After Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin’s gutsy, if slightly sloppy, fight during the finale of the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter, the world of MMA changed. The two fighters became instant superstars, the UFC suddenly had millions more fans (or at least curious parties), Spike TV became a viable network, and many MMA fighters hoping to make it to the big stage and gather some of the fame and money that goes with it sent in their applications and videos to producers for a chance to be a part of the second season. I was one of them.
On my audition video, I boasted about how great a human I was and why the UFC and Spike TV should want me. We were told to let our personalities show and talk about our personal lives as opposed to focusing on our professional careers as fighters. I took that to heart and went 100% obnoxious asshole.
It worked. Two weeks later I was off to Las Vegas to be interviewed by Spike and the UFC to see if I was right for the show. If they liked me, I’d be gone for a week and complete the medical exams and blood tests after the interviews. If they didn’t like me I’d be sent home in a day or so.
Upon exiting the plane in Las Vegas I was apparently transported into some top-secret spy mission. First, there was a driver waiting for me at baggage claim, but he didn’t have my name written on a piece of cardboard or anything normal like that. He had the number “46” written down—the number I was given as my “identification” for when I arrived. Giddy with excitement and being the chatty mouse I am, I tried to spark up a conversation with my new friend.
“Hey, man. What’s up? I’m glad to be off that plane,” I said.
“Follow me please,” he replied. Not talkative I see.
Then I noticed the earpiece. Then he started talking into his sleeve like a Secret Service agent.
“I have number 46 here. We’re heading out of baggage claim.”
We started walking out the door. Suddenly he put his arm up as if we were stopping short in an episode of Seinfeld and said into his sleeve, “We’re at the door.”
Then he turned to me and said, “We have to wait here for a minute, ‘til the others pass. They don’t want any of you seeing each other.”
What are we, on our way to fucking Thunderdome or something?
This weirdness continued until we got to the hotel: My handler would talk into his sleeve and we would either continue or wait. It was a little annoying, but what the hell else did I have going on? He opened the door to my room and I walked in.
“You can’t leave at all," said the secret agent, "so you aren’t getting a room key.”
“What about food?”
“Everything will be brought to your room. Someone will be up in a bit to give you a menu and go over all the details with you.
“So, I can’t leave here at all? Can I open the door?” I asked.
“Can I crack the door just a sliver and peek out?” I joked.
“No. If you leave the room for any reason you will immediately be put on a plane back home and be disqualified for consideration for the show. And I need to take your cell phone. No calls either.”
“Very well, then.”
“Good luck,” he said and left me in my room alone.
Just as my secret agent friend said, someone was at my door within the hour to go over everything with me and take me to my first interview. She told me that I was going to go have a short interview with two producers on camera to see how comfortable I seemed in front of an audience and, more importantly, the camera. She also gave me a menu for dinner and breakfast. I ordered the chicken.
There was more stop-and-go traveling on the way to the interview room to ensure we potential contestants remained anonymous to one another, but I was kind of glad I had a few more minutes to prepare myself mentally. I knew the producers and the UFC were looking more for characters than fighters. Of course, if the characters could fight, all the better, but their main goal was ratings, and I knew that.
When I walked into the hotel room-turned-TV-studio there were two producers waiting for me: a man and a woman. They sat me down and started asking me questions in front of a camera that had cables and wires running into the adjacent room.
They started with all the usual stuff. Where was I from? Why did I think I was a good fit for the show? I gave them my most obnoxious answers. “What does it matter where I’m from?” I said. “It only matters where I’m going. I’m the best in the world and I’ll beat anyone in front of me.” And so on. Then I started questioning the questioners.
“I actually have a question for you,” I said. “Did you work on the last season of the show?”
“He did,” the woman said, pointing at her colleague, “but this is my first time working on the show,”
“Then you!” I said, turning to the man. “Are you responsible for putting Jason Thacker on the show? That’s what I want to know.” Thacker had famously joined the cast of the first season without having had a single fight and had washed out quickly.
“Not really. We don’t get the final say in who goes on or not,” the man said, laughing hysterically.
