Plan of attack
Put on your game face and your nut cup, tough guy-it's time you became an Ultimate Fighter.
On Monday 27, Spike TV reality series The Ultimate Fighter will hold Chicago auditions for the show’s ninth season, which will feature 32 brawlers from the U.S. and U.K. skull-cracking their way to a six-figure contract in the venerable Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) organization. We asked two local mixed-martial-arts (MMA) fighters trying out for the show what every Joe Toughguy should know before stepping into the octagon. Surprisingly, it’s not all blood, sweat and cauliflower ears.
1 BE IT
“It’s all mental,” says Kevin Knabjian, 24, a former Eastern Illinois University wrestler who has been in the mixed-martial-arts game for five years. Knabjian says staying calm is the biggest challenge because a fighter can lose his drive just “by being amped up and worrying about the negative—both are total energy zappers.”
2 EAT IT
Dan Stittgen, 27—who works as a plumber in Johnsburg, Illinois, when he’s not inflicting pain in the octagon—is as obsessive about what he puts in his mouth as he is about perfecting his ground-and-pound strategy in the gym. (His coaches and teammates at Midwest Training Center in Schaumburg call him “Organic Dan.”) “Garbage in, garbage out,” Stittgen says. “If you eat crappy food, you won’t have the strength to survive a minute in the octagon.”
3 CUP IT
“Oh, you gotta protect ’em!” Knabjian says. Of course, he’s referring to his, er, boys. It’s mandatory in all sanctioned MMA fights that combatants wear cups, even though strikes to the groin are illegal. During practice, shielding the jewels is strongly advised but not required. Knabjian says he has practiced a few times sans nut cup and paid a painful price. Since then, he covers his crotch even during the easiest of training sessions.
4 FACE IT
Cultivating a psychotic scowl is key to intimidating adversaries and suppressing one’s fear. “Eye contact is major—especially at weigh-in,” Stittgen says, adding narrowed eyes are always a must. “That lets him know I mean business.” Stittgen watches his body language like a hawk. “If you’re not feeling confident, it shows,” he says, “but if you’re on top of your game, then your opponent [will know he’s] in for a big bowl of pain.”
5 TAKE IT
Finally, learning to accept—and, in some perverse way, enjoy—a barrage of knuckles to your skull is one of the most difficult aspects of the sport, Knabjian says. “You can’t think too much about it, otherwise you’ll be intimidated.” Instead, your focus should be on blocking punches by keeping close watch on your opponent’s chest and where his fists are, rather than on his eyes and face. If you can’t hack it in this respect, well, it’s best to throw in the towel before you end up looking like raw hamburger.
The Ultimate Fighter casting call kick-starts at 9am Monday 27 at the Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare Hotel (5440 N River Rd, 847-671-6350, Rosemont).