As a disclaimer before reading any further, the purpose of this FanPost is 2-fold, one of which being self-promotion! The other however of course, is to contribute to the Mixed Martial Arts community through my favorite website for all-things MMA, as there seems to be a lack of actual fighters taking time to participate on this site. After getting really great feedback from my first FanPost, I decided to try to chronicle the trials and tribulations of one hoping to make a career of combat sports, more specifically my efforts to climb into the MMA world's most prestigious promotion. My goal is to inform readers of things they wouldn't otherwise know or realize, as well as hoping to capture the interest of fans along the way.
In 2 days I will join what will likely be 250+ middleweights, all of whom will be scratching and clawing their way to their dreams the best way any aspiring MMA fighter in America knows how: The Ultimate Fighter. The following is my story of how I got here, and a couple speedbumps along the way. Hope you enjoy....
My first encounter with the reality show aptly named "The Ultimate Fighter" was in early April of 2009. It was a very painful encounter to say the least.
The requirements for tryouts were simple: 3-pro fights was a must. Check. Applicants must be at least 21 years of age (hmm wonder why?). Check, I had just turned 21 weeks ago. Lastly, Applicants must fight in either Middleweight or Heavyweight division. Check. At the time, I had had 9 fights, all at 185 lb, with a record of 7-2.
We booked the plane ticket to Seattle after a very short deliberation on cost vs. potential reward. Essentially it was a no-brainer, as any former contestant will tell you, TUF has the power to change your career very quickly and very drastically. Say what you want about the show not producing championship level fighters blah blah blah, or criticize it for what could be seen as glorifying drinking and all around jackassery, but do not be fooled on the potential life-changing implications of having your face broadcasted to millions of homes every week. Most importantly, it is a very direct route to the pinnacle of MMA competition, the UFC.
I arrived the night before the tryouts, flying all the way from sunny Tallahassee, Florida. I was definitely the only idiot in Washington that got off the plane in shorts and sandals. Amidst my nervous excitement and last minute packing, I didn't even think twice about the fact that I was traveling to one of the coldest and wettest cities in the US. Nevertheless, I was not there to enjoy the weather, I had a task at hand.
I was not sure what to expect from the tryouts. I had friends that had tried out/been on the show, so I had some idea, but at the time I still had never been face to face with any production or event put on by Zuffa. The format is simple, step one being applicants all required to grapple, starting on knees, for 2 minutes (or less). There would be an immediate cut directly afterwards, sending home what seemed to be nearly half the contestants. I literally started watching fighters dropping like flies, dreams crushed, forced to fly all the way home thinking about the wasted funds they just spent to get denied in a very immediate fashion. Fate, however, had a much more grueling outcome for me.
As anyone who has been to a TUF tryout will tell you, there is an overwhelming intensity in the room. Some fighters crumble under such pressure, while others relish in it. I like to imagine myself in the latter group. My name was called after a quick warmup. Applicants are required to grapple with others who are trying out, so as it turns out, how good you look is very relative to the skill level of your random partner. My fellow fighter chosen to pit my skills against was a contestant by the name of Zack Cummings. Zack was a guy I had seen fight before, and actually had a chat with in the hotel earlier in the morning. At the time he had acquired himself a great record of 10-0, and would eventually go on to face Tim Kennedy prior to Jacare in a Strikeforce: Challengers main event. Maybe I was having a stellar day, maybe his style just didn't match up well with mine, but for one reason or another I managed to submit Mr. Cummings several times in our 2 minute trial. Once done, I immediately knew I had done very well and was certain that I would be chosen for the next round. I thanked UFC matchmaker Joe Silva (who was conducting the tryouts) and the rest of TUF producers watching, thanked Zack, and went about watching the rest of the contestants, feeling very pleased with myself.
