“Don’t call it a comeback, I’ve been here for years. I’m rocking my peers, puttin’ suckers in fear.”
LL Cool J’s 1990 classic, “Mama Said Knock You Out,” let critics know the rapper’s career was far from over. For Mount Airy native Dylan Mason, knocking people out shows doubters that his career is just getting started.
Currently boasting a 10-3 record as an amateur mixed martial artist, Mason looks to continue his journey to the big leagues close to home with his family.
“My 7-month-old nephew, Liam, was my motivation to come back,” Mason said. “I felt like it was the right time.”
At 6-feet tall and competing in the Featherweight/Lightweight divisions, Mason seems like an entirely different person from the 95-pound kid that graduated from Mount Airy High in 2010.
“I was tired of being the little guy,” Mason said. “I know I wasn’t blessed with a natural athletic ability, so I’ve had to work my butt off to get where I am.”
Mason’s first official fight took place on February 12, 2011 in Winston-Salem as part of Ring of Dreams: MMA Fight Night. A third-round submission gave Mason his first of many career wins in North Carolina.
Mason decided to make the move to Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, in 2015 with some friends.
“We wanted to do something different with our lives,” Mason said. “A lot of people graduate high school, go to college, get a job and get married just like that.”
Mason said Florida has some of the best MMA fighters in the country. It was here that Mason began training with American Top Team in Palm Beach Gardens.
“The coaches really liked me and my drive,” Mason said. “They shaped me into the fighter I am today.”
American Top Team put Mason through extreme training for months at a time to prepare for fights. Mason was engaged in many different types of physical training such as Muay Thai and Jiu-Jitsu classes, in addition to lots of mental training.
Mason said you have to prepare to fight an entire match knowing good and well the match could go five rounds or a single round. Once inside the octagon, Mason said everything else goes away.
“Kill or be killed, that’s what I say,” Mason said. “Nerves are always going to be there, but I just block everything out.”
“All the attention is on me,” he continued. “There wasn’t anything I was really great at growing up and now the spotlight is on me and it’s exciting.”
Fast forward two years and Mason boasted a 9-3 record after setting the Florida State record for the fastest win with a knockout in just five seconds. Mason had a number of championships to his name at this point.
Offers to move from the amateur to professional level were extended to Mason over the years, but he said he wants to be absolutely ready before advancing to the next level.
“I’ve seen too many buddies reach the five-fight amateur minimum and try to go pro,” Mason said. “I don’t want to do the bare minimum and end up 0-2 in the pros because then no one wants you on the card.”
Mason moved back to North Carolina in 2017. His most recent match took place at Fight Lab 57, in which he defeated Ferdinand Goke for the Featherweight title, increasing his record to 10-3.
Mason said he missed a lot of family milestones while in Florida. Now that he is back in North Carolina, his family and friends can continue along with Mason on his journey to the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
“I have a big crowd up here,” Mason said. “It means so much to represent my family and my hometown in the octagon.”
Don’t believe Mason’s loyalty to his home? Just check out the 336 displayed on his mouth guard.
The next step in Mason’s journey to competing at the professional level takes place in his backyard, in Charlotte. Mason will be competing for the Lightweight title on March 17 at the Grady Cole Center as part of Fight Night 58.
Another Mount Airy native, Michael Stevens, will be competing in the same weight class but at the professional level at the event.
A win at Fight Night 58 is the next step in Mason’s goal of making it to the pros and becoming the second professional fighter in his family.
Mason says part of his motivation to reach the level of Bellator and UFC is to carry on the legacy of his grandfather, a former pro boxer in the state of Rhode Island.
“I believe hard work will get me where I need to be,” Mason said. “Whoever they match me up against, I’ll be ready.”
LL Cool J may have said it in 1990, but his lyrics still resonate with Dylan Mason to this day: “I’m gonna knock you out. Mama said knock you out.”
Reach Cory on Twitter @MrCoryLeeSmith