Karol Rosa's continued rise through the bantamweight ranks has mirrored the personality of the fighter herself: quiet.
"It's funny because I'm a laid-back person not only in my fights, but also in my daily life. I like to play video games, watch movies and TV. I like to sleep and eat. I'm a very laid-back person."
It's possible she feels laid-back in the octagon, but the women she's faced and defeated in her first four UFC appearances likely wouldn't characterize her the same way.
She came out swinging – literally and figuratively – on August 2019's UFC Shenzhen card, where she and fellow Brazilian Lara Procopio positively brawled for fifteen full minutes, with Rosa doing enough to score the spilt-decision win. In the process, they set the then-record in women's bantamweight for the most significant strikes, a record previously held by Rosa's teammate and sparring partner Jessica Andrade (vs. Rosi Sexton). Despite being highly regarded for their jiu-jitsu skills, it remains evident that the fighters of Parana Vale Tudo should be forever feared for their striking.
The hits kept coming. She got the unanimous nod versus Vanessa Melo at UFC 251 as she did against Joselyn Edwards seven months later. Most recently, she was seen retiring compatriot Bethe Correia last October. It was her biggest win to date, albeit an emotional one. She had watched and admired Correia when she was on the come-up, and admitted it was "bittersweet" to be the one who kept her from leaving on a high note, despite putting on what she described as her best performance to date, a performance that pushed her into the Top 15.
"She was an inspiration for me," she would say following the fight. "She was very important to MMA in Brazil."
It's one pioneer down and another one on deck this week for Rosa (15-3 MMA, 4-0 UFC) on the prelims of UFC on ESPN 33 when she meets Sara McMann (12-6 MMA, 6-6 UFC), another fighter indispensable to the history of women's MMA.
"I'm really happy to fight with Sara because she's a veteran and that's great for my career," Rosa said.
She knows it won't be a walk in the park.
"I know that Sara has great grappling and wrestling, so I worked a lot on my takedown defense," Rosa said. "I normally work on takedown defense, but I've sharpened it even more for this fight. I've also improved my muay Thai."
She'll get to show off her preparation in front of a capacity crowd, too.
"My first (UFC fight) had a crowd, but then COVID hit, and I fought without the fans," Rosa said. "So now I'm really excited to hear the crowd cheering."
Taking care of business in front of Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, as well as the TV audience at home, will indeed be exciting and land her in the top 10, but it will also likely put an end to the quiet part of her rise thus far. Rosa is OK with that; it's all part of the plan.
"I have a goal this year, which is to begin the year in the top 10," Rosa said. "Once I beat Sara, I'll get into the top 15. By the middle of the year, I'd like to fight a top-5 opponent, and if I win all the fights, be the next title challenger at the end of the year."
Perhaps because her victories were all decisions and she doesn't have a viral knockout clip circulating on social media, she might not be top of mind when the bantamweight landscape is considered. Rosa understands this keenly, but also understands that she is to be ignored at one's peril.
"I'm coming off four wins in the UFC, and they were all by decision, so I think people don't really know me yet," Rosa said. "After each fight I've improved something, and you can see that. I believe that these decision wins have made me evolve in the organization and improve my game.
"So now I'm looking for a knockout or a submission and send a message to the rest of the division because I'll be the next champion."
This story first published at UFC.com.