Dan Ige, Doing Things His Way

By Ben Duffy Dec 14, 2018

Dan Ige marches to the beat of his own drum, in the purest sense of the expression. In an Ultimate Fighting Championship featherweight division populated by oversized athletes and outsized personalities, “Dynamite” chooses to fight within spitting distance of his walking weight, reject theatrics and trash talk as a shortcut to the spotlight and generally conduct himself with a quiet professionalism. He understands how others play the game; he simply has no interest in following that path.

That is not to say the 27-year-old Hawaiian lacks confidence -- or a sense of humor. When it was pointed out to him that his fight with Jordan Griffin at UFC on Fox 31 on Saturday will be his fourth straight bout against a graduate of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series going back to his own appearance on the show in 2017, Ige replied, “Yeah, I’m the Grim Reaper of the Contender Series, the dream-killer.” He then laughed out loud, instantly turning promo into punchline.

Ige’s upcoming opponent, Griffin, is no laughing matter. It does not faze him in the slightest that this will be his second straight fight in his opponent’s hometown -- in his most recent appearance at UFC 225 in June, Ige splattered Mike Santiago in 50 seconds, silencing a partisan crowd in Chicago -- but he respects what the Milwaukeean brings to the cage.

“He’s a really experienced guy,” Ige said. “He has over 20 fights, so twice as many fights as me. He’s a big guy and a good grappler.”

As usual, Ige’s own preparation for the fight has been conducted with a two-pronged Las Vegas approach: Game planning and skills training all take place at his longtime home gym, Xtreme Couture, while strength and conditioning are done at the UFC Performance Institute. Las Vegas is an MMA mecca, where the default training method seems to be a “buffet” approach, with fighters splitting time between numerous gyms. Ige sees it but, as with many things, feels no need to imitate it.

“I get everything I need at Xtreme Couture,” Ige said. “I have plenty of people to spar with, great coaching with Dennis [Davis]. There’s just no need for me [to rotate between gyms]. I go to the P.I. for strength and conditioning just because it’s an amazing facility and they have so much stuff, but all my actual MMA training is at Xtreme.”

His preference for having a single main gym to call home may be partly due to how often he is a guest in other gyms; as the main assistant to prominent manager Ali Abdelaziz, Ige is frequently on the road, acting as a fixer and facilitator for Abdelaziz’s clients during fight week. At those times, Ige gets in training sessions at local gyms.

As a Hawaiian fighting in the UFC’s featherweight division, Ige of course watched the UFC 231 main event between fellow Hawaiian Max Holloway and Brian Ortega.

“It was a great feeling,” Ige said of the rousing fight, which ended in a doctor stoppage at the end of the fourth round and a second successful defense of Holloway’s title. “Obviously I was rooting for Max, but there were a couple moments I was a little worried there. I mean, they’re both great.”

Holloway and Ortega are both 27 years old, the same as Ige. Not only do they represent the pinnacle of the featherweight division today, but they may well still be there at whatever future date Ige finds himself in title contention. Skilled though they are, both are also very large men for the division: Holloway’s difficulties with the weight cut are well-documented, but even Ortega has stated that he prefers to fight no more than twice a year, due in part to the process of getting down to the featherweight limit. It seems appropriate to ask whether Ige is rethinking his stance on his own weight in light of the relative giants at the top of the division. Unsurprisingly, the answer is no.

“I don’t care about it at all,” Ige said. “I’m used to being the smaller guy. I almost like being the smaller guy. A lot of these guys are taller and bigger than me, but … I’m strong, man. I spar with guys in all different weight classes, bigger guys, and they’ll tell you I can hold my own. If I cut down a weight class, I might be bigger than some of my opponents, but I lose stuff, as well: my gas tank -- I’m used to having the better gas tank -- and my chin. When guys dehydrate themselves, they lose some of that chin.

“I don’t think you’ll ever see me at bantamweight,” Ige said before letting out a laugh. “I hope you never see me at bantamweight.”

In any event, Ige keeps a one-step-at-a-time approach to his own progress in the division. His sensational knockout of Santiago in June was the very first fight on the card. He is slated for the middle prelims on Saturday in Milwaukee. When asked if he feels any need to match or surpass his last performance in order to make his way onto main cards, Ige professes not to care. His thoughts on the subject are pragmatic.

“In some ways, I almost like fighting early and getting it out of the way,” he said, “but if I care about how many people are watching me fight, I think more people may see me on the free prelims before a pay-per-view anyway; and unless you’re the headliner, you’re making the same money no matter what, so I don’t really worry about it. I just need to keep winning.”

Ige’s work with Abdelaziz and his dozens of professional clients necessarily keeps him up to date on goings-on, not only in the UFC but in competitor organizations like Bellator MMA and the Professional Fighters League. After his fight, he will make a quick jaunt to Hawaii to spend Christmas with family and then head to New York for the PFL’s New Year’s Eve event, helping run logistics for the numerous Abdelaziz fighters on the card.

However, it is Bellator’s doubleheader in Hawaii, also taking place this weekend, which has a sliver of Ige’s attention. While the UFC has considered and ultimately rejected plans to return to the islands for years, Bellator is swooping in with a blockbuster event: back-to-back Friday and Saturday cards stacked with some of its biggest names and best talent. Far from wishing ill on the world’s No. 2 mixed martial arts promotion, Ige hopes it is a smash.

“I hope it goes great for them,” he said. “If it’s successful, that just makes it easier for the UFC to make the decision to go to Hawaii.”

If and when the UFC announces a card in Hawaii, how quickly would Ige be texting matchmaker Sean Shelby? The man with the quiet confidence in his way of doing things, the rock-solid professional whom it would be impossible to picture begging for a bonus or throwing profanity-laced tirades on Twitter, makes his only concession.

“Instantly,” Ige said. “I’d be texting him in seconds.”


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