It was not long after I sat down that I began to realize something had gone very wrong. In retrospect, it could have been a shitty warm-up. It could have possibly been my habit to try to super-hulk my opponent into moves rather than using finesse and technique. Whatever it was, I had somehow managed to do a number on my right leg, as the top of it was swelling up like a balloon and began to literally cripple me with pain. Somehow, on the way to giving my partner a one way ticket to tap-city, I had managed to literally tear my own quadricep, and quite badly.
I tried to ignore the pain. I tried to brush it off just as though I had brushed off the cold weather after landing. I tried to tell myself that there's no way this could be happeneing, that this was my time to shine and I wouldn't let what I thought was just a pulled muscle interfere with my hopes and dreams. I guess it wasn't too long before folks around me began to take notice to my condition. Maybe it was the grimace on my face, or the odd limp I displayed as soon as I got up to walk. Whatever it was caught the paramedics attention, and I was soon being checked out by the medics. Although this is where a feeling of panic began to creep in, I remember the next hours vividly. They advised simply that I stay off of my leg and keep it elevated as much as possible. I limped my way to my room (in the same hotel as the tryouts) and began to try every combination of chryotherapy and relaxation technique I could remember, probably making some up along the way.
Somehow in this nightmare of a situation I managed to stay focused. I had brought no one with me, I was all the way across the country, and I had a returning flight the next morning. No way was I going to the hospital, and more importantly, no way I was passing up this opportunity. The next stage of the tryouts, which I had made it to, was to evaluate the applicants' striking skills. Now obviously Zuffa can't let the contestants spar, otherwise we would have meatheads in all directions swinging to take each other's heads off in futile attempts at Alpha-ness. The solution to this problem of course is to have contestants strike Thai pads. Coaches from Team Quest were provided to hold such pads, and it was with the gracious help of the brilliant Ed Buckley that I was able to perform the task at hand. Needless to say, I could barely walk, let alone execute a proper roundhouse. I informed Mr. Silva of my condition, and he informed me that just punching would be acceptable. Again, my pain must have been visible because I was not required to fire off more than one combo before I was told I was done.
At this point the pain was so excruciating it was difficult to focus on anything else. In my 6 years of training and competing, I have acquired an assortment of injuries including broken knuckles, feet, nose, bulged discs, etc. Believe me when I say nothing was like the pain I was feeling at this time. Apparently I had made it past the striking portion though, and earned my way to the end of the tryouts, which was a brief interview. By the time the interview came, the focus of the Spike and Zuffa crew was not on how exciting I would be for reality television, nor how I would be as an asset to the UFC, but rather what the hell I was thinking not going to a hospital. The interview was very short, and ended by Mr. Silva telling me that they appreciated my enthusiasm and were impressed by my perseverance, but that I needed to get medical attention immediately.
Of course instead of listening to what I'm sure is a very intelligent man and someone much more experienced in the matter of fighters, injuries, etc. I decided to get my dumbass on the plane back to Tallahassee. My flight left early in the morning, and at this point even hobbling was impossible- a wheelchair was my sole option. With very mixed emotions I flew back across the country, wondering what the outcome of this great opportunity turned unfavorable situation would be.
As soon as I arrived back in Florida, I was immediately picked up by a friend and taken to the local emergency room. Apparently Mr. Silva was right, and medical attention should have been my first priority. I was rushed to the operating room, where I was immediately sedated and operated on. This was very quickly becoming a dramatic and serious ordeal. I awoke out of my drug induced slumber to find a vacuum system inside my leg, my leg clamped open, and a doctor seated bedside. He explained to me in a very matter-of-fact tone that I had acquired a very serious hematoma in my right quadricep, and that exposing the blood clot to altitude was a very bad idea. This was an extreme limb threatening injury he explained, and that although I was lucky to not have lost the leg, I was not yet clear of danger.
I was bedridden for days after the event, as the hospital explained I had to drain the leg to ensure proper healing. By this time I had heard the gruesome story multiple times from the doctor of how he had to cut my leg open to literally reach inside and pull out a grapefuit sized blood clot. Maybe he was pulling my leg (pun intended), but as graphic and ridiculous as it sounds, it sure felt like that's what really could have happened. A couple days before I was scheduled to get sewn back together, I got a call from a Spike exec, explaining that they were interested in flying me back for the last step in the process of making The Ultimate Fighter- a final interview and some drug & medical tests. I told her what had happened and that was the last I ever heard from her. 200 stitches and 36 staples later, I was back at home.
