Shane Oblonsky's ability to deal with loss has nothing to do with his career as a prizefighter. The pain he has sustained in the ring cannot compare to the emotional scars that have added up over the course of an arduous existence.
Oblonsky's mother, Sheau-Fang Chang Oblonsky, was murdered by an ex-boyfriend when he was 7 years old. He and his older sister Michelle then moved in with their father, Joel. By the time Oblonsky was 12, Joel had fallen ill and died from liver disease.
The siblings were taken in by a foster family, overcame and even thrived despite the tragedies. Shane became a successful professional kickboxer. Michelle played tennis, was a straight-A student and earned a college degree.
Michelle, though, suffered from a deep depression. In September, she was found dead at the age of 30. She went to sleep and never woke up. Shane said he is unsure of the cause with the autopsy still pending.
"She was the last thing I had in my life," Shane told MMA Fighting this week. "The last family member I had. I'm dedicating the rest of my life and this tournament to her."
Shane, 29, will compete in a four-man, featherweight contender tournament Friday at GLORY 26 in Amsterdam (4 p.m. ET, ESPN 3) A tourney victory will earn the Seal Beach, Calif., native a title shot against champion Serhiy Adamchuk. It'll be the first time Shane competes since Michelle's passing.
Colin Oyama, Shane's coach, said Shane was supposed to fight at GLORY 24 in Denver on Oct. 9, but there was just too much going on. Shane had to handle much of the funeral arrangements and the closing of Michelle's estate. He also read the eulogy at her services.
"He gave a really touching speech," said UFC fighter Carla Esparza, Oblonsky's Team Oyama training partner. "His sister was the most important person in his life. It was really hard. Honestly, I still don't really hear him mention it or anything too much."
That's because he doesn't. As much of a blow as it was in a lifetime of them, Shane just keeps moving forward. It's all he has known. It's what his father, a Vietnam war veteran, would have wanted him to do.
"There's plenty of people that feel sorry for themselves," Shane said. "The only way I can get through this is if I can help people that felt the same things that she did, and I can turn it into something positive."
It's impossible to know how someone will react to the emotional trauma of the Oblonskys' early years. In 1993, a man named Bobby Dean Parker, apparently heartbroken over a breakup, stabbed his ex-girlfriend Sheau-Fang Chang Oblonsky repeatedly with a buck knife at her home near Pasadena, Calif., according to the Los Angeles Times. Shane and Michelle were at school at the time.
"I just remember really just seeing the crime scene," Shane said. "That's always stuck in my head."
Shane and Michelle then moved into an apartment with Joel in Seal Beach, the town where Shane still lives today. When Shane was 12, Joel lost his battle with liver disease. The siblings were taken in by David and Lisette Silverman, the parents of one of Shane's school friends.
On the advice of a social worker, Shane took up boxing when he was 15 years old at Williams Gym in Long Beach. He said he was being picked on a lot and getting into fights. Those incidents led to him being suspended and even kicked out of schools. At 18, Shane switched over to kickboxing under the tutelage of Yuki Horiuchi. He has been with Oyama for the last six or seven years.
"It saved my soul," Shane said of kickboxing. "It saved my life. I have great friends that support me. I just want to show other people in this world, if they're hurting or they're suffering: follow your dreams. Never give up. That's one of the things my dad taught me. That's just where I'm at. I'm not giving up."
It hasn't always been easy. Far from it. Oyama said there have been "a lot of ups and downs" -- some as small as not paying bills on time to getting into physical fights on the street like he used to when he was a kid.
"He hasn't always made the right decisions, but I think now that he's older he is realizing there are consequences to every decision he makes," Oyama said. "He's an emotional kid at times and sometimes those emotions can cloud his judgment. But I think he finally realizes how he has a gift for fighting and has the skill and athletic talent to compete on the world stage.
"I think he's finally beginning to believe what people like myself or Yuki Horiuchi and Eddie Cha have been telling him for years."
That gift for fighting is substantial. Oyama said some of Shane's work in the gym is "unbelievable as far as speed and combinations go." Esparza, the former UFC women's strawweight champion, agrees.
"Shane is one of the most naturally talented fighters that I have personally met," she said. "I think he can do anything."
Shane said he's through with fighting on the streets. He wants to be viewed as a pro athlete more than anything. That means no longer throwing hands without being financially compensated for it.
"It's a sport and I'm done with street fighting," said Shane, who is ranked No. 3 among GLORY featherweight contenders. "I back down now. I just go, 'OK, you're tough' and walk away."
That's what Michelle would have wanted, too. Because she wasn't nearby rooting him on when he was fighting outside a bar. She was ringside at his pro bouts, as loud as anyone in the crowd. Louder, actually.
"His sister was like his biggest fan," Esparza said. "He's talked about how much his sister supported him in his fighting, more than anyone. She was his biggest cheerleader. She would go crazy at his fights and always cheered for him. I know this [tournament], he's already dedicating it to her. He wants to go out there and win it for her. She believed in him against all odds."
On Friday, he'll face a Brazilian fighter named Maykol Yurk in the tournament semifinals. If he wins, he'll meet the victor of a bout between Mosab Amrani and Chibin Lim. Michelle will be on his mind. So will late teammate Shane Del Rosario and Horiuchi, who suffered a stroke over the summer.
Shane Oblonsky has already run the toughest gauntlet life could throw at him. As tough a tourney as it is, this task doesn't seem so daunting when you put it into perspective.
"I've always kind of lived my life on the edge," he said. "On the fence. I've lost so many people and the only way I could keep going is if I turn it into something positive."