The Two Sides of Shamar Bailey

Given his strict and structured background, Shamar Bailey seems a most unlikely dealer in the kind of controlled chaos and violence mixed martial arts requires. Still, he has thrived, outside and inside the cage.

A victor in nine of his first 10 professional bouts, Bailey will make his promotional debut this Saturday when he meets UFC veteran John Kolosci on the Strikeforce/M-1 Global “Fedor vs. Rogers” undercard at the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, Ill.

A devout, born-again Christian who spends as much as an hour a day giving the Bible his undivided attention, Bailey has no difficulty reconciling his faith with one of his chosen professions.

“I believe the very first form of any sport was one-on-one combat,” Bailey says. “God gives you talent to use to the best of your ability. It’s not like I’m going out and whooping somebody with them not having signed up for it.”

He grew up in five different states before settling in Indiana, the home-schooled son of a college professor and chemical engineer turned full-time pastor. A successful collegiate wrestling career at Maranatha Baptist Bible College -- where he was a national qualifier under 1972 Olympic gold medalist Ben Peterson -- laid the tracks for professional cage fighting. Sharpened by the same Integrated Fighting Academy iron as UFC veterans Chris Lytle and Jake O’Brien, Bailey sees MMA as his own community outreach program.

“I’m a Christian. I believe God put me on this earth to reach people,” he says. “When I first started wrestling, my goal was to be a national champion. As time went on, I realized I could use athletics to reach people. Whether it’s reaching people through the pulpit, through church or through fighting, I want everything I do to have a positive impact on people and to come across as something that honors God. I look at this as a ministry. People know what I stand for.”

The 27-year-old will carry a three-fight winning streak into his match with Kolosci, which marks the beginning of a potentially life-changing four-fight, 18-month contract with Strikeforce. Pat McPherson, who has trained Bailey for nearly four years, believes the promotion will like what it sees.

“He’s an aggressive wrestler, strong with aggressive ground-and pound and a very good top game,” McPherson says. “He’s one of those guys who soaks it up and will try new things even if he doesn’t think it fits his style.”

Bailey views his match with Kolosci, a semi-finalist on Season 6 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” as a golden opportunity to make waves in an industry always mining for untapped talent.

“It means the world to me,” Bailey says. “I’ve been working really hard for this. To be a fighter now, it seems like it takes forever to get that recognition and opportunity. It’s been a long time coming for me. Obviously, I don’t need to stumble on this stage and lose. I think I’m very marketable as a fighter and have a lot to offer.”

The 34-year-old Kolosci, like Bailey, has won three in a row and has roots in amateur wrestling. He made a failed run in the UFC following his appearance on the Spike TV reality series, as he submitted to a Matt Arroyo armbar in December 2007.

“I don’t know too much about him,” Bailey says. “I think we’re going to be in each other’s faces, and I have to establish myself as the better fighter.”

Neither man wants to start off on the wrong foot in Strikeforce.

“I think they’re pretty similar,” McPherson says. “I don’t think it’s going to be a finesse fight. I don’t think either of them is going to come out and throw flying triangles and armbars. It’s going to come down to who can control the cage. If Shamar flows, it’s going to be hard for Kolosci to stop him.”

Long odds and uphill climbs are nothing new to Bailey. One of only 40 firefighters hired out of a pool of 3,000 applicants, he has spent the last three years with the Indianapolis Fire Department.

“God placed it in my lap,” Bailey says. “I was working with inner city kids, and the job wasn’t able to pay me what I needed. I was struggling to pay the bills. I was going to church with the battalion chief, and he told me to put my application in. One thing led to another.”

He works a 24-hour shift, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., every third day and supplements his training at the firehouse, where he can lift weights and utilize the company treadmill. In addition, trainers and teammates from the Integrated Fighting Academy often join him to spar and hold pads during his shift. Bailey loves the prestige and sense of duty that comes with firefighting but admits he wants to give full-time MMA training a try.

“The job’s great, but I’d like to see how much better a fighter I could become training full-time,” Bailey says. “I just want to see how good I can be. I know God blessed me with a lot of athletic talent. I’ve only been doing this for three years, and I definitely want to get into a position where I’m challenging the top guys. I wouldn’t be in it if I didn’t want to be the best.”

For all that has gone right for the oldest of Irwin and Zenobia Bailey’s three children, he deals with some heavy family demons on a daily basis. His 26-year-old brother, Jared, remains behind bars at Pendleton Correctional Facility in Pendleton, Ind., currently serving a maximum security prison sentence for multiple felonies.

“I go once a month; it’s about an hour away,” Bailey says. “We used to do everything together. He’s kind of a different person now. It’s been a big challenge to see the damage it’s done to my family.”

In a strange way, his brother’s incarceration serves as an added incentive.

“It’s put pressure on me to be that much more successful,” Bailey says. “That’s my blood. No matter what, he always wants what’s best for me. I know that about him. People had high expectations for both of us. All it takes is a couple of bad decisions. It could be anybody in there. It motivates me to make the most of the life God has given me.”
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