LAS VEGAS – There was frequently three, four and five men speaking at once, which shouldn’t be all that surprising if you knew anything about this gang.
Eight members of the cast of the inaugural season of “The Ultimate Fighter” gathered Friday at the UFC training center to reminisce about their experiences on the show and the impact it had on their lives.
There were poignant moments, such as when Nate Quarry talked about finally having money to allow his 8-year-old daughter, Ciera, to buy what she wanted in a store, or when Chris Leben told the group he is sober and no longer drinking alcohol.
Leben’s admission prompted applause from his cast mates.
But when Joe Rogan, who was serving as the master of ceremonies, asked the kind of question that only he would ask, there was silence in the room. Heads turned left and right looking to see if anyone was brave enough to tackle this one.
“If you’re in a relationship you want out of, now is the time to speak up,” Stephan Bonnar shouted, laughing.
When no one was willing to talk, Rogan called them “a bunch of (expletives).”
Rogan had asked how much better they did with the women after being part of the show.
Forrest Griffin, now the UFC’s light heavyweight champion, broke the tension by shouting, “Hey, I don’t know about you guys, but I was doing pretty good with the women before.”
After three hours of taping by Spike TV on Friday, it was clear that the show impacted the men who were on it as much, if not more, than it did the UFC.
The UFC would likely no longer exist were it not for the show in general and the light heavyweight finale between Griffin and Bonnar in particular. UFC president Dana White, who calls the Griffin-Bonnar fight the most important in the company’s history, signed a deal to renew the series in an alley behind the Las Vegas arena where the fight was held on April 9, 2005.
“Without that night, everything this thing has become would not have been possible,” Rogan said.
The first season will be replayed in the fall, and short clips from Friday’s reunion will be inserted into the shows.
As Rogan was making the point how the show had changed so much for so many in the room, he acknowledged Griffin, who won the light heavyweight title on July 5 with a victory over Quinton Jackson.
Griffin isn’t much for ceremony and was clearly uncomfortable when others talked about his championship. When Rogan said, “You’re the champ, Dude,” Griffin shrugged, made a crooked face and said, “Well, at least until my next fight.”
Mike Swick said he had been involved in martial arts most of his life, but was not able to make a living at it prior to being on TUF. He said he had a pressure-washing company, but was always frustrated because his clients would never be satisfied.
He would arrive and point out he’d be able to clean the driveway, but the oil stains wouldn’t come up.
“After I would finish, they’d come out and the oil stains were still there and they’d be all angry about it and I’d have to talk to them and then lower the bill,” he said.
He focuses full time on his fighting career now as a result of the notoriety he gained from being in the cast. Still, though, he receives an occasional call from someone who wants to hire him to clean their driveway.
One of the day’s funniest moments came when Swick and Chris Leben argued about whether Leben had ducked Swick. The two had fought prior to being on The Ultimate Fighter in a memorable WEC bout that Leben won.
During filming of the show Swick managed to get Leben to sign a piece of paper agreeing to a rematch. Later, Swick’s management team reminded UFC matchmaker Joe Silva of Leben’s promise.
Swick seemed irritated Friday when he recalled the incident and asked Leben why he agreed to fight Terry Martin instead of giving him the promised rematch. Swick was he was told by his management that a deal was being discussed with Silva and Leben’s managers.
Leben, though, seemed perplexed to hear about it and said he never turned down a fight. Finally, to settle the dispute, White turned on his cellular telephone and called Silva. White told him Silva was taping a TV show and would put the phone on speaker so everyone could hear his answer.
Silva confirmed that the bout was discussed with Leben’s management, but the managers wanted to go for a fight with Martin.
The tension was settled, though, when it was obvious that Leben had no idea about the fight.
“Man, I don’t get into any of that and that’s why I’m not on the computer or anything,” Leben said. “All I do is get into the gym and work and when they have a fight, they tell me. I fight anyone.”
The group teased Bobby Southworth about how much he weighed when he arrived for taping. Southworth conceded he weighed 237 and had to get to 205, but he joined the cast on just 12 days’ notice.
Bonnar pointed out that Southworth, whom the fighters were jokingly referring to as “Dad” on Friday, made a big impact in the house. When he was gone, there was trash everywhere. Southworth had picked up after everyone.
“After Bobby left the house, the place was disgusting,” Bonnar said. “Nobody picked up anything.”
Leben told a story of how he’d been suckered by Florian. He showed Florian one of his best moves, then found out the two were fighting the next day.
Sure enough, early in the second round, Florian tried the move.
“Guy used my own move on me,” Leben said, as Florian bent over laughing.
They shared stories of Bonnar’s battle with staph infection and his escape through a tiny bathroom window to go out to buy alcohol.
They teased Diego Sanchez, who won the middleweight division and now fights at lightweight, about his duffel bag he carried that was filled with supplements and how wacky he acted during the show.
“I am wacky,” Sanchez said, drawing more laughs.
Nobody seemed to enjoy the gathering more than White, who came up with the idea for the reality series in a last-ditch attempt to save the UFC. The company had lost $44 million in a little more than three years since White and partners Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta purchased it from original owners Semaphore Entertainment for $2 million in 2001.
The Fertittas picked up the entire cost of the production, including buying the air time. Even as the show was being filmed, no one, including White, was quite sure whether it would air.
The show succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest expectations.
During a break in taping, White looked around the room, where the fights during the show are filmed, and shook his head.
“It’s amazing to think,” he said, softly, “how close we came to not being here today. If it weren’t for what these guys did, I don’t know if there would even be a UFC. I’ll never forget these guys.