Don Shainis has the opportunity to shake up the UFC featherweight rankings on two weeks’ notice when he makes his octagon debut this Saturday.
Shainis faces Sodiq Yusuff in a main card matchup at this weekend’s UFC Vegas 61 event at the UFC APEX. “Shameless,” a former Cage Titans featherweight and FAC lightweight champion, plans to make the most of his first promotional appearance — and one he has been waiting for since turning pro.
“Shameless is going to come out of left field, upset Sodiq Yusuff, and take the No. 12 spot in the world,” Shainis told MMA Fighting. “Out of f****** left field.
“Think about it like this, other people get their blessings far sooner than other people. It wasn’t my time until [two weeks ago when I got the call].”
Shainis has overcome quite a bit in order to earn his UFC shot, which includes coming back from a severe neck injury suffered in a decision loss in April 2018. A year later, Shainis returned to the Cage Titans cage and began a run of four straight stoppage wins before the COVID-19 pandemic shut him down for 15 months.
The 31-year-old left Massachusetts and relocated to Missouri where he began training at Glory MMA, headed up by James Krause, and returned to action in July 2021 where he dropped a unanimous decision to Nathan Williams at Cage Titans. Since then, Shainis competed five times, earning five wins, four finishes, and two regional titles in two different weight classes.
All in all, despite feeling like he deserved a UFC call pre-pandemic, Shainis is grateful for how and when it finally came.
“I would’ve loved to get the call two years ago and already have my feet in the water, but I ain’t going to b**** about it, it is what it is, the pandemic absolutely [screwed] me over — professionally, financially, emotionally,” Shainis said. “Nothing I can do about that, but I did everything I could — I left New England, came down to Missouri, and let me tell you, man, it was a complete eye-opener.
“I’ve never had 20 guys in the gym, let alone one gym, five minutes away from where I stay, all under James Krause. Everyone here is hungry, everyone here has 10 fingers together trying to help everyone get over what they need to do. We have 50 pros on the mat, it’s a grind. You can’t get that kind of training back [in Massachusetts].”
Yusuff was originally slated to face Giga Chikadze at UFC Vegas 60 earlier this month before Chikadze suffered an injury that forced him out of the bout. “Super” is 5-1 during his UFC run, which includes a decision loss to Arnold Allen at UFC Vegas 23 in April 2021. The 29-year-old bounced back from his lone octagon loss 11 months later to defeat Alex Caceres at UFC Vegas 50 this past March.
Although he is the biggest underdog on the card, Shainis believes his style and pace can give the heavily favored Yusuff fits on Saturday.
“I think I accepted the fight before I even know who it was,” Shainis explained. “I don’t care. Look at it this way: I’ve got nothing to lose. What am I going to do? Keep fighting regionally for pennies? I didn’t get into this sport to not bet on myself, and that’s what this sport is. As far as the opponent [goes], that’s just another name.
“I’ve seen him fight casually as a fan, I’ve seen him fight before. But what I looked at was his last fight against Caceres, and looked at his Contender Series fight, and I think this is going to be a very interesting matchup where he’s a clean striker, but I think he starts slow. I’m so awkward and weird where my style of striking and grappling might not be pretty, but it’s effective. I think that’s where I’m going to be able to set the pace and keep grinding. The more I turn this into a dog fight, the better.”