It’s difficult to find words to describe the feeling of walking into the TUF gym for the first time.
I’ve been waiting for this day since the beginning of my career. Realizing how much martial arts history and how much talent had been in that very room was incredibly humbling and empowering at the same time.
For weeks, I’d been trying to learn about the other competitors who would be in the house. You’re with these guys for 6 weeks with no contact outside as both teammates and competitors. We already had a lot of respect for each other as champions of our promotions and I was pleasantly surprised with how nice everyone was.
The coaches’ evaluation was intense. I wanted to make sure I showcased my skills confidently; my competitors and I knew how important this first impression would be. One thing I remember vividly is the adrenaline dump — as soon as I started cracking pads I could tell it was affecting me and I was tired. It seemed like everyone kind of felt a little lethargic but we all pushed through it.
Lining up to get picked felt like gym class in school: you just want to get picked and you don’t want to get picked last. I thought I would be seeded in the top 5, but I was satisfied with where I ended up. After Henry picked me, it was definitely a relieving moment. It was nice to finally look my opponent in the face and know what I had in front of me. I didn’t know much about Matt Rizzo, but he looked big and capable. I think everyone was satisfied for the most part with the way the teams turned out.
I’ve known Jamie Alvarez for about three years now, we’re number one training partners and he’s one of my best friends in South Florida. When we got to the house, Jamie had his eye immediately on the master bedroom so he ended up getting us the best room in the entire house. I clicked pretty quickly with Yoni and Kai so they roomed with us. Everyone got settled in and we headed straight into training.
Team training was very well thought out and put together. Henry did a great job choosing coaches and it was obvious he was in this 100-percent for us. The style difference between Cejudo and Benavidez was very apparent.
Just by watching their coaching styles and how they handled their team training, you could see the difference in the way they approached coaching and MMA. I got to get some work in with Alexandre before his fight against Brandon Moreno, the first fight of the season.
The fight between Moreno and Pentoja was back and forth and at points it could have gone either way. Both fighters gave it their all and it really set the tone for the rest of the season.
It was unfortunate that Brandon had to exit the tournament when he did. He brought a lot of positive energy to the house and we were all proud of him and his performance. I could tell, sitting next to Henry during the fight, that he was very much torn. Of course he wanted his team to win, but he and Brandon have a history as training partners and friends so it was definitely a conflicted match up for him. As a whole though, Team Cejudo was proud to have come out dominant in the first match up. Much respect to both guys, these dudes are warriors and it was an incredible fight to witness.
Next up we had Kai Kara-France against Terrence Mitchell. I was close with both Kai and Terrence; Terrence and I connected early on through the casting process and I liked the guy. Kai was my roommate and my teammate and I thought the match up was great.
The fight started out with a long, sharp jab from Terrence, highlighting what the guy is capable of. Kai was able to land a big overhand right, hurting Terrence early on in the fight. As soon as he saw Terrence was hurt, he capitalized on the opportunity.
I hated seeing Terrence go down like that. He’s not only a great guy, but he has unlimited ability.
Both of these fights very much demonstrate what this weight class is capable of and what is possible for us. There’s a lot of talent in this division and this season is really going to showcase that. I’m excited to be a part of it and am looking forward to what is to come for all of us. Big things. Hiromasa and Zulu are up next. Let’s go!!