LAS VEGAS — It was a perfect, warm moonlit night in Miramar, Florida, when 15-year-old Roosevelt Roberts made his way to a local park to do some star-gazing and some thinking.
Despite his young age, he’d had several close brushes with death already due to his addiction to Ecstasy. His life was little more than conflict and turmoil, and though he desperately wanted that to change, it was all he really knew.
He’d often go to the park to think about his life, to wonder how he’d ever be able to get out of the cycle of drugs and violence that was engulfing him and threatening to make him yet another sad statistic.
“I get goosebumps even now just thinking about it, but I definitely remember one specific night at the park when I had this conversation with God,” said Roberts, who is now 26 and a hot lightweight prospect who faces Jim Miller on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN+) at UFC Apex.
“There was a full moon and the stars were out. It was clear skies, a perfect night. I looked up at the moon and I said, ‘God, I know this is not the life you want for me. I know you’re not going to change my life overnight. But show me where I need to be. Put me where I need to be. I know this isn’t where I’m supposed to be.’ I was desperate. I needed something.”
Roberts’ voice choked with emotion as he spoke. He’d endured so much turmoil. His father had abused his mother, and she’d finally had enough and left. He had issues with his father repeatedly and as a young teenager had to learn to take care of himself.
A little more than 10 years from that night, Roberts’ life is dramatically different. He lives with his mother and he’s reconciled with his father. He’s 10-1 in his MMA career, including 4-1 in the UFC, and showing signs he has the ability to be a factor in the deep and talented division.
God heard him, he said, even though his prayers weren’t immediately answered.
“I remember that night so well,” Roberts said. “At the time, it felt kind of hopeless and I was reaching out. And now, here I am, my life has changed. I’m changing my kids’ lives. I have something I am working for and I’m on the whole other end now. He heard me, I know He did. That I’m alive and doing what I’m doing now is proof.”
He said he nearly was killed by people on the street over petty disputes. He overdosed on Ecstasy another time and has memories of his stepbrother praying frantically that he wouldn’t die.
He was a product of the harsh surroundings and the violence that he grew up in.
“I’m so thankful for everything in my life I have now,” he said. “My life was in danger so many times, and it’s crazy because I put myself in those situations. I easily could have been a statistic. A lot of people, I remember, would say, ‘This kid isn’t going to make it to 18; he’s not going to make it to 21.’ And they were right. The way I was living, I was going to be one of those guys.
“I always knew I didn’t really want that life. I wanted something different. And I finally figured it out.”
His life began to change when he became a father. When his daughter was born, he wanted to learn how to fight to be able to protect her. It led him to MMA and changed his life.
He funneled his energies into learning this new sport and pursuing the opportunities that it presented.
Finally, he had a reason to exist. He loved the discipline that MMA required and the many lessons there were to be taught.
As he began having success in his training, he happened to think of something his father had said to him years earlier, at a point when his life was spiraling out of control.
“I didn’t always see eye-to-eye with my Dad and there was a lot of stuff that went on, but I remember he’d said to me, ‘You have the ability that if you put your mind to something, you can achieve it,’” Roberts said. “For a long time, I never really heard him because of how our relationship was. But I realize that was right, and now, I feel like I can be one of the best in the world at this thing. This is where I’m meant to be.
“To be honest, my goal is to keep moving forward so I can take care of my kids. I want to be able to provide a home and money for them so they don’t have to live the life I did and go through all that. One day, maybe I’ll even be the champion and start making the really big bucks. But I’m where I’m supposed to be and I’m going to continue this life because this is what I was meant to do.”
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