Fighters hoping 'Ultimate Fighter' show catapults them into MMA stardom

As "The Ultimate Fighter" revs up for another season on Spike TV, it's not hard to understand why some 200 mixed martial artists answered open tryout call for Season 7 last week.

They trekked from all over the U.S., and in some cases, the world, in hopes of following in the footsteps of Diego Sanchez, Keith Jardine, Rashad Evans and Michael Bisping, fighters who used "TUF" as a means of emerging from the MMA wilderness and into the prime time.
Season 7 of "TUF" will feature middleweight contenders (185 pounds) looking to hitch a ride on the runaway success of the UFC freight train.

Flanked by the show's producers, UFC president Dana White spoke personally with each fighter before he was asked to prove himself with only a few minutes of grappling and striking.

But for every unknown Bisping or Evans who may emerge from the crowd, there are plenty of amateur, semipro and flat-out brawlers who show up dreaming of a shot at life as a contract fighter in the Octagon.

One thing is certain: The UFC will have no shortage of potential characters to add to Season 7's fight house.

ESPN.com takes a look at some of the fighters who showed up at the "TUF" tryout hoping to be added to next season's cast.

James Brasco, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Mortgage broker

So many fighters who enter the Octagon are amateur wrestling transplants. Like UFC heavyweight Brock Lesnar, former NCAA wrestler Brasco wishes a career as an MMA fighter was an option right of out college.

At 5-foot-9, Brasco is a bit short for his weight, but the sturdy 185-pounder was a three-time NCAA Eastern Regional champion and AAU Grand National champion in both freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling.

Since the real estate boom has turned to real estate gloom, Brasco is finding himself with more time to train MMA -- which he took up only a year ago. Despite not making the "TUF" cut, Brasco plans to continue working on his MMA game.

Court McGee, 23, Layton, Utah

Plumber turned full-time MMA fighter

McGee doesn't have the longest fight résumé but his may well be the most impressive, as he's scheduled to fight UFC veteran Jeremy Horn in the lesser-known Ultimate Combat Experience promotion.

"I idolize Horn and a few other [MMA] fighters," McGee says. "I really look up to him. Now I get the opportunity to test my ability against him. He stands between my family and me being successful. When we're in the cage, it's all business."

For McGee, MMA has been a way to move on from a troubled past. Two years ago, doctors pronounced him clinically dead after he overdosed on heroin. McGee spent six days in a coma and 32 more in intensive care. After emerging from the coma he went through an extensive physical rehab program, relearning basic motor skills like walking.

Having survived his brush with death, becoming the next "Ultimate Fighter" would be icing on the cake.

"Life is good now," McGee reflects. "I'm ready to go to any length to come out a winner on the show."

Ray Newkirk, 39, Syracuse, N.Y.
Owner, Streetwise Fightwear

Newkirk has been fighting since he was a little kid, but proves there are ways to make a living in the fight game without using your fists. Newkirk owns an MMA clothing company, but admits it's difficult to walk the line between entrepreneur and fighter.

"It's hard because you don't want to give up [fighting], Newkirk says. "It was hard to make that transition. I still want to fight, even though I'm trying to be a better businessman."

As he approaches 40, Newkirk feels he still has it, and enjoys smacking the occasional 20-something around.

Torr Lewis, 46, Half Moon Bay, Calif.


At 46, Lewis was the eldest competitor at the tryouts and by his own admission would be "insane" if he were really trying to make the show. He has been a casual mixed martial artist throughout his life, but fell in love with the choke holds and joint locks of Brazilian jujitsu this past summer. The videographer made the trip to New Jersey from California as part of an MMA documentary, and to show some support for his younger, more experienced sensei -- who has a shot at making the show.

"I'm new to jujitsu," Lewis says. "I'm completely addicted. My instructor, Raul Castillo, is here. He's really good; he could win the whole show."

Lewis is more than happy to watch Season 7 from home, but plans to continue his jujitsu training. He's got nothing to lose, except a few extra pounds -- he's shed 15 since beginning his BJJ training in July.

Raul Castillo, 23, Half Moon Bay, Calif.
MMA instructor/School owner

Raul Castillo showed the judging panel why it took only five years for him to earn a black belt in BJJ. Under the watchful eyes of his friend, Lewis, Dana White and the show's producers, the crafty jujitsu master rolled his way into a few impressive submissions in his brief time on the mat.

When asked what his motivation to try out for the show is, Castillo responds, "Just to have the experience of shaking Dana's hand and seeing Rashad [Evans]. Just to see what it could be like if I entered the whole UFC lifestyle."

While many would cringe at the idea of being locked up in the "TUF" house for six weeks, Castillo would embrace it.

"I think that would be so good for me because I have a lot of things on my mind at the moment, but if I dedicated myself 100 percent to fighting for six weeks, I could only get better," Castillo says "If I had time to train [more], I'd go straight to the top."

Gabriel Toribio, 27, East Meadow, N.Y.
Production assistant, VH1

East Meadow, Long Island, is becoming something of an MMA hotspot. It's home to Team Serra-Longo, led by legendary trainer Ray Longo, Gracie black belt Nick Serra and UFC welterweight champion Matt Serra, who earned a title shot by winning the fourth season of "The Ultimate Fighter."

Gabriel Toribio, a Serra-trained fighter, came to the Season 7 tryouts hoping to follow in the footsteps of his training buddies Luke "The Silent Assassin" Cummo, Pete "Drago" Sell and Serra.

For Toribio, his team members are like family.

"Matt's like my big brother," Toribio says. "Ray's like our father. And Luke has taken me under his wing. When Matt was on Season 4 and got big, people were like 'Oh, you know Matt Serra?' and I was like, 'Yeah, I play "Halo" with him.'"

Though Toribio didn't make the cut for Season 7, he'll continue to ply his trade in East Meadow, and is crossing his fingers for Season 8.

Maurice Johnson, 39, Wilmington, Del.

For actor Maurice Johnson, MMA is just another form of improvisation. His opponent gives him material -- and Johnson responds -- though there's no keeping a straight face when you're staring down a well-placed hook or roundhouse kick. Before his on-camera work on shows like "The Sopranos" and "Law & Order," Johnson spent 11 years as a professional kickboxer, picking up titles along the way.

Like so many other mixed martial artists who have hit their 30s and 40s, Johnson says the championship performances of Randy Couture, 44, inspire him, and is hoping for his own Hollywood ending to the show.

"Why can't I fight in the UFC and show the young guys what a little experience can do?" he asks rhetorically.

Amir "Clever Name" Sadollah, 27, Richmond, Va.

Surgical technician

No season of "The Ultimate Fighter" would be complete without at least one offbeat character.

Sadollah fits that role to a T and certainly won't disappoint the show's producers. On his TUF application, when asked about children, Sadollah wrote he was waiting for paternity results from Jerry Springer.

Sadollah is equally adept at cracking skulls as he is cracking a joke. The all-around fighter spent two months training overseas in Holland and lived in the gym where he trained. While there, he studied a form of Muay Thai kickboxing that's more aggressive than the form taught in Thailand.

And while Sadollah might have a "Plan B" career in comedy, he says if put in the "TUF" house, for better or worse, he's going to be himself.

"Let the record show I will be whatever they want!" he jokes. "Not really, I don't want to change who I am for a show. If you have to be a little louder, a little goofier, that's one thing. But like they told us: Be who you are."

By the end of the day, McGee, Castillo and Sadollah had made the cut.

Andrew Falzon contributes to FIGHT! Magazine and MMAMadness.com.