Manager by day, fighter by night, Dan Ige blows Mike Santiago out of the water! The Hawaiian bulled into close quarters, took down the Illinois native and overwhelmed him with ground n' pound in 50 seconds. He moves to 9-2. #UFC225 pic.twitter.com/i3rrZdX0Vq— Kyle Johnson (@Maldobabo) June 9, 2018
While Ige had no particular reason to think UFC 225 was a do-or-die situation for his young career, his opponent likely did. Santiago, a fellow veteran of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, was 0-2 in the UFC going into their fight and may have felt like his back was against the wall. On top of that, the event took place in Santiago’s hometown of Chicago.
Faced with a partisan crowd and an opponent who was probably fighting for his job, Ige showed no indications whatsoever of feeling pressure. He closed the distance on the taller man immediately, rocked him with punches and hustled him to the floor. Within 15 seconds he was in mount, and soon thereafter took his opponent’s back and locked in a body triangle. From there, Ige finished the fight with a cold precision belying his relative inexperience. As Santiago covered up and attempted to avoid the incoming strikes, Ige calmly picked his spots, avoided delivering any illegal blows and hit his opponent with thudding power. At a mere 50 seconds of Round 1, it was over.
While Ige handled the high-stakes bout like a seasoned veteran, he is clearly relieved to have that milestone behind him.
“It definitely is a good feeling,” Ige told Sherdog.com. “Pressure relieved. I don’t think I was necessarily fighting for my job, but if I were to take another loss, it’s not a good thing to start off 0-2 in the UFC and be on the verge of getting cut, so it was a good thing to go in and not just get a win but make a statement. I think I’m in a solid spot right now.”
Ige claims that taking the fight to Santiago right out of the gate was a conscious choice.
“I think people expected our fight to be a war, a ‘Fight of the Night’-type fight, just because of our styles,” Ige said. “Me and Mike, we’re kind of the same in that we come forward, we like to pressure, we don’t like to sit back and wait for the fight to come to us. Because of that, I knew it could come down to whoever pulled the trigger [first].
“In the first few seconds, I was kind of feeling him out, and then I just had a thought, like ‘What am I waiting for?’” he added. “Right then, I just kind of pulled that trigger and went for it. I could tell I hurt him with that first shot, and I realized that I could finish the fight right then, so I kept after it.”
Ige made news in the immediate aftermath of UFC 225 for his bluntly spoken views on weight cutting. Ige, who cuts a very modest amount of weight by modern UFC standards and claims to enter the cage less than 10 pounds heavier than he weighed in, criticized fighters who put their fights in jeopardy by cutting extreme amounts of water weight. Ige maintains that his distaste for weight-cutting culture stems as much from practicality as from any abstract sense of fair play. He knows that many fighters in his same situation might try cutting all the way to bantamweight rather than standing on principle as he does. One is his friend and sometime training partner Khabib Nurmagomedov, whose weight cut is as grueling -- and precarious -- as any in the sport.
“I know there’s video out there on YouTube of Khabib saying I should go to 135,” Ige said. “I know for a fact that I would not be at my best if I cut that much weight. I don’t think I’d be that much stronger [for the division], and I’d just feel like crap. It wouldn’t be worth it. You can ask the guys I train with, including Khabib, because we do train together a lot when he’s in the U.S., and they’ll tell you I’m plenty strong for 145.”
With his first UFC win behind him, Ige, like many up-and-coming fighters, returns to the full-time occupation that helps pay his way. In Ige’s case, however, the “day gig” keeps him firmly embedded in the sport; he is an assistant to Ali Abdel-Aziz, one of the most successful and well-known managers in mixed martial arts. Now in his third year with Abdel-Aziz, Ige explains that his professional scope has grown exponentially.
“When I first started out, I had just a few responsibilities: I would call [Ali’s] fighters and make sure they had gotten their medicals, make sure they made their flights, stuff like that. Now, I fulfill just about every responsibility of a manager. You know, I have a relationship with every single fighter that we manage. We have about 55 fighters in the UFC alone, almost 100 overall that we manage across [Professional Fighters League], Bellator and everywhere else, and I have relationships with them so that they know they can come to me if they need things; they know I report directly to Ali. I handle a lot of the PR. If the UFC wants to do something with Cody Garbrandt or Justin Gaethje, they know I’m the one who kind of handles that and sets it up.”
Working closely for years with Abdel-Aziz -- a polarizing and controversial figure within the sport -- and his large stable of fighters, Ige has a professional perspective on the man that few others can match. In talking about his boss, the same word comes up again and again: relationships.
“I think the biggest thing about Ali and his management company is the relationship that he has with his fighters,” Ige said. “He’s always going the extra mile. He’s always FaceTiming with them. On fight week, he’s making sure they have their groceries. He’s making sure that whatever they want for after weigh-ins [for] recovery, that they have it.”
Ige recognizes that his work for Abdel-Aziz is tantamount to a paid internship with a successful manager. While he admits he has learned much about that side of the business and might well be able to work in management after his competitive run comes to a close, Ige maintains that he has his sights set on a different career track.
“What I’d really like is to make a ton of money as a fighter, so I didn’t have to do anything afterwards,” Ige said, “but yeah, I definitely have gotten a lot of experience on the business side that other guys don’t get; and if I really wanted to stop fighting and just manage, I could probably do that. I’ll probably always be involved in the sport in some way, but I’d like to be able to give back. I want to give back to the sport.
“Back in Hawaii, the fighters there … there’s so many talented guys, but some of the infrastructure isn’t there, the guidance,” he added. “I’d like to help more fighters from Hawaii get their careers on track, get good management and make it to the UFC or Bellator. That’s what I want to do.”