Shannon ‘The Cannon’ Ritch’s career is a tapestry woven with various threads — combat sports, military service and acting. The American, who is going strong at the age of 53, has fought an incredible 237 Mixed Martial Artist (MMA) fights – the longest active fight streak on record.
Though he has never fought in the hugely-popular Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Ritch is the most active fighter in the world and is well versed with various combat sports styles like boxing, judo, taekwondo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, karate, wrestling and Muay Thai.
The combat sports fans in Qatar will finally be able to see the MMA legend in action as Ritch gears up for an electrifying bout against Darrill Schoonover in Doha. In the past few days at the Doha Sports and Arts Academy, Ritch has offered a glimpse into the rigorous training that keeps him at the pinnacle of his sport.
The pupils of the Doha Sports and Arts Academy and its general manager Master Rami al-Banna were left in awe of Ritch, who continues to inspire many children and teens to follow and pursue their dreams.
In an exclusive interview with Gulf Times, Ritch reflects on a career that has spanned decades, continents, and countless battles both inside and outside the ring. His story is one of resilience, passion, and an unyielding drive that has seen him rise to legendary status in the combat sports world.
Ritch’s entry into MMA was driven by a desire to overcome personal adversity. “I got into MMA fighting at an early age because I was bullied. I had a lot of people picking on me. I was the smallest kid in school, and I learned martial arts. I learned karate, then Muay Thai, kickboxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu,” he recounts.
“In 1993, I saw the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and I was hooked. I mean, that is something I really wanted to do. I was like, are you kidding me? You get paid to fight. So if I can fight and get paid for, then sign me up. I’m ready to go. And I’ve been doing it ever since 1991,” he adds.
Ritch’s first professional fight took place in Mexico, under circumstances that were far from glamorous. “I had my first professional fight in Mexico. We had the chicken fights, then the dog fights, and then the people fight. At this time it was totally illegal. And if you were to get caught, obviously you would go to jail. But it was in Mexico, so they let it go,” he recalls.
Soon, Ritch was fighting in MMA sanctioned events, which has taken him around the globe, fighting in various countries and in front of massive audiences. “I have fought in professional MMA sanctioned events in front of 100,000 people in Japan, Russia, China, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico — you name the country, I’ve probably fought there. Now it’s my chance to fight in Qatar and I’m very excited,” he says.
Ritch’s multifaceted career extends beyond the ring. Having already acted in 20 movies, he will next be seen in action thriller Boneyard with Mel Gibson releasing on July 5th.
Balancing numerous roles is no small feat, yet Ritch manages it with grace, crediting his wife Lara for her unwavering support. “I wear a lot of hats, but my wife is my cornerstone. She’s the one that drives me. So I do everything for her and for myself,” he says.
For his upcoming fight in Qatar, Ritch’s preparation has been nothing short of intense. “I’m really looking forward to the fight,” he shares. “I’ve been training for 12 weeks, had a very intensive training camp, and I have lost 10 kilos. Yeah, I’m ready to go. When a company here in Qatar called Future Sports offered me to fight here in Qatar, I was thrilled to come here.”
When asked how long he plans to fight in combat sports, he says with a laugh: “I’m going to keep fighting until they stop paying me.”
Before adding on a serious note: “Ah, I love what I do. A long time ago, someone told me ‘If you hate your job, if you hate your work, then you’re not going to go far.’ I love my job. I love what I do. So to me, it’s not work, it’s something I enjoy.”
Ritch offers invaluable advice to those aspiring to follow in his footsteps. “If you want to be a fighter or want to have confidence, have self-defence, and not get bullied at school, find a good coach and school where you fit in. Make sure you get proper training. Your coach should be a black belt or someone who understands the sport, and you can train without getting hurt. You don’t have to train and get punched in the face. There are many ways to train: you can hit the bag, you can hit the mitts, you can learn technique. Fighting is a totally different area of training. But I suggest everybody from age five and up to go out and train and learn something new,” he advises.
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