“I want to know who the hell was responsible for that?” I said loudly. “That guy had never fought in his life. Who can get fired for that? We need to find that out? Somebody needs to be fired for that one.” I continued my rant for several minutes until we were all thoroughly laughed out and the interview concluded. As I was standing up to walk out, UFC President Dana White came in from the adjacent room and looked at me.
“I’m the asshole responsible for putting Jason Thacker on the show,” he said.
“What the hell were you thinking?” I asked.
“Well, we need different types of personalities on the show. We need your good, nice kids like Thacker, and we need your foul-mouthed, mother-slapping nut jobs like yourself,” he said with a smile on his face.
“Good point,” I said, “but I would never hit my mother.”
It worked. My obnoxiousness got me through to another interview, where I talked to a large table filled with executives, including reality TV pioneer Craig Piligian and White. After more of my nonsensical ramblings I knew I was a lock for the show.
“Dana, what the fuck are we going to do with this kid?” Piligian said.
“I don’t know, but I like him,” Dana said.
I left the room brimming with confidence and went back to my room, where I was served my dinner. I was starving. I took a bite of the chicken and painfully swallowed the cardboard piece of meat. It was a broiled breast with no seasonings or sauces, served with steamed broccoli with no seasonings or sauces, accompanied by a side of rice with no seasonings or sauces. I ate the rice.
Later that night I was told I would be staying for the medical tests. There were no tests the following day, Tuesday, but Wednesday I would have my MRI and ophthalmology exam. The days in the hotel were boring. The TV had only a few channels because it was in a casino and they want you to spend your time—and money—gambling, not in your room. I did bring a book, Crime and Punishment, a massive block of text that I finished during my time in solitude, in between jumping on the bed and acting like a 3-year-old. I had the same variation of the same meal every dinner, regardless of what I ordered. If I ordered the chicken or salmon it was the same unflavored rubbish.
While at the doctor’s office on Wednesday I ran into Nate Marquardt, who’d been fighting in Japan for years. Nate is a huge man, and looking at him I wondered how he would make welterweight, one of the weight classes that was going to be featured on the second season. But Nate told me he wasn’t planning on becoming a contestant; he knew he was too big and didn’t really want to be on the show anyway. He was just there to open a dialogue with the UFC. I chatted up Keith Jardine for a while, too, who was auditioning for the show. We were talking about literature. I told him of my love of Russian authors and Jack London’s Sea Wolf; he was more of a Bukowski fan. Can’t blame him for that.
On my final day in Vegas I was grouped with Melvin Guillard, Joe Stevenson, Jason Von Flue, and others. We were off to have our urine analyzed for drugs: both recreational and performance-enhancing. Lumped in a room, unable to use the bathroom until it was our turn to piss while a lab worker sat 10 inches from our dicks to actually see the urine go from body to cup, we talked amongst each other. The talking quickly turned to agitation as Von Flue went in to offer his urine sample. He was in the room for over an hour, leaving the rest of the bladders in the room to slowly swell. We yelled at him to come out and that he could go back in after the rest of us went. He didn’t, so we had to keep listening to Melvin Guillard tell us tales of his many glories.
“Man, I ain’t never been submitted in an MMA fight,” Guillard boasted. “I don’t care who it is, they’re not getting me down to submit me!"
Nobody said a word. We were all too uncomfortable to speak by that point. Our bladders could handle no more. Then, Melvin stopped mid-rant and turned to me.
“You look familiar. Where do I know you from?” he said to me.
“Really?” I asked. “We fought last November.”
“Who won?” somebody asked.
I didn’t say a word and turned to Melvin.
“Oh, he did,” Melvin said. “He choked me with a guillotine or something,” Everyone burst out laughing.
The door to the bathroom finally opened and Von Flue came out.
“Finally, you’re out,” someone said. “Asshole,”
“I couldn’t go with him looking right at my dick,” Von Flue said, dejected. “Creeped me out.”
“Wait, so you still didn’t piss?” I asked.
“No, I’ll go in again after you guys go,” he said.
After the rest of us had pissed in a small cup while someone watched, Von Flue went back in. 40 minutes later he came out, victorious.
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