TUF 13 alum has tough test in lightweight debut
If you stood Shamar Bailey next to most UFC welterweights, you would most likely peg him as a lightweight.
Standing just 5’9″ tall, the compact and muscular member of last season’s cast on The Ultimate Fighter spent the first 15 fights of his career trying to get the better of bigger opponents. Though he had some success, building a 12-3 record that includes a win over Team dos Santos teammate Ryan McGillivray at June’s TUF 13 Finale, Bailey has decided a change of address was in order.
Bailey makes his lightweight debut Saturday night on the preliminary portion of UFC Fight Night 25: Battle on the Bayou in New Orleans, Louisiana. Deciding to drop down a division wasn’t an easy decision, but it’s one that Bailey said is best for his long-term success in the UFC.
“I’ve always been a ‘tweener; I’m a big 170 pounder, but I’m not very tall,” admitted Heavy MMA’s TUF 13 blogger when we spoke last week. “Most people know my strength is wrestling. Trying to close the distance on the feet against these taller guys to get them down kind of works against me a little bit.
“We figured if I can make the drop to ’55 and keep my energy up and everything, I can have a lot more successful career at ’55 than at ’70. This is the major leagues, and you want to be at your best for the majors.”
For Bailey, his first taste of life in the majors came on the last season of The Ultimate Fighter. While he had early success, winning the first fight broadcast during the season, injuries cost him dearly in the quarterfinal round, and criticism from UFC President Dana White followed.
With a number of months to reflect on his time in the Ultimate Fighter house, Bailey says the back injury that plagued him against Chris Cope is a thing of the past, and he learned a lot from what White had to say about his approach in the cage.
“Being on the show was awesome. It allowed me to realize what I’m capable of. We saw how some of the guys on Junior’s staff and the guys he brought in to work with us, how they train, how they get ready for fights, and just picking up the little nuances in terms of what I was doing and what I need to do now to get ready for a fight at the UFC level.
“Not only that, but it’s not secret that Dana has been a harsh critic of mine, and that allowed me to see the gap between where I was performing and what Dana White is looking for. It was very beneficial I think.
“(As for the injuries), we’re firing on all cylinders; everything is good. I’ve got all my chiropractors, masseuses, and trainers lined up for this one. Obviously, you get a little banged up if you’re training the way you’re supposed to, but no injuries that will keep me from being at my best and letting my opponent have it. I’m a hundred percent.”
It’s a good thing too, because the depth of the lightweight division yields a ton of tough match-ups, and Bailey finds himself in one on Saturday night.
The 28-year-old Indianapolis native will square-off with Evan Dunham. This time last year, Dunham was viewed as one of the up-and-coming stars of the 155 pound division, but then a tough decision loss to Sean Sherk and a quick knockout loss to Melvin Guillard caused his star to crash out of the sky.
Finally ready to return to the cage, Bailey expects Dunham to be a handful, but he plans on extending the former prospect’s losing streak to three in “The Big Easy.”
“There’s nothing I don’t like about the match-up honestly. I respect the guy— love to watch him—but his back’s against the wall at 0-2, and most likely he’s going to go 0-3. The thing I like about this match-up is that he brings it; he brings it on the feet, he brings it on the ground, so he’s not somebody that I’m going to have to chase around the cage when we’re on our feet.
“On the ground, he’s not just going to hold on to me; he’s going to open up and go for submissions, and that’s going to allow me to stay active and inflict damage. I think it’s going to be an exciting fight for the fans.”
In addition to working with his usual team in Indianapolis, including the now-retired Chris Lytle, Bailey spent some time in Glendale, Arizona, working with former TUF winner Efrain Escudero, lightweight contender Ben Henderson and the rest of the team at the MMA Lab.
“With Evan Dunham being a southpaw, me being a southpaw, and Ben was fighting a southpaw in Jim Miller, that was a perfect fit. I was out there for a couple weeks right before his fight with Miller, and in turn, that was helping me get ready for Evan.
“I definitely think I picked up quite a few things while I was out there; it’s just great. The crazy thing is that the two main guys I was training with—Ben and Chris—were the main and co-main event at (UFC on Versus 5) in Milwaukee, and they both had outstanding performances. I just look forward to doing my part in my fight.
“It’s funny because when I trained with them, they both train completely different,” Bailey continued with a laugh. “It was nice to see them both successful at what they do best, and I was definitely able to glean a little but from both those guys.”
He also benefited from working with Escudero, who faced Dunham in January 2010.
“It was definitely helpful. All fighters, no matter how much we’ve progressed, we have certain tendencies, so I definitely picked up a little inside information. At the same time, Evan’s evolved since that fight, and that’s what I’m expecting. I’m dwelling on it, but it’s always helpful to pick up things from guys that have fought the guy that you’re fighting.”
Bailey has evolved too, sharpening the secondary elements of his arsenal and strengthening his weakness in the three months since he last stepped into the cage. But the biggest change is his address, and Bailey is eager to put the fruits of his efforts on display.
“With this weight cut, we’re doing it right. I’ve got a nutritionist, and I feel great at this weight. I feel like a cheetah; I’m not going to lie. I think I’m going to be the best version of myself that I’ve ever been.”
Comfortable with the cut and ready to make an impression in the treacherous depths of the lightweight division, Bailey is predicting more than just a win on Saturday night.
“Fifteen minutes of explosiveness; that’s what you can expect. I’m going to do what I always do. I’m a wrestler, so I’m going to put people on their back and beat them up. I think with Evan’s aggressive style, I’m going to be able to do that pretty well, especially with his aggressive style on the ground; that’s going to allow me to inflict more damage.
“I don’t think the fans will be too upset with the ground fight that will probably take place because Evan’s not going to just hold onto me for dear life.”
As fired up and exciting as Bailey sounds, Dunham may not have a choice in the matter; holding on for dear life might be his only option.