It has been a long road back to the Unified MMA cage for local fighter Craig Shintani after locking in a guillotine choke nearly two years ago against Garret Nybakken.
But on Friday night he will make the walk at Unified 35 against Neal Anderson.
Shintani’s journey in mixed-martial arts (MMA) began on a whim when he decided to drive to a gym and begin training.
He was inspired by fighters in the UFC and after a few sessions he decided that the challenging nature of the sport was a perfect fit for him.
“I try to have a style that is kind of comprised of a few different fighters — like I think of a little bit of GSP style, a little bit of Khabib Nurmagomedov style, [and] a little bit of Edson Barboza,” Shintani says.
“I try to take the best of the elite guys and make it my own,” he adds.
His impressive win over former Unified champion Garret Nybakken should have propelled him into big fights with the best fighters in western Canada.
However, over the past two years Shintani has struggled to find opponents or have them make it to fight night.
He has been scheduled to fight Tom O’Connor twice at XFFC, but O’Connor was forced to withdraw due to injury.
And late last year he was scheduled to fight Clay Dixon for the featherweight title at Unified 35.
The rivalry between them and steroid accusations created an exciting build up, but the fight fell through at the last minute.
“[Dixon] told the commissioners that he just didn’t wanna fight,” Shintani says. “And that was all that I heard — they told me that he was medically cleared to fight and he just didn’t want to.”
Shintani was given the title, but for a fighter who is looking to stay active, fights falling through has become an issue.
Luckily, Shintani was able to secure a fight with Chris Day at XFFC 21 in March and he was able to earn a unanimous decision victory.
“To be honest it was a great experience just going 15 minutes,” Shintani says. “I think I had fought one minute in two and a half years, so for me, just getting cage time and getting comfortable was pretty nice.”
The fight was a dominant performance by Shintani who was able to execute his game plan without taking damage or getting injured, which sets up the quick turnaround with Anderson.
Anderson presents a contrasting dynamic to the scheduled fight with Dixon, who engaged in pre-fight banter, but Shintani is looking forward to a different challenge.
“For me I am always motivated, but I get a little bit of an extra push when they’re skilled and when they talk a little bit,” Shintani says. “So with Clay, he talked and that motivated me, and [Anderson] has the skill and the record and everything, so that motivates me.”
The fight will be contested at catchweight (150 pounds), but fights between some of the best fighters on the local scene will boost the winner’s resume substantially.
“I wanna challenge myself and, thankfully, in Neal I do have a tough challenge and I’m looking forward to it,” Shintani says.
Shintani will be in peak form, heading into the bout coming off a successful camp at his gym, Kingdom MMA and Fitness.
He also just returned from a 10-day stint at the Pit SLC in Salt Lake City, training with UFC-caliber fighters Court McGee and Ramsey Nijem, along with other notable 155-pound fighters.
In the past, Shintani has trained with Anderson and competed against him in jiu-jitsu, so the team has strong insights on his strengths and weaknesses.
Shintani just wants to remain active, defend his title, and he is hoping a couple big wins will put him on the radar for getting picked up by a major promotion.
“I would love to get on with some big promotions and just get closer to my goals of reaching a higher level,” Shintani says.
“That is definitely something I wanna do in the very near future.”
While it has been two years since he fought in the Unified cage, Shintani is looking to get back on track when he enters the arena at the River Cree Resort and Casino on May 24.
But he is not looking past Anderson.
“This matchup is set to have fireworks, were gonna put on a good show,” Shintani says. “Buy your tickets, watch online, but make sure you don’t miss this because its gonna be a war.”