Photo Credit: Shelton Graves Facebook

Contender Series’s Shelton Graves: UFC, Meet “The Gravedigger”!

Tuesday night, Maryland's Shelton Graves will look to be the first heavyweight to earn a contract on "Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender Series"

There’s always something special about watching two heavyweights fight.  Don’t take it the wrong way, all of the weight classes have something special to offer, but not in the same way that the heavyweight division does.  Two of the largest human beings that are allowed to fight in the sport of mixed martial arts, stepping into the cage to throw the kind of power that is exclusive to their division.  The finishing rate for heavyweight fights is leaps and bounds above the other divisions, and often times heavyweight bouts conclude with brutal knockouts within the opening few minutes of the fight.  Despite the potential for excitement being there, the state of the heavyweight division across all mixed martial arts promotions seems to be slacking as of late.  Many of the ranked UFC heavyweights are over the age of 35 with only four of the division’s top sixteen fighters being under the age of 30.  It’s safe to say that the division is needing some new faces, who are more well-rounded, more complete martial artists, than say, just big punchers.  Maryland’s Shelton “The Gravedigger” Graves (6-3) is looking to bring just that to the UFC’s heavyweight division.

The 31 year-old Graves will be featured on the new hit UFC Fight Pass original series, “Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series,” this Tuesday night, August 8th.  The show consists of ten of the top prospects from across the country competing to earn a UFC contract.  Each weekly installment features five live bouts, with the most impressive performer(s) earning a contract straight from the boss himself, Dana White, who will be sitting cage side for the fights alongside UFC matchmakers Sean Shelby and Mick Maynard.  This week, Graves will be taking on undefeated American Top Team product Everett “The Wolverine” Sims (4-0) in what will be the first bout of the evening.

Posted by Shelton Graves on Saturday, January 16, 2016

Graves’s love for mixed martial arts stemmed from his athletic career as a college football player.  One day about seven years ago, following the conclusion of his football career, Graves was flipping the channels on TV when he came across the image of a beastly man, with tattoos on his chest and a flat top hair cut, tossing people around in a cage, often times beating them into a bloody mess.  This behemoth was none other than the UFC Heavyweight Champion at the time, Brock Lesnar.  Immediately, Graves wanted in.  “I was like okay, I want to learn how to fight that guy,” recalls Graves.  “So, I went to my local gym and was like ‘Teach me how to beat that guy.’  They laughed at me of course, because you know, someone off the street is trying to beat that guy who’s been champion of the world.”

After delving in and getting a bit more acquainted into the world of mixed martial arts, and everything that comes with being in it, Graves joined Top Flight MMA in Camp Springs, Maryland, a gym that is run under the umbrella of the renowned Lloyd Irvin MMA fight team.  Five fights into his professional career, Graves was sitting below .500 at 2-3.  From there “The Gravedigger” was signed by the New York-based promotion Global Proving Ground Inc., and was paired off with a much more experienced, fifteen-fight veteran Joe Stripling for his promotional debut.  Graves dominated the bout, winning by unanimous decision, and earning an even bigger opportunity in his next bout.  For his next outing, Graves was paired up with the uberly-hyped, physical specimen Lorenzo Hood, a fighter who was 9-2 at the time.  Many people doubted Graves and believed that Global Fights was setting him up to lose in order to propel Hood.  Graves shut all of the doubters up when he choked out the massive Hood in the second round, to claim the vacant Global Proving Ground Heavyweight Championship.  Following the win, it was on to bigger and better things for Graves, who signed with the legendary Ring of Combat promotion out of Atlantic City, New Jersey.  Graves won back to back fights for ROC, defeating both opponents inside the distance en route to being crowned the Ring of Combat Heavyweight Champion

For Graves’s last bout in June against Brendan Barrett, UFC president Dana White was actually in attendance, scouting the card for potential UFC-caliber fighters for his hit online series “Dana White Lookin’ For a Fight“.  Unfortunately for Graves, the boss didn’t offer Graves a UFC opportunity that night, but “The Gravedigger” had a feeling that he had planted a seed in White’s mind.  Graves didn’t have to wait long to have his suspicion become a reality.  Just a few days later, Graves was training at the gym, trying to stay in shape for any opportunity that might come his way, when he received a phone call from his manager.  “My manager told me that I’d have to wait to get in [the UFC], but then he came back and told me that they had the Contender Series coming up, so he got me a spot,” recalls Graves.  “I was like ‘Sign me up!'”

Having been in big situations before, Graves isn’t too concerned with the pressure that accompanies such a big opportunity.  Graves also believes that straying too far from the game plan just in the name of awing the UFC brass is a very risky game to play.  “Honestly, I don’t pay that too much mind,” says Graves, of fighting in front of White.  “I don’t go out there to try to impress people, I just go out there to try to do what I do.  If they happen to like it, then they do.  If they happen not to like it, then that’s just their preference.  You end up losing when you move away from your game plan and start going for things you shouldn’t be going for.”  Sticking to the game plan and not trying to do things outside of his repertoire, are two of the biggest adjustments Graves feels he has made in his career, and attributes his early losses to failing in those aspects.

Posted by Shelton Graves on Saturday, January 16, 2016

As for his opponent Everett Sims, Graves, like the rest of the MMA community, doesn’t know much about the mysterious American Top Team member.  There is really no tape out there on Everett Sims, excluding a few kickboxing matches here and there, and some videos of him sparring.  However, Graves was able to hear a little bit about Sims via word of mouth.  Two words he hears consistently when people describe Sims to him are “power” and “patience”.  “There isn’t much out there on him.  The closest thing I could find on him was a couple of guys I was talking to from the DC/Virginia area who saw him fight,” explains Graves.  “One guy I knew actually refereed his fight.  What I see is a guy who is big, and tall, and athletic who goes for the gas pedal.  He’s a pretty good kickboxer and he’s been racking up some submission wins too.  When I look at him, I know he’s going to be a tough opponent.”  While respecting his opponent’s abilities, Graves has faith that he has the tools to hand Sims his first loss.  “I can’t shy away from the tough opponents.  I’ll be ready and I’m looking to get win number seven.  I’ll just go out there and do what I do to the best of my abilities.”

When not fighting, working on strength and conditioning, or training, Graves works a second job in the restoration field to pay the bills and further support his MMA career.  When he’s not in the gym or on the job, Graves loves spending time with his wife, Charity.

Shelton Graves vs. Everett Sims takes place Tuesday August 8th, live on UFC Fight Pass at 8pm EST.  It will be the first bout of the evening.

To learn more about Shelton, you can follow him on social media:
Facebook: Shelton “The Gravedigger” Graves
Instagram: @freeze769

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Nolan King is a MMA Today senior columnist, writer and renowned MMA insider. Nolan's other freelance work can also be found on FloCombat, Tapology, and MMA Brasil.