MMA fighter from Prospect stepping onto his biggest stage yet

Jesse James Kosakowski, a 22-year-old MMA fighter from Prospect, right, will make his Bellator debut Saturday night in a welterweight preliminary fight against Rodolfo Neves Rocha at Bellator 2016 at Mohegan Sun Arena. –CONTRIBUTED

Jesse James Kosakowski is ready to step back onto the big stage.

The 22-year-old MMA fighter from Prospect will make his Bellator debut Saturday night in a welterweight (170 pounds) preliminary fight against Rodolfo Neves Rocha at Bellator 2016 at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Kosakowski last fought in May in a Reality Fighting event (also at Mohegan). A nagging right shoulder injury kept him out of the cage in the interim.

He isn’t sure how or when the shoulder was hurt, but suspects it was before the last fight and may have affected his performance.

“I’m wondering if it affected the fight taking three rounds before I actually submitted (Daniel Konrad),” he said. “Granted, I dominated each round, but it was a fight and a struggle to get that finish. Not to take anything away from the skill of the guy, he was very good. He showed up and he was definitely a beast. I fought a lot of different guys, fought a lot of matchups where I won really easily, and this dude definitely gave me my money’s worth.”

The injury did give Kosakowski a moment of doubt, questioning whether his body can endure what it takes to be a professional MMA fighter. But he’s sure he can handle the rigors of the job.

“A lot of people are in here for a couple of big shows, make a couple of paydays and then they’re out,” he said. “I’m trying to make it to the top and be champion of the world. A champion can get through a shoulder injury. They face those setbacks all the time.”

Kosakowski altered his training to guarantee he would be ready for Saturday’s bout, being more careful and making sure to get regular rest and recovery time. He also spent a lot of time studying mixed martial arts.

It helps that his coach and father, Ron Kosakowski, operates a gym, Practical Self Defense Training in Waterbury, and has been immersed in martial arts most of his life.

“The bright side for that whole (six months) was I got so detailed showing him the science of jeet kune do and the science of catch wrestling (a style of wrestling from the United Kingdom),” Ron Kosakowski said. “You’re going to see a whole different person out there than you saw before. Nobody else is doing what we are doing here.”

Jesse Kosakowski is always thinking about the sport.

“I was at the grocery store, and I just started shadow-boxing in front of my grandmother the other day,” he said.

He has visited other gyms, including Mau Mau’s in Medford, Mass., and Trifecta in Boston, while focusing on ways to go against Rocha.

“He’s actually a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt,” Jesse Kosakowski said. “I’m expecting him to bring a hell of a ground game, but as everyone knows I’m a hell of a ground fighter. I’ve won all of my fights via submission. I’ve grappled my whole life, so I know what’s coming. I’ve got more of a mental edge now because I know what he is bringing. He can’t show any more tricks than I’ve seen.”

Ron Kosakowski is a longtime student of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and has been teaching Jesse Kosakowski about it for years. They know what to expect from Rocha, and plan to counter that with Jesse Kosakowski’s grapping and wrestling acumen.

“Everything in fighting is about range,” Jesse Kosakowski said. “Everything seems to end up with a jiu-jitsu guy in a clench. But that’s where the wrestling comes in. I got my takedown defense and my chain wrestling, where I pummel in and take him down.”

It took some effort to get Jesse Kosakowski onto the Bellator 216 card. His manager, Carlos Correia, has connections with the organization and MMA author Paul Vunak is friends with Bellator President Scott Coker. Between the pair, they made sure people in Bellator knew Jesse Kosakowski was healthy and ready to take the next step in his career and ultimately walk away with a contract.

“This is the biggest fight I’ve had yet,” Jesse Kosakowski added. “I’ve fought at Mohegan a bunch of times, I think this would be the fourth or fifth time, but this is the biggest stage.”

Tickets are available through Ticketmaster with the promo code “Kosakowski.” He is also helping raise money for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital with the proceeds from his ringtone ( going to help sick children.