Being the first fighter picked during team selection on The Ultimate Fighter is a bit of a mixed bag, but so far, Shamar Bailey is showing himself to be more Ryan Bader or Matt Hamill than Joe Scarola or Marc Stevens.
The welterweight out of Indianapolis won the first fight of the season on last week’s season premiere of The Ultimate Fighter: Team Lesnar vs. Team Dos Santos, defeating European veteran Nordin Asrih via unanimous decision in two rounds. The win wasn’t exactly epic in nature, which subjected Bailey to a fair bit of criticism from Dana White, both in his comments after the fight and when the UFC President chatted with Stephan Bonnar on “The Aftermath.”
Bailey recently took time to speak with UltimateFighter.com and Bleacher Report.
Just for starters, what went into the decision to have you fight first? Did Junior say he wanted you to fight first, or did you tell Junior you wanted to fight?
Basically, the coaches were looking at the guys who looked like they were in the best shape, and then have the guys who were still dealing with jet lag fight a little later. I actually went up to Junior and told him that I wanted to fight first. I felt like I was ready to go, so that helped.
With Nordin as your opponent, did you want to fight him, or was that just the opponent that Junior and the other coaches felt was best for you?
Nah, I didn’t care who I fought. I saw Myles [Jury] get hurt during the coaches’ evaluation and thought that Myles would be the best person to go after, but I felt comfortable fighting whoever. They studied everyone—I don’t know how they got scouting reports and they thought that Nordin was really weak with wrestling, so they wanted me to go after him.
Dana White said some things about that fight, not just on the show, but on the Aftermath. How do you respond to Dana’s criticisms of your fight?
I agree with them. Dana’s the president of the greatest organization in the world when it comes to our sport, and we’re supposed to put on a show for the fans. I did not put on a show for the fans.
I have two philosophies. On the show, we’re not yet in the UFC. We’re trying to get into the UFC. We’re trying to give ourselves the best chance to get into the UFC and get that contract. I was following my coaches’ game plan.
I actually wanted to stand and bang with Nordin, but my coaches told me he was weaker in his wrestling than I was. Position first, striking second. I think you saw toward the end of the fight, when I unloaded on Nordin a little bit, that’s how I wanted to fight the whole fight.
But the guy was just holding onto me, he wasn’t really trying for submissions or anything, so I was doing my best to maintain my control first, strike second and follow my coaches’ instructions. I agree with Dana wholeheartedly, but my actions were based on what I was told to do by my coaches.
That’s an interesting part of it. You have your thoughts of how you want to fight, and your coaches might see things differently. You can either listen, as you did, or be like Andy Wang on season five, who didn’t listen to BJ Penn.
That was in the back of my mind. I told my coaches a couple of times that I wanted to put on a show for Dana. I’m still disappointed that I didn’t submit Nordin. I felt like I had the opportunity to at least do that. At the same time, there’s a lot of weight on my shoulders being in the first fight. I decided to just follow my coaches’ instructions and hopefully get a chance to show my talents later on.
Do you think that’s a spot where not having elimination fights changes things? If you were fighting Nordin to get into the house, and you didn’t have coaches giving you a game plan, you would have fought him differently, right?
Yeah, because if we were in an elimination fight, there would have been no way for me to get a scouting report on my opponent, or a game plan, so I would have had to just go out there and fight him. I think that makes a little bit of difference, but at the end of the day, this is a competition where you can fight three times in six weeks, and we were given coaches for a reason.
I sacrificed my pride a little bit to give my team the best chance to be successful. And in return, if everybody on my team does what they’re supposed to do, and they win, that benefits me, because that circles back around to me and we get to pick who we want to fight. It’s a whole team thing.
It’s kind of funny that we had the whole business about what kind of fight it was when you train with Chris Lytle, who’s known for having great fights, win or lose. How has training with Chris influenced your approach to your fighting career?
Chris has a lot more experience than I do. When we train together, we bang it out. He’s helped my stand-up improve tremendously. At the same time, he’s helped my overall game improve dramatically. I actually had to part ways with the trainer that Chris is with right now, because he wasn’t helping me improve in other areas. The improvement in my stand-up is due to Chris and my other trainers.
So you’re not at Integrated Fighting Academy now,
Not anymore. Me and Chris still train together twice a week, but that’s on our own.
So where else are you training now?
I train with individual instructors. I train with my Muay Thai instructor at Top Level Gym Muay Thai, and then we have a branch of American Top Team here in Indianapolis for my jiu-jitsu. Then, I actually go up to Chicago and train with some guys from Miguel Torres’ gym to put the MMA together.
For me right now, I have to move around a lot right now to get better in all the aspects of MMA. I really do think that even though people didn’t enjoy my first fight due to the game plan, people are going to start seeing a different version of Shamar Bailey. People only know me as a wrestler, and that will always be my strong point, but you’re going to see a different version of me for sure.
Obviously, we can’t get into what happens on upcoming episodes, but was that in your mind going into other fights, that you wanted to open the toolbox a little more and show more of what you have after that fight?
That was definitely in my mindset. I had conversations with the coaches. Obviously, I wanted to advance in the competition, but I also didn’t want to have Dana White and Joe Silva think that I’m a boring fighter, either. That was definitely in my mindset, but I went to my coaches for permission, out of respect for them.
Is it tough to listen to the criticism when you wanted to do something different?
No. In one sense, I want the fans to be entertained, but fans come from one perspective. They’re not in the position that we are on the show. The fans have every right to think that it was not an exciting fight, so I agree with the fans there, but I’d like the fans to look past the entertainment factor and see that we have the opportunity of a lifetime, and we’re trying to secure that opportunity.
I really just want the fans to know that once I’m in the UFC, God willing, I will do my best to entertain them with a high-paced fight that’s all over the place.