Photo via the Matthew Wellington Group
MMAmania's Brian Hemminger speaks with unbeaten middleweight prospect Shaun Asher about his upcoming Bellator debut, his prior experience in professional athletics and the sacrifices he makes to get to where he's at in this exclusive interview.
Shaun Asher knows his window is shorter than most, and that's why he's completely committed to his cause.
At 33 years old, he didn't start training in mixed martial arts until just over three years ago, but with a history in professional athletics including a stint in pro basketball overseas, he was able to make the transition pretty easily.
Training out of Vision MMA in the Cincinnati area, Asher has had to put things on the side that most men would find very difficult, his home life, his old job, even time spent with his children, in an effort to realize his dreams.
Asher spoke with MMAmania.com about his upcoming Bellator debut, his prior experience in professional athletics and the sacrifices he makes to get to where he's at in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): This upcoming fight between yourself and Jason Butcher is between two undefeated middleweight talents. Do you view it as your coming out party of sorts?
Shaun Asher: Yeah, for both of us it's pretty much a coming-out party. We've put in a lot of time and effort and finally we get to meet on the big stage. Everyone always said we needed to fight each other to see who the best 185 pound prospect is and now we'll get to find out.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): There are several prominent middleweights featured on this show like Brian Rogers, Dominique Steele and Trey Houston. Are you going to be looking to outshine all the other 185 pounders to stand out from the crowd?
Shaun Asher: That's my goal, just to make a name for myself. That way hopefully I get a chance at a tournament coming up.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You got a late start to mixed martial arts in your career. What made you want to start training in 2009 and take up this new passion?
Shaun Asher: I always knew of it, I watched it a lot and I'd help train some buddies that fought and I just started going to the gym more and more. I actually wrote the date on my wall, the first day I started training was August 27th of 2009 and I said, "I'm gonna give myself a year and see what happenes." That's when I was still married and whatnot. In that year, I kept progressing and progressing and finally two years later I turned pro and now I'm fighting for Bellator.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I heard you were extremely emotional when you got the call you'd be fighting at this event, right?
Shaun Asher: Oh definitely. I had thought I'd fight at 205 for Bellator, but that was just because I wanted to take a fight to get into the promotion, but fighting at light heavyweight wasn't something I wanted to do. Fighting for Bellator was my dream. Finally, I did end up getting the call and it was a sure thing and I looked straight at my boss and me and my boss are tight and I told him, "I quit." He said, "What?" and I just said, "Yeah, I quit," and I started crying. I told him, "I just got the call to fight for Bellator," and he was ecstatic for me too.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): So did you actually quit on the spot or was that more of a knee-jerk emotional reaction?
Shaun Asher: I was just messing with him. I still work. I wanted to quit but I didn't.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Your team, Vision MMA, has had a lot of success in Strikeforce, Bellator and other promotions. Is there anything you've taken, any advice or anything that you think you'll be able to bring into this fight to give you that extra push?
Shaun Asher: Yeah, pretty much all of them. Roger Bowling, Daniel Straus, Victor O'Donnell and all of 'em just tell me to seize the moment. You've got to make the best of your opportunity and that's what I'm trying to do right now. I'm just so ecstatic about even being in Bellator right now that I feel like it hasn't truly sunken in yet.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): The people who haven't seen you fight before, they don't realize how good of an athlete you are. You were actually a professional basketball player in Europe for a few years. What was it like overseas?
Shaun Asher: Oh, it's a completely different world. People don't realize the food, the pressure. We started right after I got off the plane, just the day after and I was still jet-lagged and had to adjust to the time. The Germans are big, big men. Even the little guys are big and they're physical. From the time they're in grade school, the grade school kids compete with the high school kids and they just go at it. For an American, it's even rougher because they really don't want anybody else coming into their country and stealing their limelight from 'em. I had it even rougher. They tried to bully me around.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Is there anything you can take from that experience that you can bring into the cage?
Shaun Asher: Well, a lot of the workouts, the plyometrics and stuff, that was similar to what we do today, but in all honesty, it's so different being a fighter in a singular sport. You can't blame your teammates if something happens in a fight like you can in basketball. All the blame is on yourself and that's why I like mixed martial arts better than basketball. In basketball you can always point the finger at somebody else and you can't do that in MMA.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): At 33 years old, most fighters that got off to an early start, they'd be winding down their careers but you're just getting started. Do you feel like because you got a late start, you'll be able to go longer than most of these guys do?
Shaun Asher: Yeah, definitely. I got the later start so I haven't taken as much punishment as a lot of the guys who started at 15-16 years old. They're not gonna last into their 30'd because of all the abuse they've already taken. I feel like I just got started 3-4 years ago so I'l be able to go at least a few more years easy. I feel fine and as of now, I don't feel like I've experienced much punishment. I've had my injuries like a broken hand, hernia, things like that but it was nothing like a real setback in MMA yet.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): What are your goals right now? You mentioned that you wanted to see how you'd do after one year once you got started. What are your current goals right now?
Shaun Asher: As far as the long-term goals, I've pretty much accomplished them. As of today, I accomplished my goal. When I signed with my manager, he asked me what my goals were and I said I'm not looking to get into the UFC or whatnot. My main goal is I wanted to get into Bellator and fight for Bellator and I've accomplished that goal so now I'm looking to see what I can accomplish at 185 here.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I noticed from the picture of you that you've got the word "Sacrifice" tattooed on yoru chest. Does that have any special significance?
Shaun Asher: Yeah I got that tattoo during a real rough stretch in my life. I feel like every day is a sacrifice. You're always going through something, something could go wrong and as far as fighting MMA, you've got to sacrifice everything in your life. Your home life, your job, sleep, everything. If you want to be an MMA fighter, I don't sleep much. I get up at 5 am for my first workout before work, then I go to work, then I go back and train. By the time I come home I've already sacrificed again because I don't get to see my six-year-old son much if at all because I'm training, working and training again. That's pretty much what the tattoo means. Every day is a sacrifice for me.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): What do you feel you'll have to accomplish to make all that sacrifice worth it?
Shaun Asher: As far as that goes, right now, I live in a small town and people think I made it and I'm rich, but I struggle just like every one of them. I want to be like my teammate Daniel Straus. I want to get into the tournament and I want to win the tournament. I want to make a statement for Vision. We've got one of the best gyms around. We put in the time and effort and we all want to be champions.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): When you're visualizing this fight on Friday night, how are you picturing victory in your head?
Shaun Asher: Really, I'm not even sure. I've seen it so many ways and I keep replaying it over and over, what can happen. There's just so many different outcomes. We're both undefeated and we both realize that one of us is gonna come out of there with our first loss. It's gonna be hard for both of us since one of us won't be unbeaten anymore.
Shaun would like to thank all his friends and family for their support, especially his son Landon. He'd like to thank 12 Point Athletics, All-Star Tattoo and the guys out at Alliance MMA and his teammates at Vision MMA who helped him as well as of course his manager Brian Furby. You can follow him on Twitter @ShaunAsher1.