Season five of The Ultimate Fighter could be remembered for featuring the most talent rich pool of fighters ever cast in the long-running reality series. It could also be remembered for re-launching the UFC’s Lightweight Division, which today is the most dynamic and competitive weight class in MMA. It might even be remembered for a legitimate coaching rivalry that left viewers with a rare and satisfying sense of closure. I don’t remember season five for any of these things. I remember it for a drunken brawl across wicker chairs and patio stones.
It’s embarrassing to admit that, but can I be blamed? The clash between Marlon Sims and Noah Thomas was hyped like a main event. The series teased it to the point I would tune to Spike each week and wonder is this the episode they fight? Sure, people fought in every episode of The Ultimate Fighter, but this was different. It felt dirty to care, but something primal overruled.
When it finally came, I wasn’t disappointed. For me, like many others, the controversial incident remains one of TUF’s most memorable moments. The melee cost Marlon Sims his place on the show. However, according to Sims, his exposure within the series was being cut short long before he flipped Noah Thomas out of a chair. "I was injured my second day there. You can see it! In the first episode during those flashes where they show what’s gonna happen in the season. Second flash – you can see me on the floor with blood pouring out of my forehead. Other than that split second they completely took my injury out of the show."
Sims remembers climbing the peg wall during a Team Pulver training session. "I’m fifteen feet up and Jens [Pulver] yells out for me to hold on, I don’t know why, but I did, but when you stop your momentum on a peg wall, you start sliding back. So the peg I was holding in my right hand slipped out and I basically punched myself in the forehead as hard as possible with this sharp piece of wood. I fell all the way to the ground and landed flat on my back. Then I see Jens’ face looking over me, it’s white. I feel the warmth all around my head and I just yell, ‘F***!’ "
Sims states that the gash on his forehead required seventeen stitches and, as a result, he was medically suspended from sparring and rolling. According to Sims an agreement was made between both teams that Sims would fight last to give his wound every chance of healing. When his time to dance finally came around, it was with the highly touted Matt Wiman.
"I didn’t train one day for the Wiman fight. All I could do was hit bags and ride a bike," says Sims who claims another unseen incident occurred to further stack the deck against him. This incident has left him with choice words for a former team mate. "Cole Miller is a piece of s***." Sims’ ire stems from a Team Pulver meeting in which he claims a game-plan for beating Matt Wiman was discussed. Sims believed he’d noticed a tell in Wiman’s fighting; a twitch of the hip that revealed what Wiman was going to throw. "I decided, when he twitches I’m throwing a straight right as hard as I can. Anything else, I’m sprawling." Sims alleges that Miller informed Wiman of the plan. Sims cites this betrayal as critical to Wiman being able to throw the perfect counter punch to his straight right (which would daze Sims long enough to allow Wiman to sink in a fight ending choke). Sims states that it wasn’t until after his time on the show that a Team Penn member revealed what Miller had done.
After being eliminated Sims found himself out by the fire pit with friends Nate Diaz and Manny Gamburyan. According to Sims, his fellow Californians took it upon themselves to ply him with tequila for the duration of the night, which he was all too happy to accept. It was this night that the infamous confrontation with Noah Thomas occurred. However, it was not as spontaneous as the show presented it.
"We didn’t just go at it. Noah had gotten under my skin from the second the door closed. He’s just ignorant. He thinks he knows everything about everything. He thinks he knows everything about all the world’s cultures, but he’s a completely uncultured f***ing hick himself."
Prior to their fight the most intense incident between Sims and Thomas occurred when Sims was telling a story of his time living in San Francisco. "I wanted to tell this story for my friends at home, so they would get a kick out of seeing me tell it on TV." Sims’ story took place at R Bar, a speak-easy popular with the city’s bartenders and restaurant workers. Sims recalls that a group of college kids stole a bottle from the bar, when his colleague chased them outside the kids ambushed him. "When I saw what was happening I jumped in, I knocked out the one guy and told the rest to stop. They attacked and it was five straight minutes of combat." The details of Sims’ story play like a classic Van Damme flick. Someone’s cracked with a bottle, another is slammed through a windshield, and so on. However, Sims’ most explosive claim is also his most gruesome. "And then one of them got me in a full nelson, so I stuck my thumb in his eyeball and ripped out his eye." It was this gory detail that Thomas took most umbrage at. The pair debated the feasibility of Sims’ claim and this led to a demonstration, with Thomas putting Sims in a full nelson. The disagreement petered out without further incident, but a seed of contention was planted between both men.
