SPORTS

From The Baboon to The Banana, fighters look to earn spot on reality TV show

08/28/2013 06:00 EDT | Updated 10/28/2013 05:12 EDT
INDIANAPOLIS - Across the corridor from a conference of medicare sales representatives gathered an entirely different work force.

Clad in workout gear, aspiring UFC middleweights and light-heavyweights shadow-boxed, stretched or jogged down the corridor of the downtown hotel as the curious sales reps looked on.

The 100-odd fighters were there to take part in open tryouts for Season 19 of "the Ultimate Fighter," a reality TV show that has served as a pipeline to the mixed martial arts promotion.

There was no shortage of tattoos, cauliflower ears or nicknames.

When do you get the Arch Angel, Ass Kicking Machine, the Beast, Captain America, the Hillbilly Heart Throb, Mama's Boy, Pain Train, Puma, Punisher, Slim Shady of MMA, Sniper and Tally Ho Ninja together in the same room? Not to mention Baboon, Baby Monster, Cyborg, Dragon, Handz of Steel, Hannibal, Noseferatu, Sandman and Superman.

Other nicknames were less awe-inspiring at first blush. The Banana, Ants in the Pants, Care Bear, Honey Bear and the Corndog just don't seem that threatening.

All were looking to turn heads and win a spot in the cast, with an eye to claiming the UFC contract that goes to the winner.

It was an open tryout but fighters had to be between 21 and 34, be able to "legally live and work" in the U.S. and have a minimum of three pro fights with a winning record.

Two by two, the fighters took part in a two-minute grappling session as UFC matchmakers Joe Silva and Sean Shelby looked on with production staff from the show.

Those that made the cut moved on to a pads striking session, with a further cut ahead of an interview session.

The survivors will head to Las Vegas for medicals and another round of interviews before the final cast is settled.

Reporters covering Tuesday's session — only a portion was open — had to sign a confidentiality agreement not to divulge the fighters that moved on — with a $5-million penalty promised for transgressions.

The fighters have some paperwork of their own to fill out, including a questionnaire that asked whether they had a criminal record and what a UFC contract would mean to them.

A six-page release form was also part of the process. That meant agreeing to drug tests "including but not limited to" steroids and HIV, as well as Hepatitis B and C.

Signing off also was a legal thumbs-up to "inclusion of material in the series and other programs which may be potentially embarrassing or emotionally trying, which may not be completely accurate in depicting my actual statements, thoughts, beliefs, motives, emotions, states of mind, health status, actions or ideas, or which may have the effect of reflecting negatively on me or my reputation."

Clearly these men want to be in the UFC very badly.

It was an early day for the fighters Tuesday. Registration began at 7 a.m. with the fighters photographed and weighed once their paperwork was done.

Once a pair of paramedics arrived with a stretcher, the action moved to an adjacent room for the grappling portion of the tryouts.

The sessions were fierce but polite. Fighters shook hands before getting on the mat and often went over to shake Silva's hand after their time was done. They were told not to try leglocks and to halt the action if they rolled off the mat.

"Show us what you can do," Silva told the fighters. "If you come out here and all you do is just stall it out in the guard (position), you're telling me you're boring. Why am I going to pick you? ... Have some fun, show us what you can do."

Some looked to make an immediate presence. Chris Sheridan, for example, handed out a one-page bio and opted to grapple without a shirt, allowing him to show off the tank etched in ink on his back. He also walked on the mat pumping his fist into the air.

Another fighter drew attention by wearing furry bunny ears as he waited for the tryouts to begin.

Name fighters at the session included middleweight Lyman Good, the inaugural Bellator welterweight champion, and Ireland's Cathal (The Punisher) Pendred, who holds the cage Warriors Fighting Championship welterweight title in England.

Good (15-3) is looking to transition to the UFC after 11 fights in Bellator and one in the IFL, where he defeated Mike Dolce in 2007. Pendred (13-2) is hoping to join teammate (Notorious) Conor McGregor in the UFC.

UFC star Chael Sonnen, a middleweight and light-heavyweight contender who was a coach on Season 17 of the show, was hard to miss in the corridor as he helped a fighter prepare for the workouts.

And fans of the Edmonton-based Maximum Fighting Championship will have recognized middleweight Dhiego Lima.

Lima, whose older brother is Bellator's Douglas (The Phenom) Lima, tried out unsuccessfully for Season 12.

"I only had three fights at the time and they said 'Just come back when you've get more fights.' So here I am," said the younger Lima (8-1).

The Atlanta resident exuded confidence going into the tryouts, believing pedigree is just as important as performance.

"The way I look at it they already know which guys they're looking at," he said. "I think you have to know people that know people. That plays a big factor in it."

Montreal's Nordine Taleb (8-2) was carrying the Canadian colours. The former Bellator fighter trains at Tristar Gym under renowned coach Firas Zahabi.

Winning a spot on the show would be great exposure for him and his gym, said the 32-year-old Taleb.

"I'm very analytical ... And I'm a striker," he said when asked to describe his fighting style. "So I'm here to kick ass."

He's also a Gemini, he added, which apparently makes for changing moods.

"I'm not going to play any games," he said when asked if he would come on strong should he make the interview stage. "I'm just going to be myself. I'm not here to act, I'm here to kick ass and prove a point and get respect from the fighters."

Keith (The Banana) Smetana, a middleweight from Terre Haute, Ind., made it as far as the interview process in 2008 (TUF 9) and was cut after the grappling in 2010 (TUF 16).

He was feeling confident this time, thanks to the short one-our trip from his home.

"I didn't have to fly all the way to Vegas, no jet lag," he said. "I got to sleep in my own bed, wake up, drive here."

The 28-year-old Smetana, who works for the state highway department, has been training for nine years.

Smetana (8-4-1) says his nickname comes from people having trouble saying his last name.

"Banana, Smetana kind of flows off the tongue," he explained. "Plus it's kind of funny to hear a ring announcer scream it at the top of his lungs."

MORE:cpSports