight fights since moving to the UFC, was shot at a Fourth of July party in 2009 and nearly died.
"You live differently. You never know when life could be taken from you just like that, so you don't take anything for granted and you take your job a whole lot more serious," said Johnson, who believes del Rosario will make an instant impact in the UFC. "He'll come out strong, and I think for sure he's going to get this victory. He's bigger than this guy, stronger. I think he has this."
The better del Rosario does in his comeback, the longer he can put off going to grad school, which he insists he will do at some point.
Contact reporter Adam Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.