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Shane Roller confident, prepared for WEC 48

Win over Anthony Njokuani could place Roller toward top of division after just 10 professional fights

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Justin M. Bowen

Shane Roller swings at Danny Castillo during their lightweight bout on Nov. 18, 2009. Roller won by stoppage.

WEC 48 Preview: Shane Roller

In preparation for the first WEC card to hit pay-per-view, Las Vegas Sun fight writer, Brett Okamoto sits down with lightweight Shane Roller, who will be facing Anthony Njokuani in Sacramento.

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Few professional fighters get away with practicing only once a day. Most prefer getting to the gym two or even three times every 24 hours.

Shane Roller? The WEC lightweight admits he's been getting in up to four practices per day — although that includes the nightly wrestling matches he has with his young son, Jace, when he gets home.

"He's crazy man. He's nonstop," says Roller, who also has a daughter. "When I get home, he's ready to throw a rear-naked choke on me. I'm like, 'Oh, I'm tired boy.' He hops on there, throws on a choke and says, 'Tap. Tap.'

"Whatever — as long as he's not doing it to other kids, I'll play with him."

Even not counting the sparring sessions with his son, Roller (7-2) has spent a tremendous amount of his time this year preparing for Saturday's lightweight fight with Anthony Njokuani (13-2) on the historic WEC 48 card in Sacramento, Calif.

While Roller, who has lost only once since joining the WEC in 2008, trains hard for all his opponents, he admits there is an extra incentive to do well Saturday.

Although not official, it's widely expected that the winner of this fight will receive the next shot at fighting for the 155-pound championship belt.

"I'm not fighting for that. Every time I step in, I'm fighting for the win whether there's a title shot or not," Roller said. "But that's a great reward if it happens. I think I deserve it. That's why I got in this sport — to be the best at 155 pounds.

"That's just a great opportunity for me if it happens. I'm ready for it."

As successful as Roller has been through his first nine professional fights, don't be surprised if most of the attention leading up to this weekend is on his opponent.

Njokuani turned into a highlight machine in 2009, putting together a streak of three TKO wins that all won Knockout of the Night honors.

Roller has not only seen Njokuani's highlight finishes, he's been studying them — making him well aware of the explosiveness he's up against.

"I've seen those highlights a lot. I've been breaking down a lot of film," Roller said. "He's tough. He's got power in his hands. He's a great athlete."

That said, Roller is confident it will be he who dictates the pace of the fight Saturday.

His only loss in the WEC is to current champ Ben Henderson at WEC 40, in a fight that Roller believes was stopped too early.

After knocking down Henderson with an early combination in the first round of that fight, Roller found himself in trouble when he got caught with a flurry as he was trying to get up after a takedown.

Roller went for Henderson's leg to avoid taking more damage but couldn't prevent the referee from stopping the fight.

Although Roller says he's over the loss now, his eyes light up thinking about fighting Henderson again with the lightweight title on the line.

"Yeah, that would be sweet," said Roller, on whether he hopes it's still Henderson who holds the belt whenever he fights for the title. "Get the belt and revenge at the same time? That would be sweet."

Until that opportunity comes, Roller will focus on the task ahead of him this weekend — a process that's easier to do after his team went through the disappointment of watching the UFC cut Jake Rosholt.

Rosholt, who Roller has known since they were wrestling teammates at Oklahoma State, was cut by the UFC last November after a 1-2 start in the middleweight division.

According to Roller, the close-knit group of Team Takedown has handled that disappointment well, and Rosholt is well on his way to competing in the UFC.

Still, the experience reminded him to take advantage of every opportunity that comes.

"That's life in general," Roller said. "With our economy the way it was, a lot of people lost their job real quickly. MMA is a little bit more cutthroat in that if you don't perform, you get cut.

"That's one reason I do get in the gym as much as I do because if you don't perform, you don't have a job. That's just part of life."

Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or [email protected]. Also follow him on twitter: LVSunFighting.

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