Some 400 hopefuls turned out today at the Newark Liberty International Airport Marriott in Newark, N.J., to audition for the 14th season of "The Ultimate Fighter."
Seen in the crowd were a few familiar faces: UFC vet Din Thomas, who appeared on the show's fourth season, and WEC vets Wagnney Fabiano, Micah Miller and Ian McCall.
"The Ultimate Fighter 14," which begins production this summer and debuts in the fall on Spike TV, is expected to feature bantamweight and/or featherweight fighters. It's the first time the reality show has featured competitors in the UFC's lightest weight classes.
Although not confirmed by the promotion, bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber are believed to be frontrunners to coach the show. UFC president Dana White confirmed this past weekend following UFC 128 that the two bantamweights are set to meet sometime this year, though he stopped short of confirming the bout as the traditional season-ending fight between "TUF" coaches.
In what's become a customary part of the reality show's tryouts, lines ran long and time ran short for fighters to show their stuff. Each hopeful had a couple of minutes – tops – to grapple and strike before White, UFC matchmaker Joe Silva, and officials from Spike TV.
But there was added incentive to impress, at least during the grappling portion of the tryout: a cash bonus. White plunked down a stack of $100 bills at his table and offered a C-note to anyone who earned a tapout.
"I didn't have a chance to tap (someone)," said 39-year-old bantamweight Alexis Villa, a former Olympic wrestler from Cuba who now resides with American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Fla. "You only have two minutes that you can do it. But I controlled the position the whole time. I was controlling the guy."
Vila had made it through the initial tryouts when he spoke to MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
) and was waiting for the interview portion of the audition.
"He's probably on paper the No. 1 guy here," said Ron Foster, a former matchmaker for Shine Fights who now works with STARS MMA and ML Management. "The guy's a monster."
With his thick Cuban accent, Vila is a prime candidate for subtitles.
26-year-old featherweight Josh Tyler, a former Golden Gloves champion and wrestler at Old Dominion University, was still waiting to get in the room.
"I guess with being a fighter and competitor, I feel like everywhere I go, I find myself sizing people up," he said. "I don't know if that's because I'm 145 and a little guy and that's just what us little fellas do.
"You can get a pretty good idea of people and where they are – not so much their outward appearance, but their attitude. The look in their eyes. I think you can tell a lot from that. There's so many people out there that will surprise you."
Pablo Alfonso, a 28-year-old bantamweight, was certainly shocked when he grappled for White and the remainder of the judging panel. His partner was 177 pounds and normally competed at lightweight.
"I tried to entertain Dana," Alfonso said. "They didn't call my name. But you know what? I'm motivated right now. I want to continue fighting and prove them wrong."