Don Shainis doesn’t even remember if James Krause said hello when he called him a couple weeks back. All he recalls from the conversation with his coach was a blunt question.
“What’s your weight?”
The 32-year-old knew what was next if he gave the right answer: a call to the UFC. It was short notice, it was against number 12-ranked featherweight contender Sodiq Yusuff, but he wasn’t going to turn it down. Instead, Shainis went to the gym, did an hour of cardio and began planning out two weeks that will culminate in his Octagon debut this weekend. Yes, Shainis is a UFC fighter, but don’t tell him that.
“I haven't had that moment yet,” he said. “People are congratulating me and I appreciate it, but I haven't done s**t yet. Getting the call is one thing. Showing out's another, and I expect to turn some heads on the first.”
When facing a Top 15 contender in your UFC debut on short notice, the oddsmakers will not be kind, and Shainis understands that. What the oddsmakers don’t understand is what Easton, Massachusetts’ Shainis has gone through to get here. Sure, any 12-3 fighter who battled it out on the regional scene before getting the call has a compelling story. But his might be more compelling than most, not that he’s going out of his way to say, “look at me.” Instead, when he speaks of the past, it’s almost matter of fact, like doesn’t everyone go through this.
“I've been trying to stay super active,” said Shainis, who has already fought four times in 2022. “It's funny, I just turned 32, but I lost a year in 2018 when I broke my neck. That put me back a year. I've seen guys get to the next level in that year and I told myself I wasn't done. I come back, I have four fights, I'm scheduled for my fifth and it gets stopped by the pandemic, and that put me back another year and a half. So, as of right now, I'm coming off two-and-a-half years of a lost career from things I couldn't control, but it hasn't deterred me at all.”
Wait, a broken neck?
“I was injured going into the fight and I don't know if my neck was broken or it broke during the fight,” he explains of his April 2018 bout with Daniel Matos. “So after the first round, I couldn't move my left arm, and I ended up losing that fight 29-28 at 155, so that's up a weight class. It was a short-notice replacement fight, so I just said f**k it. My original opponent backed out, and they got me some black belt from Florida, and I lost a pretty close decision. The first two rounds were competitive, the third round, I was done, but I didn't quit. That's actually my proudest fight.”
Again, not even a trace of woe is me or maybe my career is done. Just like former world boxing champion and fellow New Englander Vinny Pazienza, Shainis wasn’t considering another line of work.
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“Not even a question in my mind,” said Shainis, who returned eight days shy of his injury to knock out David McClendon with a flying knee in ten seconds. Three more wins followed before COVID hit the world and put his life on pause just when he believed he was closing in on a call from the UFC.
“The pandemic messed up my whole life,” he said. “I'm dead serious. I lost a boatload of money, I was scheduled to fight for the 145 title back home, and it put my life on hold. I just invested money in a gym that essentially I haven't seen any money back from, I lost my bartending gig and I couldn't train.”
Soon, restrictions started easing up, but not at home, prompting a move to train with Krause and the Glory MMA crew.
“Massachusetts was super strict on their rules and regulations, and it was nearly impossible to train at the level I felt I should be training at,” Shainis said. “So I left and I ended up in Missouri training under James Krause, and here I am, almost two years later, making my UFC debut.”
In between, Shainis has gone 5-1 with four finishes that include a first-round TKO of UFC vet Cody Pfister in May. He’s making a big step up on Saturday, but he’s far from intimidated by the moment. And that’s no surprise.
“To me, it's just another fight,” Shainis said. “I see people compete and lose to names. I see people compete and think about rankings. People forget that it's just another fight and crazy things happen in fights. I know I'm a huge underdog in this and I'm doubling down on myself right now. So it's gonna be one of these things where I come out of left field, and what pressure's on me? If I lose, I lost to the number 12 guy in the world, and if I win, I just starched the number 12 guy in the world. I'm not even thinking about it. I'm just thinking about being me, and if I'm me in my truest form, you're gonna have to kill me to beat me.”