Shane Young: Fighting to Inspire
City Kickboxing in Auckland, New Zealand is THE hotbed of MMA at this moment in time; Fighters such as Israel Adesanya and Dan Hooker have already emerged and worked their way to the tops of their respective divisions and now is the time for Shane Young to be thrust into the spotlight.
Hailing from Maraenui in Napier, Shane is most noted for being the first UFC fighter to walk to the octagon carrying the Tino rangatiratanga flag (a symbol of Māori sovereignty) and subsequently conducting his post-fight interview in Te Reo Māori – another first in the organization.
Young found his first footing in MMA from a peculiar background – a love of graffiti. ‘I discovered a love for graffiti and in a weird way, we realised all of the reasons that we loved graffiti, were the reasons we loved MMA; Just using your arms and legs instead of spray cans’ he said.
Shane tried the majority of combat sports but found himself falling in love with MMA and chose to pursue that consistently. He explained ‘MMA was what I wanted to do from the get-gog. The rule-set was minimal; it reminded me of graffiti as it was ‘underground’, especially back in 2009. It was cool; it had that lure to it. I was bullied a bit, like most fighters, emasculated and so being able to punch someone back in the face feels like the most masculine way to defend yourself’.
It was with jiu-jitsu that he was truly able to appreciate the beauty and the art-form of MMA in its entirety. Shane explained that it took 6 months of hating it, but after that, he finally enjoyed it for what it was. ‘Some people look at fighting and see it as mongrel, or barbaric, but you can see the real technicality in it (jiu-jitsu), whereas that obviously occurs in striking, but people just don’t understand what goes into that. You can always see the method in jiu-jitsu, but with striking you sometimes just see the madness’.
In some essence, the opinions Shane outlined above from an uneducated public eye are what prevented MMA from really booming sooner outside of America; New Zealand, Australia, England and plenty of other places suffered from similar struggles in earlier years. The emergence of CKB, Tyson Pedro, Tai Tuivasa and the ever-presente Mark Hunt has meant that MMA within Australia and New Zealand is now at the forefront of the sport.
Shane believes that the current crop of fighters have been a long time coming; he explained why it’s no surprise to him that New Zealanders, in particular, make for great fighters - In New Zealand it’s weird, our main sport is rugby and kids are getting knocked out on a school field at 12 years old, which nobody finds strange, we’re just willing to go that hard for any sporting event. We’re willing to put it all on the line at a young age, and you combine that with a sport that really allows you to showcase it. We already have the will and the toughness to stick it out and you can then push yourself to develop the skills and fitness’.
Unfortunately, Young was unsuccessful in his UFC debut, but it’s now something that he looks back on with fond memories - I trained with Volko after it and we spoke about it and stuff and it gave me so much confidence because I see what he’s doing now and I know what happened in our fight. I feel like everything has happened for a reason, it was beautiful for me to walk out with the flag and then go and have a fight like that. I got to share my debut with a friend and it’s very indicative of our culture of inclusiveness and community’.
Following his debut, Shane travelled to Singapore to face Ronaldo Dy – a fight he won by stoppage in the 2nd round. The fight itself earned the 24-year-old a win bonus, but the lessons and perspective it gave him were worth so much more in the long run. It’s often following a defeat that fighters take a look in the mirror and learn from their mistakes, but Young wound up doing this in a victory. He had made it to the UFC and he now had his first victory under the banner, having seemingly achieved his goals it was time to re-evaluate – ‘It’s almost like a dog chasing a car and then the car stops – it’s like, oh shit, what do I do now? That was something I went through after the Volko fight, and then I went through it again after winning my second UFC fight. Winning and losing are entirely different feelings but I felt like I won after my debut loss, I got a new contract etc and then it threw me winning because I realised for a couple of years I wasn’t happy with the sport. I was just fighting for fame and money and then when I got a bit of it, I was really not happy’ he admitted.
For Shane this kick-started a period of reflection, and as a family man, he felt the best thing to do was to return home where he could focus on his own mental state and work things out moving forward; ‘I went home to my family and reconnected with them and my ancestors and I found out the real reason I fight is to help my culture, to inspire young men to try and be better than what they are. We have the highest youth suicide rates in the world, a 25-year-old male from Maori, like myself are the people killing themselves the most, per capita just based on our country of 4.5 million people. Our specific community is about 300,000 people and so many are taking their lives. I know it’s for a lot of reasons but people may be inspired by me perhaps or just want to better themselves and I want that for them as well’.
Israel Adesanya is the hottest prospect in the UFC right now and it’s not even close – the way he carries himself, paired with his unique fighting style means that he is one of the most talked about fighters in the organisation. Young explained that ‘Izzy’ has gone a long way to helping other fighters in the region start to open up and be themselves more - ‘Him shining like he has been has made us all realise that we can be confident in ourselves, and be yourself in front of the cameras, who cares? It’s not conceited or narcissistic, it’s just you being yourself at all times and that’s what I want to inspire all young Polynesian men to do’.
Going back home has refreshed the 25-year-old, so much to the point that he said he almost feels 15 again! ‘I wake up every morning wishing I could be a UFC fighter and then realise – you are one buddy!’ he joked.
Shane faces off against Austin Arnett this weekend at UFC234 and for him, it seems the gameplan is fairly simple - ‘I think the key is finding my distance and then we’re good from there. Other than that he’s just two arms, two legs and one big head waiting to get smacked!’. The young fighter has a new lease of life now as he continues his career, he appears to have realised that this path is almost bigger than him now and he’s working to help inspire as many people as possible. With the cause he is now fighting for, Shane Young is a winner already and with the talent he clearly possesses, he is more than capable of winning inside the octagon, as much as he is outside of it.