On the night of the backyard fight Thomas’ presence was weighing on Sims. "Nate said, ‘Say something to Noah’, so I said to him, ‘You’re worthless in this life.’ " The argument grew from there to include commentary on both men’s defeats in the TUF competition. Feeling raw from the loss, inebriated from the tequila, and sick of Thomas’ arguments, Sims snapped; and he didn’t think there would be any repercussions for it. "Every day I asked people if I would be kicked out for fighting and they said no: ‘Do whatever you want. If you jump the fence or talk to anyone on the outside you’re out – anything else goes.’ "
For the fight itself, Sims is unapologetic. "I had a whole bunch of fun hitting him. Then I sobered up and decided to pull away, feeling he was in trouble. Then I got kicked in the face – he kicks like a little girl by the way. He said sorry, held his hand out, but he had cheap shotted me twice. I knocked him down and, in Muay Thai I can finish a technique as someone is falling, I soccer kicked him and yelled ‘Pride rules bitch!’ I just wanted to do enough to get him to say stop, but then he tripped me. He guillotined me, so I went for the eye gouge. He let go, rolled for the armbar and I banked his head off the concrete. I could have elevated him higher, but I didn’t want to kill the kid, I just wanted to bump his head hard enough [to make him let go]. I took great enjoyment in it."
When Dana White came to the house the following day Sims knew his time on the show was over. "I didn’t argue. I wanted to go." According to Sims, as soon as he left the house he received a phone call from one of the show’s producers. "[The producer] said, ‘We would like to thank you from the bottom of our hearts. We’ll give you a big bonus. Show has been terrible up to this point. Gabe [Ruediger] was sucking. You just saved us.’ "
Sims then travelled back to Miami, where he was living and training at the time. There Sims claims he received a call from UFC matchmaker Joe Silva, who informed him he would be fighting Noah Thomas on the show’s finale. Delighted, Sims set about getting ready for the bout, while also watching the series on television. "The editing was terrible. Nobody knew I was injured, I thought they’ll think that’s how I fight!" What Sims says hurt him most though, is how the show failed to highlight what he did for his team. "I loved my team; no one gave us a chance. Every night I was cooking beautiful meals for people, I was helping people get on weight. I did everything for my team and they didn’t show it. Instead they made me look like a maniac. As soon as I started watching, I turned to my girlfriend and said, ‘Look, they’re gonna make me out to be the villain’ - and they did."
The disappointment in his edit did little to dull Sims’ excitement for the finale. "The only thing I cared about was the fight with Noah. I was training with [Jorge] Masvidal and Kimbo [Slice], dominating guys, three pounds off weight, fucking unreal. Silva calls me a week before the finale, ‘We got you starting it off’ - awesome. Next day... Silva calls again, ‘Listen, we’re taking you off the card. Gonna lose Burger King if we let you fight. You’re out of the UFC.’ " Sims was crushed, especially due to the importance he believes his appearance on the show meant for the franchise’s future. "I’m three in the best TUF moments ever. I saved The Ultimate Fighter! The producers told me personally, they were gonna cancel it. The only reason there is a TUF is because of what I did. Dana [White] and them, what they did to me, that was pretty villainous... They used me."
Soon after this letdown Sims decided to move home to California. There he joined Frank Shamrock’s fight academy. Shamrock would also become Sims’ manager, a poor one according to Sims. "He was terrible. F***ing worthless." Sims claims Shamrock cared little for anyone’s career but his own and that it fell on him and Brian Ebersole to run Shamrock’s school. Sims also claims Shamrock once violently beat him down to prove, "Who was the baddest in the gym."
Sims' first fight post-The Ultimate Fighter was against Pat Minihan in 2007, which Minihan won via rear naked choke in the second round. Simms believes the loss is controversial and accuses the promotion, Gladiator Challenge, of influencing the result. "[Minhan] was out in the first round, but the ref didn’t stop it. Then I gassed. The owner [of the promotion] told the ref not to stop it."
