For most mixed martial artists, and perhaps martial artists as a whole, fighting isn’t just about fighting. Some love the physicality of it. Others enjoy the competitive aspects in MMA. Self-expression and representing for one’s culture is another common theme across martial arts as a whole, and that’s what rings true for New Zealand’s Shane Young.
To see Young fight is to watch an athlete proud of his Maori heritage and he fights with that at the front of his mind. It will be the same at UFC 260, where he takes on Omar Morales. This time, though, his self-expression starts during his walk out, as he’ll make the stroll to the Octagon to the tune of his own song.
“For me, fighting isn’t just about fighting,” Young told UFC.com. “It’s about trying to represent my culture because I’m a Maori boy, and my culture has been quite oppressed for the last 150 years, and now it’s coming to the fray, and a lot of Polynesians are excelling all around the world through music, through fighting like myself, through business, all these crazy things. So, I want to use not only my fighting vehicle, but I’m going to use music because music is a massive part of our culture.”
Young said he worked on the song with his younger brother, his friend and an Australian music producer. Together, they created a song with a sound unique to Australia and New Zealand, and Young said he’s eager to represent himself musically before he does so physically.
When the physical part starts, though, he’ll be fully locked-in on Morales and bouncing back from his last fight, a first-round knockout loss to Ludovit Klein on Fight Island last September. Myriad factors shifted in the days before that fight. His original opponent, Nate Landwehr, pulled out of the bout in the weeks leading up to the bout, and Klein hit the scale four pounds over the lightweight limit. Still, while the loss wasn’t what Young wanted, he was able to take some positives away.
“I learned a lot from that in terms of not just fighting but also career moves in terms of what I can do in this sport because I stepped up to take that fight,” Young said. “Also, following that, I have stepped up again to get back into the gym and realign my focus and keep pushing through in this career. It was a hard lesson that I wouldn’t have – if someone told me, ‘Hey, this is going to happen to you,’ I probably would’ve been like, ‘Nah, I don’t want that to happen to me,’ but part of me is glad because my mental fortitude and resilience has shown through.”
After falling to Klein, Young knew he wanted nothing other than to get his feet back on the canvas of a UFC Octagon, and his six-month turnaround is his shortest stretch between fights in the promotion.
The timing worked out as well. Young’s team, City Kickboxing, had a good crop of fighters scheduled to compete around the same time, and the environment at the gym with the likes of Israel Adesanya and Brad Riddell helped him lock in as he prepared.
“The only way you get that is rolling on to the next one,” Young said. “I’m just pretty stoked to have them as idols or people to follow because that is the best way to do this sport, and I’m just looking forward to getting this one done, moving on to the next one and just keep trying to stay much more active.”
In Morales, Young expects an entertaining fight against a man coming off his first professional loss – a unanimous decision against Giga Chikadze in October 2020. Seven of Morales’ 10 wins have come via finish, and so Young is fully prepared to welcome the Venezuelan’s attack.
“I got respect for him,” Young said. “I don’t know him from a bar of soap, but I’ve seen his fights, and I’m keen to get in there and bang it out; I’m sure we’re going to spend a lot of time on the feet. I know I have skills that haven’t been shown to him in the UFC yet and some things that I do well that have been against him (and) he didn’t do too well against, so I’m going to look to exploit those things and just flow with it.”
As it stands, Young holds a .500 record in the Octagon through four fights, but he’s shown the skills and toughness to not only survive in one of UFC’s deepest divisions, but also stand out. When he dropped his promotional debut against Alexander Volkanovski in a short-notice bout, Young responded with a Fight of the Night effort against Ronaldo Dy to tally his first UFC win.
He’ll hope to do the same on fight night but, as a whole, Young feels like he is entering Saturday night a better and smarter martial artist and man. A loss can be particularly hard on fighters given the low frequency of competition, but for Young, he found the bright spots in his most recent performance and hopes to make good on those discoveries both in and out of the realm of competition.
“I can take some of those lessons and apply them to my actual life outside of the cage because I’ve got a nine-month-old baby back home,” Young said. “There’s all these real-life pressures on that, but this stuff kind of prepares you for real life in a weird way because it’s like a hyperreality mode. This fight week is just super intense, and I know that when I am done fighting, and I move onto whatever’s next after fighting, I’ll take all these lessons and apply that to my life outside of the cage.”