The Associated Press
Friday, July 31, 2009 | 8 a.m.
Beyond the Sun
Former Oklahoma State wrestler Shane Roller was not exactly a mixed martial arts prospect two years ago.
Living in Tulsa, Okla., Roller was a 28-year-old building contractor with no MMA experience. He was a father-of-two and, by his own admission, a bit over his 157-pound fighting weight.
But whenever there was a pay-per-view fight or “The Ultimate Fighter” episode on, Roller couldn’t help but watch from his home and quietly think that he could compete.
“You always hear a lot of people say, ‘Oh, I can do that,’” Roller said. “I wasn’t really the kind to tell everyone I could do it, but those closest to me knew. I told them I was really thinking about getting into it. They would usually just laugh.”
As a wrestler, Roller was a four-time Oklahoma high school state champion and a Big 12 Conference Champion for wrestling powerhouse Oklahoma State University.
However following his graduation in 2003, Roller’s training schedule fell off the map. With a family, full-time job and volunteer hours as an assistant coach at his Alma matter, Roller had no time to learn MMA.
That changed in 2007 when Jake Rosholt, another former Oklahoma State wrestler, was asked by Ted Ehrhardt to join a new MMA team called Team Takedown.
Since the team was basing its success on acquiring former wrestlers, Rosholt contacted his old teammates: Roller and Johny Hendricks.
“All three of us were good friends and the manager found Jake,” Roller said. “At first I didn’t think anything of it but then they told me they were looking for a 155-pound fighter I wanted in. I was out of shape and close to 200 pounds but I told them I could do it.”
So Roller packed up his wife, son and infant daughter and moved to Dallas to train full-time. Although he says his family was supportive, they were stunned at first.
“My wife and I grew up very close, just a couple miles away,” Roller said. “She comes from a big family, I come from a big family and we are the only ones who have ever moved away. I hadn’t competed in so long it was shocking news to her at first.
“But I would have never taken my family away if I didn’t think I could be at the top. I wanted the belt.”
Two years later and Roller may be on his way. After losing his first fight in 2007 by TKO after taking a knee from Jake Pruitt during a takedown attempt, Roller has joined the WEC and is 5-2 overall, with all five wins coming in the first round. Last April, Roller picked up his family again and moved to Las Vegas where he trains at Cobra Kai.
Getting in and out of fights is a trait Roller had as a wrestler as well, as he built the reputation of going for pins instead of relying on points to get victories.
“He had some good moves, where if you got caught the match would be over real quick,” Hendricks said. “That’s the way Shane has always been. I had a problem with that, I’d much rather take it to a three-round decision and physically wear somebody down, he was a guy that wanted to get in there, get it over with and get off the mat.”
Roller’s next challenge comes on Aug. 9 at WEC 42 at the Hard Rock Casino in Marcus Hicks, a 5-foot-7 fighter trying to rebound from two consecutive losses.
The fact that his opponent is smaller than he is and holds a lackluster record over his previous fights probably won’t tempt Roller into taking him lightly.
As he and his former teammates know, crazy things happen in this sport.
“None of us ever thought we’d be in this,” Hendricks said. “We watched it from time to time but we never talked about it. If you had told me my senior year that Jake and I would be in the UFC in two years and Shane would be in the WEC, I would have laughed at you and walked the other way.”
Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or [email protected].