Now I know that was a lot of reading, but it's not the end, feel free to give up at any time. The most ridiculous part of this whole story is that all of my suffering and anguish was seemingly for naught, as the middleweights were all dropped from the show anyway. The upcoming season was all changed with literally one word: "Kimbo," as it was supposed to be "the biggest season yet." The announcement was bittersweet. On one hand, I just cost myself thousands in travel and deductibles (thankfully I had insurance) just to get sidelined from the cage for 6-9 months. On the other hand though, this probably meant that a Middleweight season would probably be soon to follow, one which I may be healthy enough to participate in.
Sure enough, the tryouts were announced around October of last year. This time the location would be in LA, California, where all your dreams are supposed to come true. In my mind I has already made the show once, knew what to expect, and assumed I would breeze through the process. I imagined walking into tryouts, saying "Hey, remember me?" to Joe Silva, showing my battle wound a couple times and pick up right back where I left off. Boy was I fucking wrong. Literally every middleweight I could remember from the April tryouts were there, plus more, due to the location being what is arguably the MMA mecca of the US, or right next to it. Not only were there more contestants, this time the days activities would not be overseen and conducted by Mr. Silva, but rather Dana White and Lorenzo Ferttita. Although many fellow fighters and coaches remembered me from my ordeal earlier in the year, things began to go differently than I had planned.
Everything started the same. Fill out your application. Take a picture. Get a number and wait for yours to be called. This was all fine and dandy until it was my turn to hit the mat. The results of my performance were not ideal. My partner sat in my favorite triangle for nearly the whole trial, making for a very boring 2 minutes. I had whiffed, thinking more with the mentality of a grappling tourny rather than what it really is- a short window to show your flare, attitude, and personality. Afterwards I was still hopeful, knowing though in the back of my head that success this time around was much less likely. As quick as that, I was instantly one of the many hanging their head leaving the hotel.
Fast forward to a year later. I am now 10-2, on a five fight winning streak, with the last four fights ending under 6 minutes total. With more confidence than ever I will be entering the tryouts yet again in 2 days. Forget persistance, this is just plain stubborness. While reading a quote from Todd Duffee earlier this month, he touched upon what it was like being a "cagefighter" while not competing in the UFC. It can be frustrating to no end hearing casual fans ask every single day when you're going to the UFC, when you're gonna be on The Ultimate Fighter, etc. Such pressure is enough to drive a man like to me borderline obsession in my quest to get to the top and make true on all my statements when I told my fans "soon enough." It's not that Bellator and Strikeforce aren't great promotions with great opportunities. They have an awesome hardcore fan base and dozens of excellent fighters with great potential. The fact remains though that when I began this journey, I did it for one reason- to go all the way. I want the full package. The fans, the exposure, Rogan (you're the man!), Bruce Buffer, and even Goldie. A fighter with any less dreams is selling themselves short.
JOSH-SAMMAN185mma (via chachicoldstream)
Hopefully you guys are not all asleep by now, and have enough battery power left on your laptops after that obnoxiously long read to watch my HL reel I'll be leaving you with. A friend of mine made it for me, and although I have mixed feelings regarding one of my wins and inadvertant strikes to the back of the head, overall I am very proud of my career. The crazy thing about highlight tapes for me is that I have been at this since I was 16, took my first fight at 18, and am now 22, and all of my endless hard work and grueling hours in the gym can be boiled to about 4 minutes of exciting tape. I'll leave a few more links for anyone who is interested. I put all this stuff out there for you guys really truly hoping someone gets something out of it, entertainment or otherwise.
If anyone lives in the Vegas area, feel free to come and show your support Thursday, I won't be hard to find.