Everybody loves a good underdog story. Watching a person overcome what seem like insurmountable odds is what captures an audience and endears the unlikely hero to a crowd he never thought he’d reach. This is why the movie franchise Rocky was such a success and also why the New York Knicks’ Jeremy Lin is on the tip of everyone’s tongue.
At PXC 29 Saturday at the Ynares Sports Arena, another underdog story could be set to unravel, as the co-main event features a 145-pound match-up between Filipino-American Harris Sarmiento and California native Raja Shippen.
While one is the current 155-pound PXC champion, a veteran of over 60 fights, and widely considered one of the best in the region, the other has only had 11 fights, is sporting a questionable MMA record of 3-7-1, and is a man who has had to deal with a troubled past. On paper, this fight is a no-brainer for any betting man.
Fights happen in the cage, however, and a chat with the soft-spoken Shippen sheds light on why his MMA record is not the most attractive in the sport. A natural 135-pounder, Raja admits, “I took fights before on two weeks notice, or a week’s notice and I’d fight at 160-165 pounds and was just jumping at the wrong stuff.”
Although an accomplished kickboxer with a 5-0 record, his refusal to diversify his game didn’t help either, “I wasn’t working my ground as much and just thought I could get by with my kickboxing. I was taking MMA fights and not really preparing the way I should have.” This attitude led to four of his seven losses coming via submission.
A large proponent of his early disappointments stemmed from personal troubles as well, as the California native revealed that he was also not in the best place in his life early in his career, “I was kind of a knucklehead when I was younger. I got in a little bit of trouble, just fighting and abusing stuff. Just not in the best state of mind so to say.”
Despite his obvious talent, having the wrong people around who provided bad advice and guidance clearly hampered Shippen’s career. But that has changed in the last few years, with Raja finding a proper home with the people of Reign MMA.
Training with UFC fighters Jason “Mayhem” Miller, Jake Ellenberger and especially rising star Mark “The Filipino Wrecking Machine” Munoz has really transformed Raja to a more mature 25-year-old that understands what it takes to compete at the highest level. “It’s a little different now, being around the guys at the gym and being around the sport more. I understand we have to be complete, we gotta work on everything.”
The priorities have changed as well. While the start of his career centered on taking fights to get some cash, Shippen no longer feels the monetary incentive is his main driving force. Having been taken in by Orange County-based Reign MMA and Tiger Muay Thai in Thailand, the family love he has enjoyed in both camps is what he is most eager to give back. “Now I’m really taken care of. I have somewhere to stay, they give me food, give me training. So I feel like I don’t want to let them down for all the help they’ve given me. I want to go out there and try my hardest.”
And while Raja doesn’t deny that Harris is clearly the favorite in their fight, he holds a quiet confidence in himself that he attributes to what he believes is some of the best training out there. “I know experience is a factor, but I do feel pretty confident in the fight. I feel like I have a lot of good things going for me. I feel like my camps and training partners are at a high level, and I feel even if I don’t have as much experience as Harris, I have as much heart to go the whole fight. I’m looking forward to it and learning. Win or lose, I’m going to learn.”
With a renewed mindset and a resurgent belief, Raja Shippen takes on the toughest challenge he’s ever faced in Harris Sarmiento. Fortunately for him stories don’t always go as planned, and before the night is finished, a new memorable underdog story might unfold – the tale of Raja Shippen’s proper MMA arrival.
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