UFC 284: Kiwi Shane Young to end lengthy layoff with featherweight bout against Blake Bilder

Sunday will mark the end of a long hiatus from the Octagon for Kiwi featherweight Shane Young.

Young, 29, will face Blake Bilder on the early preliminary card of UFC 284 at Perth, dusting off the cobwebs after an absence of almost two years.

The City Kickboxing product hasn't strapped up the six-ounce gloves since March 2021, when he dropped a unanimous decision against Omar Morales at UFC 260 in Las Vegas.

But there was no injury rehabilitation or other health-related cause behind that layoff. Young puts it down to one simple reason - the fans. Specifically, the lack thereof.

His past two bouts - both defeats - were fought at the height of the promotion's pandemic-enforced restrictions, with no crowds on hand.

His knockout defeat to L'udovit Klein in September took place in nothing more than a skeleton staff of UFC officials in Abu Dhabi. The setting was similar against Morales at the UFC Apex centre.

"I was sick of fighting in front of the Apex or the empty arenas," Young explained. "I love the energy of the crowd. I like to perform for the crowd. This is my 15th year of fighting and I didn't work this hard for this long to fight in front of 40 people.

Shane Young.
Shane Young. Photo credit: Getty Images

"It's not just about the money for me, it's the whole experience. The whole individual life experience that this crazy sport brings."

With that rationale in mind, Young has chosen the almost ideal occasion for his comeback - with a sell-out crowd of 15,500 expected at RAC Arena who will be staunchly in the Kiwi's corner.

The event is headlined by Young's part-time teammate and local hero Alexander Volkanovski's bid to become a dual-division champion against Dagestani phenom Islam Makhachev -  the first held on Australasian shores since the UFC Fight Night in Auckland back in February 2020.

Reinvigorated and with his cup refilled, Young is hitting peak enthusiasm levels - which says a lot for the typically effervescent 'Sugar'.

"I haven't felt this excited for a fight in a good long while," he admitted. "It feels like I'm a teenager again, real hungry and waking up with a fire in my belly.

"This fight week has been amazing, knowing I'm going to be fighting basically in front of a home crowd in Perth. There's a lot of Māori and Polynesians here in Perth."

Shane Young squares off with Rolando Dy in 2018.
Shane Young squares off with Rolando Dy in 2018. Photo credit: Getty Images

The stakes in Western Australia are high for the Napier native, who is teetering on the dangerous precipice of three-straight losses - an unofficial watermark that traditionally puts fighters near the edge of the roster's chopping block.

With a record of two wins and three losses on the UFC stage, Young's last victory came in February 2019, when he outpointed Austin Arnett at UFC 234 in Melbourne - the same night his teammate Israel Adesanya defeated the great Anderson Silva.

Attempting to keep that losing streak intact will be Minnesota's Bilder. Undefeated through seven fights, the 32-year-old will make his promotional debut this weekend, which he earned with an impressive first-round submission win on Dana White's Contender Series.

Entering the bout as the bookies favourite, Young is confident his edge in experience under the bright lights of the UFC will be a key factor in having his hand raised.

"I know he's older than me but he's a third of the amount of fights as me, so I know experience is going to lend a hand to me.

"I don't think he's fought in front of a crowd this big in hostile territory, so he's going to be under a lot of pressure. I always put myself under a lot of pressure, more pressure than any fighter could ever put on me. 

"I respect him as a martial artist and an athlete but I just know the hard work that I've put in and I want to show it on Sunday." 

And if he emerges victorious, expect a rousing celebration from the proud Māori - who teased he has a haka chambered just for the occasion.

"I've been touching up on my Māori  culture and I'll going to let the time for any performance of that kind to happen directly after the win.

"Hopefully there's a lot of Māori out there in Perth that know the haka Tika Tonu. It's a great haka. 

"I will have something prepared."

The card features a host of hometown favourites, including rapidly rising welterweight Jack Maddalena and Kiwi-born heavy-hitting brothers Justin and Junior Tafa.

Kiwi featherweight contender Kai Kara-France was originally slated to face Alex Perez, before injury forced him to withdraw.