Sims' next fight was in 2008, against Billy Evangelista, for Strikeforce. The event featured Frank Shamrock versus Cung Le in the main event. The fight ended in a KO victory for Evangelista in the third round. "I had a broken collarbone when I fought Billy. Frank told me I had to fight. He didn’t care. Evangelista’s camp spied on me too, so he targeted the shoulder. I spent twelve weeks recovering afterwards."
Sims' next fight, which would also be his last, occurred in 2010 at an event in Hilo, Hawaii against local favourite Chris Cisneros. The fight resulted in a KO win for Cisneros, which was called way too early according to Sims. "It was a great fight, exciting, back and forth. I shoot for a double leg and then the ref is waving it off. [Cisneros] is celebrating. Crowd is booing and hissing. Ref says I was out. I was like, ‘What the f*** are you talking about?’ First question asked to Cisneros after that was, ‘Now you’ve beaten Marlon Sims from The Ultimate Fighter do you think you deserve a shot in the UFC?’ The whole thing was a set-up to make him look good. Afterwards his camp came up to me and asked what I was taking. I’ve never done anything. They say, ‘Our boy is on all kinds of things.’ "
Though these fights were disheartening for Sims, they were nothing compared to what was lurking around the corner. Months after his experience in Hawaii Sims was reeling from the death of his grandmother, this was followed by the passing of a friend’s infant child. Next he received a terrifying phone call – something was wrong with his dad. Sims’ father had suffered a heart attack and was in the ICU. Sims arrived at the hospital to discover his father in surprisingly good shape. A few days later, while he was still in the hospital, Sims’ father survived a second heart attack. Later Sims was pulled aside by a doctor and told that tests on his father had revealed advanced lung cancer. "I was told he had two months left and that he would die horribly. They wanted me to tell him. So I go in, sit down next to him. My dad puts his head on me... he looks at my mom and says, ‘You look great’, and she says, ‘Thanks, you look great too’, and then he died right there... on my shoulder."
The loss of his father affected Sims in many ways, included his desire for combat. "I didn’t want to fight anymore. I didn’t want to hurt people for a living. I’d seen too much pain, too much death... Too much bad s***." Instead of continuing his fighting career Sims decided to follow in his actor/stuntman father’s footsteps. In December 2010, Sims moved to Los Angeles.
Sims moved to Tinseltown with $20,000. The next year he struggled to break into the acting world. Down to less than $200 Sims began working in the restaurant industry – an industry that supported much of his fighting career. During this time he made a surprising friend. "One day Jeremy Piven came up to me and said he was a fan. We went and had lunch. He had recently lost his father too, so we bonded over that. We helped each other heal, emotionally. He helped me out of a heavy duty situation after that. He’s a great soul, a great human."
In January 2014 Sims' phone rang. The voice on the other end asked, "Have you ever thought about being an actor?" The caller was an agent from Pacific Talent and Models. Sims met with the agency and was quickly signed to their roster. Bookings came soon after. Now working on commercials and feature films, Sims couldn’t be happier. "I’m completely blessed and I feel my father’s presence more than anything when I am on set. He’s looking out for me."
At forty-one Sims knows that the odds of Hollywood stardom are against him, but he has hope. "Jeremy Renner became a star after forty. That’s some inspiration right there. Besides, I’m in the best shape of my life." Asked what his dream role would be, Sims' answer is unexpected. "I wanna be a villain. I want to be a ruthless, diabolical madman. I want to be the most evil person ever on screen, someone that makes you say, ‘Oh my god, this guy is terrible!’ " I called Sims on the strangeness of this answer, given his angst over feeling he was portrayed as a villain on The Ultimate Fighter. Sims thought about, as if for the first time, and then he had a realization. "I want to be the villain of my creation."
Marlon Sims did what he sought to do on The Ultimate Fighter – make an impact. I know I’ll never forget his name, or the moment he created that forced me to confront what it is that truly draws me to this sport. Where Sims goes from here, I can’t tell you. But I’m certain of one thing: he’ll get a great story out of it.
Go here to read the first installment of Life After TUF featuring season three’s Noah Inhofer.