I have a number of friends who were on previous seasons of The Ultimate Fighter, and before I left, they mostly all said the same thing: “You have to be really, really mentally strong on the show.”[i] I thought they were full of crap.
For the first few weeks, I continued to think they were full of crap. Then around the third week, when I started feeling mentally and physically worn down, I was like, “ehhh, maybe they were right.” But I still didn’t think it was that hard.
Then, in the fifth week, we were on our way to team training when we saw a plane flying low overhead. Shayna pointed to it and said, “Look how low that plane is. Does that look weird?” I glanced at it and said, “Yes. I hope it crash lands on this van and kills us all.” The rest of the team was understandably horrified. I had, after all, just wished death upon all of Team Rousey. But that’s where my head was at by that point.
I wasn’t the only one who was in a dark place those days. Every single morning, Shayna, who slept in the bed right next to my bunk, would wake up and say, “I hate it here.” It became a joke among us, but it was one of those jokes that contained a hard kernel of truth. Even Roxy had turned from the Happy Warrior to the Harbinger of Doom. One morning we were sitting in the sun room together and she said, “Every morning I wake up knowing that today I could be killed or paralyzed or maimed or horribly disfigured.” I was alarmed. “This place has gotten to you,” I said. She just nodded.
I dealt with my loss to Sarah Moras the way any rational being would: I consumed a tub of ice cream, stuffed myself full of cheeseburgers, and got exceedingly drunk. Those cocktails Ronda made were strong and sweet, and I was probably way too skinny and depressed to be drinking as much as I did that night. Predictably, I ended up slumped despondently in the corner of my bedroom.
Ronda came in to talk to me, and the rest of the team followed. After another cocktail and a pep talk, Ronda (quite literally) picked me up off the floor, carried me to the bathroom, and dumped me in the shower. It was time to clean up and start again.
It’s difficult to describe how excited we were when Ronda and Marina brought us food from In-and-Out Burger. There is an In-and-Out Burger a few miles from the UFC training center that we drove past on our way to and from practice, and animal fries had become an obsession among us. I was feeling pretty devastated over my loss to Sarah, but nothing was going to stop me from enjoying that cheeseburger and French fries. I felt bad for Michael Wooten, who was worried about maintaining his weight and couldn’t partake. Anthony, on the other hand, ate as much as his belly could hold, prompting Ronda to plead with him to “be good.”
I didn’t realize Sarah was sitting right outside on the patio while all that was going on. I remember her mentioning to me later how upset she was after our fight. She said she’d felt overlooked by her team, like she’d been forgotten in the chaos that followed Cody missing weight. Win or lose, there’s usually a sense of anticlimax following a fight. Like you’ve put so much into preparing for this one event, and then when it’s over, it’s hard not to feel a little unmoored. This feeling is more pronounced on TUF, where watching each other fight becomes just another part of the daily grind. I can imagine that it was even more difficult for Sarah, though, because the Team Tate coaching staff was definitely in a kerfuffle over the Bollinger situation.
The friendship that developed between our British gentlemen, Michael Wooten and Davey Grant, was one of the sweetest things I’ve every witnessed. I loved sitting in the kitchen watching them interact with one another. “Would you care for a cuppa[ii], mate?” Michael would as Davey. “Ooooohhhh yes, please, mate,” Davey would say. “And would you care for one of me proper gorgeous omelets?” It was like listening to a pair of happy newly weds.
Before the semifinal matches were announced, I was afraid they would end up fighting each other on the show. It would have been a hard fight to watch.
I don’t want to take anything away from Holdsworth, who is an extremely talented fighter, but I think Wooten’s loss may have been due in part to exhaustion. I’m not sure he had the chance to recover fully after his fight with Josh Hill. All the same, he put up a hell of a fight, and I was proud of him.
[i] The exception was Chuck O’Neil, from Season 13, who told me not to show my a–hole to the camera. Chuck is one of my closest friends, but he rarely says anything you would want to embroider on a cushion.