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UFC 234: The story behind Kiwi featherweight Shane Young's inspiring victory speech

Sporting News logo Sporting News 12/02/2019

a group of people posing for the camera © Provided by Perform Media Channels Limited It was only after he’d “made it” in the UFC that Shane Young realised money, fame and success isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

And recognising that fact threatened to derail his budding UFC career.

As he rose through the ranks with fights in New Zealand, Australia and China, he only ever dreamed of winning bouts, making the UFC and watching his bank account fill up.

So his whole world, his entire being, melted down around him following his breakout performance at UFC Singapore in June last year – a second round stoppage win over Rolando Dy.

The furious stoppage was a highlight in itself, but Young created even more headlines by walking to the Octagon carrying the Maori Tino Rangatiratanga flag and becoming the first fighter to ever speak Te Reo Maori in the cage afterwards.

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Later on, he was awarded a (US)$50,000 check for fight of the night.

As he celebrated on a balcony overlooking Singapore, he waited to feel fulfillment.

The same thing happened when he landed back home in Auckland. It never came. 

“My energy source for fighting for a couple of years was money and fame and getting to the UFC,” Young told Sporting News.

“It seemed like that’s what I wanted, and I was grinding so hard to get it.

“When I finally got it, I thought ‘sweet, now I’m gonna feel happy.’

“Didn’t feel happy, bro. Didn’t feel happy.

“There’s a voice inside of us, you know, and once the Singapore fight happened, that voice was a f------ a------. It was the worst.

I couldn’t even sit with myself. I couldn’t be by myself.

"It was a tumultuous time that bought up a lot of things that I'd pushed away.”

Recognising that he’d been striving for so long for an unattainable goal helped Young come to terms with something else – he’d been isolated from his roots, his family and his culture – his very identity – for too long.

So he decided to leave Auckland for a few days and head back home to Maraenui in the Hawke's Bay, on the east coast of the North Island.

“I was only going to be gone for two days and I was there for six weeks,” he said.

“Basically, it was like counselling sessions with my mum and my family.

"I was asking my mum about all this trauma that I went through growing up in the hood in Maraenui."

Admitting he had depression, Young says

"Returning to Maoritanga (culture) helps you understand that you're connected with the Earth, and you'll never feel alone," he said.

"Sometimes I just go down and lie down on Papatuanuku (the land)

There were plenty of tears during those six weeks back home, but Young says it was crucial in accelerating his awakening.

“Before Singapore, I almost didn’t want to be Maori – I wanted to be a flash white kid, because I’m half and half, I’m halfcast,” he said.

“But my perception was so wrong. I didn’t have any Maori role models.

There were no Maori in business that could speak eloquently, I didn’t even have people who were walking both worlds – Te Ao Maori and Te Ao Pakeha.

"Now, my mental fortitude is so strong and I'm channeling my tupuna (grandparents).

“I feel like I’m really genuine to myself now. I’m the real Shane Young.

Before, I wasn't genuine to myself and inside I was just getting pulled apart."

Now more comfortable in his own skin, it was a re-energised Young who put together another clinical performance in Melbourne last Sunday.

Following his three-round win over American Austin Arnett, Young spoke Te Reo again, gave a heart-warming shout out to his mum and raised awareness for mental health in New Zealand.

"I just want to let everyone know, back home in Aotearoa, we've got the highest rate of youth suicide,” he said during his post-fight speech.

"To all you kids and anyone who's listening right now, I know what you're going through.

"Just reach out and talk. You can be strong by reaching out.”

It’s a message he delivers from experience, and one he’ll continue spreading.

“I see a lot of angry young men. A lot of them,” he told Sporting News.

“Now I know why they’re angry. There’s all this stuff we don’t address.

“There was stuff I’d hold onto and not let go of, and I’d be using that as my drive, saying ‘I’m gonna get myself out of the hood, I’m never gonna go back there.’

“Before, I wanted to take my money and run. Now I want to take my money and run back.”

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