For the De La Rosas, fighting is the family business.
From the time she was old enough to crawl, Zaylyn De La Rosa was moving around wrestling and jiu-jitsu mats. Her mom, Montana, was a high school wrestler when Zaylyn came along. The challenges of raising a young daughter at the age of 15 are daunting enough, let alone doing so while maintaining an athletic career with as grueling a schedule as amateur wrestling.
Wrestlers are a different breed, not so much born as molded, like iron by fire. The most driven wrestlers wake up before dawn and run in any kind of weather. They get in an early-morning session in the wrestling room before going to school just like every other kid and awaiting the end of the school day, when they go back to the wrestling room and spend two or more hours offering a sacrifice of sweat and stubbornness to one of the oldest sports in history.
Imagine doing all that and, oh, raising a newborn.
It sounds impossible. But Montana would not let it get in the way.
And so Zaylyn found herself going to Montana's high school wrestling practices, surrounded by wrestling from birth. Nearly every day of the week, Zaylyn spent her early years crawling around the wrestling room while Montana practiced for meets and learned the craft.
Zaylyn De La Rosa is now 10 years old. She is a Texas state wrestling champion—and not just in the sport's female divisions. Zaylyn, seeking a higher grade of competition, regularly competes against and dispatches boys in her age group. She is an impressive wrestling prospect with a deep pedigree; that sort of thing tends to happen when one is raised a wrestler from birth.
Montana and Zaylyn aren't the only combat sports athletes in the family. Montana's husband and Zaylyn's stepfather, Mark, also competes in the UFC's bantamweight division. He and Montana were the first-ever husband and wife duo to compete for the world's premiere mixed martial arts promotion.
Mark, nicknamed Bumblebee for the frenetic pace he keeps in the cage, sports an 11-1 professional record, and his only loss came in his UFC debut at the hands of the much more experienced Tim Elliott. Mark has rebounded with two consecutive wins.
It's easy to envision a day when young Zaylyn follows her mother and stepfather into the UFC ranks. It would be the most natural of transitions.
For now, though, she prefers to stick with wrestling.
"She just really loves wrestling right now," Montana De La Rosa tells B/R. "She doesn't really like the kickboxing and boxing aspects yet."
Montana herself was thrust into mixed martial arts without the sort of coddling or planning that usually goes into a fighting career, making her debut at 19 without a single amateur bout to her name. Should Zaylyn decide to someday follow in her parents' footsteps, she'll do so with the knowledge Montana was never afforded.
Montana lost that first fight, and then lost her next fight, but then reeled off six straight wins before stumbling against well-regarded prospects Mackenzie Dern and Cynthia Calvillo.
She scored one more win after the pair of losses and then found herself in the Ultimate Fighter house, part of a group of female strawweights brought in to bolster the ranks of the UFC's then-newest division. She didn't win the competition but did win her official UFC debut in December 2017 and then submitted Rachael Ostovich the following July to keep her perfect UFC record intact.
On Saturday night, Montana will continue her career against undefeated Nadia Kassem at UFC 234 in Melbourne, Australia. Kassem is a knockout artist, which is something of a rarity in the women's flyweight division. She has four TKO wins out of five total fights. For Montana, that means it's easy to figure out what Kassem will be looking to do when they fight.
"Yeah, I mean I think she's gonna come out trying to knock me out. She's had like four knockouts early in her career," Montana says. "But this is gonna put me at 3-0. I think there's only maybe two other girls in the 125-pound division who are 3-0. So hopefully I'll just keep climbing my way up the ranks, and then within the next year or two I'll have a title shot."
Regardless of the outcome, Montana will be back with her fighting family after the event.
After one of them finishes a fight camp and fight, Mark and Montana like to pack Zaylyn up in the car. They'll go out and eat the kind of unhealthy food they've been deprived of for months, just because they can. And then they'll go out to an arcade or a movie—something fun and lighthearted, which seems crucial for a family that fights for a living.
Someday it might be Zaylyn finishing up a fight. For now, though, she wants to stick with wrestling and leave the punching and kicking to Mom and Dad.
"She's pretty amazing at what she does," Montana says. "She just knows what she's doing. It's crazy to watch her."