Fight Path: Training with future UFC fighters got Josh Shockley hooked on MMA


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josh-shockley.jpgJosh Shockley was a baseball fan, enough that he filled out scorebooks and built a major affection for the nearby Chicago Cubs – an affection that still lasts.

But several years ago, a family member who was well-known in the MMA community, Mark Burch, had a fight coming up, and he was trying to get as many supporters there as possible. Shockley was interested in taking a look, especially with easy tickets, so he went to the fight.

His life hasn’t been the same since.

“Right away, I thought it was my calling,” Shockley told MMAjunkie.com. “I knew right then this is what I wanted to do.”

And it’s what he has done since. Coming out of a difficult period in his career that saw him go 2-2 fighting for Bellator MMA, Shockley has won two straight to improve to 11-2. The 23-year-old lightweight from the northwest corner of Indiana is now looking for his next opportunity, feeling revitalized after his most recent win against Micah Miller at Hoosier Fight Club 16 in June.

Meanwhile, he is continuing his commitment to the career that began after watching Burch fight. Not long after, he entered Duneland Vale Tudo, where Burch trained, and was surrounded by a community of skilled fighters, including UFC 165 title challenger Eddie Wineland, Keith Wisniewski, Justin Wisniewski and UFC featherweight contender Darren Elkins. That provided him a route to new opportunities, like traveling to Russia for one of his early professional fights.

After feeling somewhat constrained by his Bellator contract, he was released following his last appearance for the promotion in May 2012. Now riding two consecutive wins, Shockley is continuing his training with the hope of a bigger opportunity to come.

“I’m training full-time, but the income isn’t there yet,” he said. “My girlfriend is a nurse, and my family is most important to me. I’m a union worker, but I’m trying to do this and make this work, because I believe in myself.”

Finding a passion

Shockley grew up in Lake Station in the northwest corner of Indiana, not far from Chicago. He and his friends had a passion for being outside, especially when it was warm and they could play baseball.

He didn’t grow up with the early indications that he might someday be a fighter.

“I never wrestled, I never boxed,” he said. “All I really knew how to do was the headlock thing that school kids do when they don’t know how to fight.

“I played baseball all summer until the eighth grade, and that was pretty much the time I thought I would fight in the UFC.”

That was when Shockley experienced Burch’s live fight. Immediately, he was inspired to find his own training.

Burch worked out nearby at Duneland Vale Tudo, so Shockley went along one day. In his first practice, as a 15-year-old, he was there with Wineland and the Wisniewski brothers, among others, in wrestling training.

While Shockley’s story speaks to the discovery of a passion and a constant pursuit of it, it also underlines how helpful the right environment can be, especially for those who are getting started. Many fighters have to start their training all on their own and learn from their own mistakes.

For Shockley, he was immediately immersed in a competitive environment with skilled teachers.

“I’m the luckiest guy in the world,” he said. “The gym became my family, and they did so much to help me.”

New beginning

Almost immediately, Shockley began going to the gym three or four days a week. After a year or two, Keith Wisniewski gave him a jolt of confidence when he told Shockley that he was very close to fight ready, and he wanted to help get him started in fighting.

After just one amateur fight, he became a professional and started winning. He won four straight to begin his career, and Wisniewski helped arrange a fight for him in St. Petersburg, Russia. There, at a fightFORCE show, he earned a first-round victory against a much more experienced fighter, Vener Galiev, who was 13-4 at the time with a resume that included a win over current Bellator middleweight champion Alexander Shlemenko.

“I was an 18-year-old fighting a guy who was like 49-4 or something, so that was the fight that showed me records really don’t matter,” he said. “It’s all about what you can do as a fighter.”

In 2011, Shockley signed a three-year contract with Bellator that led to some conflicting feelings for him. His stint with the promotion began with a 2011 loss against Toby Imada at Bellator 36, and the relationship was a struggle for him at times.

Shockley told an interviewer in May 2012 that he wanted to be in the UFC and that a release from his contract would be a good situation for him if it happened amicably. When he showed up for his next fight, the bosses weren’t pleased.

“It was a dumb mistake, and I know that,” he said. “I got (to the fight) and they took me in a room so they could rip me and tell me they would see what happens. I had a newborn at home and I had taken this fight on about three weeks’ notice, so it was a tough situation.”

He went on to lose that Bellator 70 matchup against Keith Schneider in the first round, which was the continuation of a rocky period. Soon after, he got his Bellator release, which was admittedly a bit of a relief.

With new momentum, Shockley won in November 2012 and in early June of this year, both under the Hoosier Fight Club banner in Northwest Indiana, and he hopes the wins set him up for a strong run. With his background, his passion and his gym community, he’s feeling confident that can happen.

“If you’re around people who do great, you can do great,” he said. “It’s been a great thing for me to be where I am, and I’m so thankful for it.”

Catching up

Last week, Ozzy Dugulubgov told us about his heritage as a Circassian, a people native to Russia, and how the warrior mentality expected of its men has helped him build his fighting career. He continued his impressive run this past weekend by beating Andrew Osbourne in the second round of their bout at World Series of Fighting 5.

Now a winner of four straight, Dugulubgov improved to 5-1, even more impressive when considering his younger brother and sister live with him in the New Jersey area where he moved from Russia five years ago.

Award-winning newspaper reporter Kyle Nagel pens “Fight Path” each week. The column focuses on the circumstances that led fighters to a profession in MMA. Know a fighter with an interesting story? Email us at news [at] mmajunkie.com.

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