By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Shane Nelson knows the life of a local mixed martial arts pro fighter has no shortcuts, especially when the climb back to the top includes a cold stop in Canada.
That’s where Nelson will make his Maximum Fighting Championship d ebut against Graham Spencer on Friday in the promotion’s inaugural 145-pound featherweight division.
Nelson (15-6) recently signed a three-fight deal with MFC, a Canadian promotion that started in 2001 and is broadcast on axs.tv. It’s a non-title, three-round bout against Spencer (8-1), who’s riding a two-fight win streak.
“If you don’t fight outside of Hawaii yo u won’t fight often,” Nelson said. “You’ve got to love the sport. I had my first fight when I was 19 in 2005, when fighting wasn’t that popular. I’ve been fighting almost nine years now.
“It’s a life of ups and downs. I’ve had my up and downs. I’m trying to work my way back up. I have to keep pushing.”
Nelson, 28, made it to the big leagues, appearing in The Ultimate Fighter show and getting a decision over George Roop in the Season 8 finale. He got a technical knockout over Aaron Riley in the Ultimate Fighting Championship 96, then lost in the rematch, and later fell to Matt Wiman, getting released after that loss.
He fought full-time from 2008 until October of last year, when he started working construction for Robert A. Bothman Construction. It’s life on a treadmil l with little time to rest and relax.
“Unless you’re in the UFC, you’ve got work to put food on the table,” Nelson said. “I work construction during the day, train at night and come home to my 15-month baby. It’s rough, but it’s fun times.”
It took a bit of pleading to get his girlfriend, Malia Staszkow, to sign off on his son’s unique name, Kage, who always provides a dose of sunshine at the end of another long day for Nelson, a 2002 Hilo High graduate.
“I train from 5:30 to 7 p.m. every day, except Sundays,” he said. “It’s hard and tiring but you push through it. But it’s a sacrifice you’ve got to make. I bring him to the gym and let him crawl around.
“He makes you responsible. He brings everything together. It’s a great feeling after you have a hard training to come home and see him smile and run up to you.”
That’s perspective of one side of Nelson’s new life. The other side is simply harsh — trying to knock Spencer’s head off, and the hometown Canadian is no tomato can.
“He’s the No. 1 guy out of Canada at 145,” said Nelson, whose last fight was a loss to Takasuke Kume in February in Japan. “He’s a tough guy, not someone who took the fight on a week’s notice. It’s not an easy route for me.
“He’s a wrestler and I have to keep the fight standing as much as possible. I know for a fact he’s going to try to get me on the ground. But I’ve been training in jiu-jitsu for nine years. I’ll try to get a submission or get the fight back to my feet and beat him there.”
Nelson leaves Tuesday with his strength and conditioning coach Junior Tuya for an 11-hour journey with a stop in Seattle. It’ll be Nelson’s first trip to Canada, another destination point in his hopeful road back to the UFC.
He also fought in Australia, where he submitted Jai Bradney in March of last year, his first fight after his UFC release.
“UFC life is tough. You could have a three- or four-win streak and with one bad show they could cut you,” Nelson said. “The MFC is the No. 1 show in Canada on TV for eight years. There are a lot of eyes around there, a lot of talent coming out of the MFC. I’ve got three fights, but I’m looking at it like a steppingstone.
“I’m trying to build my record. That’s what the UFC wants to see, quality wins and if you can finish a guy, if possible.”
Nelson has learned much from BJ Penn, and not just jiu-jitsu moves. He works out at the BJ Penn Training and Fitness Center.
“I trained with him when I was a senior in high school,” Nelson said. “He took me under his wing. I’ve molded my style after him. A lot of my jiu-jitsu skills are from him. He also taught us to be humble.”
Once a young lion, Nelson is now a grizzled veteran. His advice to youngsters looking to follow in his footsteps is two-fold: get a mainland management company and become well-rounded.
“The key is getting management outside Hawaii. My company is KO Dynasty, out in Miami, and they’ve booked all my shows outside Hawaii,” Nelson said. “In Hawaii, we’ve got a lot of good stand-up guys. But they haven’t trained in grappling. That’s where they lag. You have to get good in everything, stand-up, grappling and wrestling.
“When you make yourself dominant on the local circuit and have no one else to fight, it’s time to make your move.”