Dan Ige sees himself as a man of opportunity, and from late-2018 to mid-2020, he took every chance presented to him. In the span of 19 months, Ige fought six times, extended his winning streak to six and earned a headlining spot against Calvin Kattar on Fight Island.
Ultimately, Ige wasn’t able to extend that streak to seven wins, but the experience he gained on that trek up the featherweight ladder proved valuable.
“I took so much away in that was my first five-rounder,” Ige told UFC.com. “That’s 25 minutes of experience that no money can buy. It’s not like I got blown out of the water. There’s little things I took away that will definitely help me improve my game; just not giving up little positions and winning small battles, and I’m definitely an improved fighter. Since then, I’ve had about eight months to really just sit back and focus and improve on my skills in every aspect of martial arts.”
That was the last time Ige stepped into the Octagon for a variety of reasons both in and out of his control, but the Hawaiian makes his return to action on March 13 when he takes on surging Canadian Gavin Tucker at UFC Fight Night: Edwards vs Muhammad.
The time off carried several benefits for Ige, including taking care of his wife, Savannah, who is due with their first child incredibly soon. Moreover, the extended time between fights allowed him the space to spend his energy dedicated to improving himself as a fighter, something he couldn’t do despite going on a meaningful and active streak.
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“You’re really not getting better because you’re constantly in camp, in camp, in camp,” Ige said. “I feel like you get tougher in camp, and you get conditioned and hardened, but you really don’t have that time to sit back and build your skill, so it was nice to have that little break to actually do that. I’ve built my body up. I’ve built my physical and my mental strength up, so I’m ready to go on another run.”
An additional driving force in this camp is that impending birth of his son. Although Ige isn’t the type of guy who needs external motivation, he does feel that extra bit of incentive to work and improve in order to provide for his growing family.
“This whole entire camp has just been giving me that little added extra motivation coming home every day, especially after a hard day,” Ige said. “If I’m feeling tired, I come home and then I see my wife carrying our child. It just gives me that extra boost of energy, and especially going into this week. Actually, technically, this week, she’s full-term. It could happen any day now, any week now, so I’m just happy to be here. I’m super excited, I’m motivated, and I’m happy and I’m hoping to get a win and come back and buy my baby boy a new pair of shoes.”
That task, while one with earnest intentions, is a tall one against Tucker. The Canadian returned from nearly two years away from the Octagon to rip off three straight wins, two via submission, and has proven himself a tough and technical matchup.
Ige was complimentary of his foe, citing his well-roundedness and noting the similarities in their size and style.
“We’re almost a mirror image of each other,” Ige said. “I’m going to go out there and just show that I can defeat him everywhere the fight goes.”
In his own words, Ige described his whole UFC career as “a grind,” not in a tiresome way, but in a way which Ige takes pride. His winning streak put him in high-profile battles, particularly a hard-fought split decision against Edson Barboza, and learning to not put opponents “on a pedestal” helped him as he continued making his way up the rankings.
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Now, with a baby boy on the way and the Top 15 in sight, Ige is eager to get the gears turning again. Featherweight is notoriously deep, and only the most distinguished mixed martial artists have broken away from the pack. On Saturday, that journey begins again, and Ige expects to show exactly why he’s the man to make the leap.
“I really had the time to sit down and grow again as a fighter in every aspect,” he said. “I believe everything will show on Saturday night.”