Eric Shelton believes he’s been on the wrong side of some split-decisions since joining the UFC, but he doesn’t let that deter him in the least moving forward. The 28-year-old switched camps in the last year and is now at the renowned American Top Team in Florida. While Shelton may be enjoying the sunshine now, his career—especially throughout the last year—has been clouded by mystery and unknowing.
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Shelton sat down with The Body Lock’s John Hyon Ko to discuss TJ Dillashaw trying to shut down his division, taking a chance on moving his family to Florida and more.
Defender of the flyweights
TJ Dillashaw dropped down in an attempt to claim the flyweight title from the current champion, Henry Cejudo, earlier this year. Fans and fighters alike knew what was at stake for the division going into that bout. Dillashaw claimed ahead of the meeting that the UFC was paying him a “(expletive) load of money to move down and kill off the 125-pound division.”
Eric Shelton likes Dillashaw. He’s trained with the two-bantamweight champion and holds him in high revere. He doesn’t have a negative thing to say about the guy, but Shelton definitely wasn’t rooting for him against Cejudo.
“It was hard for me because TJ [Dillashaw] is a guy I look up to, but at the same time, I’m a flyweight, you know what I mean? It’s my family on the line. So it was one of those things. I wanted him to win but in reality, deep down, I needed that division to come up and shine. Cejudo did that for us. So I was definitely felt blessed for that.”
Shelton had a feeling that the weight cut would be too much for Dillashaw just by looking at his frame. At bantamweight, the champion hardly has any fat on his body. So Shelton figured that the drop to flyweight would affect his performance and his chin. While many are intrigued at seeing Cejudo vs. Dillashaw at bantamweight, the fight doesn’t do much for Shelton who would rather just keep both men’s respective divisions moving.
“No man, I don’t think it should happen. I think they should just let that go. Just let our divisions thrive. Right now we’ve got a lot of 135ers that can contend with TJ and a lot of 125ers that can contend with Cejudo. So I think we just need to let the divisions run their course.”
To say that the last year was trying for the UFC’s flyweights is a bit of an understatement. Many were cut from the promotion and the rumors of the division’s demise swirled after “Mighty Mouse” Demetrious Johnson was traded to ONE Championship for the undefeated Ben Askren. Shelton had just changed camps and the anxiety of what would come next couldn’t have come at a worse time.
“My life was on the line. I have kids and stuff. I went down to American Top Team; I relocated my whole family. So with that talk [of shutting down the flyweight divison], it was like, dang, I don’t know if I’m going to have a job in the next few months. I definitely was nervous, but I always put God first and he always keeps me good.”
With Cejudo seemingly salvaging the flyweight division from the void, Shelton is breathing easier heading into his next fight. He feels a weight has been lifted off of his shoulders and that he’ll finally be able to showcase his best when he meets Octagon newcomer Jordan Espinosa at UFC Nashville later this month.
“I feel like this is going to be the first fight where I’m not backed into a corner. My first fight in the UFC, I lost that split decision. Obviously, you’re nervous now. I got another fight, I fought, I lost another split decision. I was 0-2 in the UFC. So then I was backed into a corner for that next one. Then I finally got a win. It’s always been always on edge, you know?
“Then with the flyweight division being on the line, it was like, dang, I don’t even know what’s going on. So right now this fight [against Espinosa], I feel I finally can have a free mind and train and focus on just going out there and perform. I’m going to go in there and put on a show and actually show people why I’m called ‘Showtime’ this fight.”
With his mind in a good place, Shelton is now excited for the future. Like many, he’s motivated by his family and his desire to give them everything he knows they deserve. While always noble, that’s not uncommon. What Shelton does feel differentiates him and other fighters is his work ethic and the fact that he never stops pushing himself: be it at home or on the mats at American Top Team.
While many expect immediate results, Shelton knows it’s a process when you move to a new gym. Thus far he’s ecstatic to be working with the highly-touted coaching staff and other elite lower-weight guys like RIZIN superstar, Kyoji Horiguchi.
“I feel like a completely different fighter. I’m confident now. I believe in myself again. It takes a toll on you when you’re losing fights like that. It takes a toll on your mind and your skill set, but I’m finally back. I feel like I’m back and I’m going to be able to show people that I’m about this and I’m going to get to the top; that number one spot. No doubt.”
Watch Eric Shelton’s full interview with John Hyon Ko below, and subscribe to Kumite TV for more exclusive interviews:
Brandon is a long-time fan of combat sports who has covered them for various outlets since 2017.