If it sounds normal for a sports spectator to watch a televised event and believe that they can excel in the same way as the athletes they watch on television, that is because the feeling is normal. Every athlete in the game will attest to having that moment at least once before they actually started their athletic careers. At the end of the day, that makes their journey all the more remarkable, because while others might talk a big game, those that pursue athletic careers showcase the courage to back up their words.

In a way, undefeated Ryan Shell can relate to those kids that looked at a sport and thought they could do it too. After all, he took to mixed martial arts when he turned only 18, predominantly because he prided himself as being a tough kid with the hunger to test his skills against the toughest fighters in the world. Unlike most kids that age, though, Shell found himself competing for a local MMA organization in his hometown without any formal training in MMA whatsoever.

“I was in high school, I was 18 years old and just a kid who thought he was tougher than he was,” Shell told The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview. “I went to an MMA organization and one of the local standouts’ opponents didn’t show up or whatever, so all my friends pressured me into doing it. And here I was thinking I was tough, so I jumped in with no formal training and pretty much got the crap beat out of me.”

If Shell had tapped out in that fight, nobody would have blamed him. When a fighter gets locked up in an airtight submission hold, they usually do not enjoy any other option, save for passing out and falling into a state of unconsciousness. However, as a testament to the type of toughness he wanted to demonstrate, Shell refused to tap. In fact, it turns out that he didn’t know that was even an option. This would force the corner to call a halt to the bout, but it would not mark the last time Shell ever took his skills to the confines of a cage in an organized setting.

Shell would go 21-5 as an amateur before winning his first pro bout in December 2010. During that time frame, Shell joined the Premier Combat Center and took a year off from competition to focus and train properly. From his amateur career to his current 5-0 pro record, Shell can claim an unbeaten status in a four-year period, as well as the distinction of having competed at middleweight and welterweight. When he meets T.J. Hepburn at RFA 13 on March 7 in Lincoln, Neb., he will enter the cage as a lightweight for the first time in his career, but given his style and his frame, it makes all the sense in the world for him to make that move down to 155 pounds.

“As far as my disposition, my bone structure, my size, my reach, and me being a good inside puncher, lightweight is somewhere I’ll do better at,” Shell said. “A lot of the welterweights walk a lot heavier than I do.”

In his high school days, Shell weighed a muscular 120 pounds. Entering a fight a the smaller man comes as nothing new to him. Although he would give up size in fights with heavier competition, he did carry the edge in speed, which never hurts in the heat of battle.

“I feel 155 will be a better home for me,” Shell explained. “I feel faster, healthier, and this is the first time I’ve ever had an eight-pack, so I’m ready to go.”

Although the brunt of his pro victories have come by submissions, Shell does not regard grappling as his specialty.

“That’s the weird thing,” Shell said. “I’m predominantly a striker. Anybody can tell you that, in the gym, I can hang with anybody on the feet, but it’s more like my punches are setting up my submissions, you know what I mean? I’m not a jiu-jitsu guy, I’m not a kickboxer, and I’m not a wrestler. I started doing it all together, so I think I’m the complete package. I’m the new breed of MMA fighter. I wouldn’t say I’m great at anything, but I’m good at everything. That’s what makes me dangerous.

“I’m very motivated to win and I have a no-quit attitude. I wasn’t the die-hard wrestler growing up. I was a cross-country and track star. I was a state champion in Hawaii in track, and my whole life, I grew up running, so I think running is the hardest sport mentally to make sure you don’t break. And, after doing that, now taking punches is easy. No one’s going to make me quit. I’m either going to get knocked out, choked out, or if it’s a thing where I need to tap, then I’ll tap. But it takes a lot to make me quit.”

Shell’s RFA 13 foe, the 2-0 Hepburn, represents an equally determined fighter that will carry a strong wrestling background, athleticism and a killer instinct with him to the cage. The RFA actually came to Shell with a different opponent in mind, but when that fighter withdrew from the bout, Shell accepted Hepburn. Despite the lack of experience his foe presents, Shell does see something exciting about the fight, and a lot of it relates to the way that Hepburn fights.

“He seems like he prefers to stand,” Shell explained. “He keeps his hands up well. He’s got good movement—not so much because of his experience, but because he’s so fast—and, based off his record, it seems he’s got some power in his hands, so that’s something I need to watch out for.”

Although it remains plausible that Hepburn will go to his stand-up against Shell, we must not forget that wrestlers always hold their takedowns and top control in their back pocket in case they need it.

“I believe in my jiu-jitsu—it’s solid—and I’ll be able to get back up. I get back up with pretty much everyone, so I can’t see me getting held down,” Shell said. “But realistically, I think Hepburn’s going to be the type that wants to stand. He seems like the Dan Henderson style [of wrestler], where he wants to use his hands to keep it on the feet, so I think that makes for an exciting fight as is. I think it’ll be a good stand-up battle. There will be a good clinching battle, some takedown battles, but overall, I think it’ll be exciting for the fans to watch.”

These days, Shell knows what he’s doing in the cage. He’s winning fights. The future is another question. He’s at 155 pounds for his encounter with Hepburn, but he’s keeping an open mind as he moves forward in his career.

“I’ve had bigger cuts and this is not my biggest cut, but it’s the lowest body fat I’ve had, so I feel like lightweight will be my home. It’s where I’ll fight from now on. Maybe I’ll do catchweights, but if it’s anything serious, like Hepburn or a fight to progress my career, I’m definitely going to find a fight at 155. If I put on a good enough performance to where the RFA decides they want to keep me, then yeah, by all means, they can pick my next opponent, and I’ll fight whoever. I’ve never been one to pick my opponent. I’m always the one that, if you pick them, I’ll fight them.”

Ryan would like to thank the Premier Combat Center, Disorderly Conduct, his sponsors, Shadow Lake and Village Point for helping him prepare for this bout.

About The Author

Dale De Souza
Staff Writer

Dale De Souza is a 22-year-old kid straight out of Texas, who grew up around Professional Wrestling but embraced the beauty of Mixed Martial Arts and Combat Sports at a young age. Dale is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report MMA, a writer at The MMA Corner.