Mixed martial arts: Kiwi Shane Young fighting for legacy and to inspire young Māori at UFC 260

Shane Young will be fighting for more than just his own future, when he steps inside the Octagon at UFC 260 ln Las Vegas this weekend.

On Sunday (NZ time), the Kiwi mixed martial artist is set to meet Venezuelan Omar Morales in a featherweight bout at the UFC Apex Centre.

The 27-year-old Young is looking to bounce back from the first knockout loss of his career back in September, but also provide some timely inspiration for his brother about the power of the will to succeed.

The bout with Morales will be the first Young's brother has watched since being released from prison earlier this year.

For Young, Sunday provides an opportunity to be a role model to both his sibling and young Māori.

"He is an amazing young man," Young says of his brother.

"He's a couple of years younger than me and he has a bright future ahead of him.

"I've often talked about inspiring young Māori that you can accomplish anything if you dedicate yourself to being the best, and it's because of kids like my brother that I want to do that.

"I could have easily fallen down the wrong path and joined a gang, but I refused to allow that to happen. I moved out of Napier to Auckland and changed my future.

"My brother made a silly mistake and he paid for that, but I can already see the changes he is making - he already has a job - and that inspires me and I want to make him proud this weekend."

'Sugar' finds himself in a must-win spot at UFC 260, as he looks to put a horror loss well and truly behind him and cement himself as a world-class contender.

Young was knocked out in 76 seconds in Abu Dhabi by Slovakian striker L'udovit Klein - a late notice replacement after his original opponent tested positive for COVID-19.

Although that night didn't go as planned for the City Kickboxing-trained featherweight, Young sees it as a small roadblock to his ultimate goal of wearing UFC gold. 

"You try not to think about where it all goes if the fight doesn't go your way - I've been there and it sucks.

"But every fight is pivotal to your career direction and towards that goal of being a world champion and building a legacy.

"I'm trying to break some chains in my family that has been going on for years - some intergenerational trauma I guess. I'm using my vehicle of fighting to help make that change.

"It's not just about the money - we Kiwis fight for more than just pay cheques, so yeah,  this fight is pivotal for me, my gym and my family. 

"I will put my heart and soul out there for my people and I'm grateful for the opportunity."

Shane Young on his way to a UFC victory in 2020
Shane Young on his way to a UFC victory in 2020 Photo credit: Image - Photosport
SINGAPORE - JUNE 23:  Shane Young of New Zealand prepares to fight Rolando Dy of Phillippines in their featherweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on June 23, 2018 in Singapore. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Photo credit: Getty

The 'Fight Island' loss to Klein snapped a two-fight UFC win streak for Young, who trains alongside Israel Adesanya, Dan Hooker, Brad Riddell and Kai Kara-France. 

Young realises his last performance was below par, admitting he struggled with the abnormal conditions involved with fighting on Yas Island.

While teammates Riddell and Adesanya shined, Young faltered and it's not something he wants to revisit - ever. 

"It was pretty crazy in Dubai.

"We were going to bed at 4pm local time, waking up at midnight to train  at 1am to prepare to fight at 3am. 

"That was our cycle and we had eight days to get used to it.

"I give massive props to Brad and Israel for adjusting to that and performing at such a high level.

"People rave and hype up Fight Island but I never, ever want to go back there - it was hard man.

"So I'm really stoked to be fighting in a more familiar time zone - you lose a day, but there is only a four or five-hour difference, so it's easy to get your head around it, so my body clock won't be too out of whack."

In Young's corner on Sunday will be Riddell, who was last week removed from a fight after teammate Alex Volkanovski tested positive for COVID-19.

Both Riddell and Young were close contacts of the UFC's featherweight champion, but both have produced several negative COVID-19 in the last four days.

Young admits it's a relief he is still able to fight, but he feels for his gym mate who will head back to New Zealand with no paycheque. 

"It's still pretty worrying," says Young.

"We are still following pretty extensive COVID prevention protocols so there is still a little bit of a worry that the fight may fall over, but my team and I are doing what we need to to stay safe.

"You just have to push that stuff to the outside. I've got some stuff going on at home with my partner looking after our nine-month-old by herself, but as a fighter, you have to push through all that stuff.

"I'm okay - I just feel for the whanau back home and I fell for Brad's [Riddell] family because what he's been through this week has been shocking. 

"He never tested positive for COVID, he tested negative the day before, the day of and the day after his fight date. 

"He's had seven straight days of negative tests and yet he's paying the price, both mentally and in his pocket.

"Brad could have left a couple of days ago and been back with his family by mid-April, but he stayed to help me prepare for my fight and stand side-by-side with me this week. I have so much love for him."

A win for Young will improve his UFC record to 3-2.