A native son is training hard in Florida as he pursues his dream of becoming a fighter in the UFC.
Dylan Mason, 24, was a 2010 Mount Airy High graduate. He now lives in West Palm Beach, Florida, working with coaches to improve his all-around fight game while planning for a Nov. 19 tournament that will be shown online and via TV pay-per-view.
“I’m the last guy someone would think of as a fighter,” said Mason.
Like some martial arts practitioners, Mason said his favorite part of MMA is the discipline that comes with training. He trains to fight, but hopes he never has to use those skills in some bar or parking lot.
And like a good kung fu student, Mason said he tries to remain humble in both victory and defeat.
People who knew him in school are surprised by his current occupation — but for more than just his demeanor.
Mason was the epitome of the late bloomer. He was very small throughout high school and still measured just 5-foot-4 and 95 pounds as a senior.
He said he played soccer his whole childhood and wrestled in middle school. He said he was the conference champion in his weight class, but didn’t try wrestling at the high school level.
He continued to grow his senior year and after graduation, getting taller and taller. Still, he wasn’t sure where his path was in life. Like his older brother Payden, Dylan joined the Marines.
Specializing as a tank crewman, he advanced from driver to loader to gunner, while his rank grew to E-4 corporal.
After two years in active duty, Mason returned home as a reserve. He went to community college and a semester at N.C. State before deciding to give his fight dream his full attention.
The short, scrawny teen is now six feet tall and weighs 170 pounds. When training for a fight, he will cut down to 155 or even 145 pounds, leaving him trim and wiry.
While living in North Carolina, Mason took some fights in Winston-Salem and even won the championship at 155 pounds in the Rings of Dreams promotion.
After going 6-0, Mason knew he needed to give his dream a chance.
He said he feels like too many people in his generation don’t have goals. They might have dreams, but they don’t go after them. He felt like he needed to be an example of someone getting off his butt, knowing that nothing in life would be handed to him.
Winning in this state felt good, but it was like being a shark in a fish tank, he said. Florida has a number of training facilities and fighting leagues, and suddenly he felt more like a tadpole than a shark.
After winning the tournament in Winston-Salem, he accepted a match against a strong fighter named Ken Beverly. The fight in Charleston turned into a five-round war before Beverly caught him with a solid blow.
In boxing, a fighter can shake off a hard shot by hugging on the opponent. In MMA, the gloves are much smaller, and a solid shot can end a fight in the blink of an eye.
Mason suffered a dislocated jaw and a concussion.
The tough ending to a tough match left Mason stunned physically and mentally. He said he stayed in for two weeks, struggling to put his first loss behind him.
Then he pulled himself up and got back to training.
Throughout this year he has worked with four coaches who specialize in different fighting disciplines like boxing, kickboxing, muy thai and Brazilian jui jitsu.
Mason said his fighting skills are far more advanced than they were only a year ago and he continues to improve.
He believes his striking is coming along, but his ground game with jui jitsu is still his best attack.
He drew the attention of other fighters and trainers through practices and sparring. Then he won the UFFC 145-pound championship in a match in Florida that drew more notice.
He earned an invitation to a 16-man national tournament for Titan FC.
If the UFC is the major leagues, then Titan FC is Triple A. The terms are simple: win the tournament and get a guaranteed contract with Titan FC.
His first fight came Sept. 24.
“Three days before the fight I came down with strep throat,” he said. You can’t use that as an excuse, he said, drawing on his Marine background. On your worst day you still have to fight your best, he said.
Still, the illness sapped his energy and stamina, and he ended up losing in a close, split decision that was voted fight of the night by the fans watching on pay-per-view.
Vik Dixit, the fighter who won, said that he thought Mason was the top-ranked contender in the tournament, so with Mason gone, Dixit should be the clear favorite to get the contract.
Not so fast.
Another fighter suffered an injury and had to withdraw from the field. Tournament organizers held a fan vote to see who should get the slot, and the fans wanted to bring back Mason to see what he can do when he’s healthy.
Mason will get his chance for redemption on Nov. 19. The fight will be shown on the website GFL.tv.
He said he has told some of his friends back home they should band together and find a local pub that will order the pay-per-view so they can all enjoy it.
Well, everyone except his mom, Marisa Mason, who still lives here.
Mom and dad don’t like to see their younger son get punched for a living, he said with a laugh. His older brother Payden loves it and might have joined him, too, except for a knee injury. Instead, Payden is expecting his first child next year.
If things continue to go well, Dylan said he wants to split time between Florida and Mount Airy so he can see more of his family and the baby on the way.
Jeff is the associate editor and can be reached at 415-4692.