Elias Theodorou of Mississauga, Ont., is one of eight Canadians competing on TUF Nations: Canada vs. Australia. He will be writing weekly blogs for sportsnet.ca to share an inside perspective about what went on inside the gym and house.
And so it begins…
“As Real As It Gets” is the slogan for the UFC and upon entering the TUF gym for the first time, I truly felt it. This moment is what my fellow fighters and I have worked for. It was a surreal feeling, but I was well aware that the next six weeks would decide my future as a fighter and that there were seven other middleweights chasing the same dream.
The gym itself still had that “new car” smell to it and the boys and I couldn’t wait to break in some leather. Everyone that watched the first episode will notice how in awe we all were. This was the biggest moment of our careers and the show hadn’t even begun yet. Not to mention how ready we all were to do some Kangaroo hunting.
PROGRAMMING NOTE: Watch TUF Nations every Wednesday at 10 p.m. EST on Sportsnet 360 and visit sportsnet.ca for weekly previews, recaps and blogs
The Mighty Moose…
Later on at the house, we were able to better comprehend our new life as Ultimate Fighters. The VERY Canadian house had all the Canuck trimmings expected. The beautiful log cabin, in the middle of just about nowhere, along with a ridiculously large stuffed moose. Just in case anyone forgot where they are, the “Mighty Moose” would remind you. Oh, Canada!
From the first practice, our coach Patrick Cote told us that he was here to help us get our shot at the career we are all fighting for. He shared with us the people he trusted to get him ready for each battle. This was his team and now we were part of it. That is just the kind of person he is.
I’ve always known Patrick to be a funny, down to earth person. In fact, I fondly remember our first meeting, in a Pizza Pizza in Toronto at 3 a.m. We shared a slice then got into a dance-off in the packed restaurant.
Cote helped make our team strong from the beginning. We wanted each other to succeed. We were “the most polite fight team ever assembled,” and wanted the best for our fellow countrymen even though we knew we might have to fight one another later on in the tournament.
Don’t call it a comeback, he’s been here for years…
This applies to Kajan Johnson more than anyone else on the show. The most experienced fighter on TUF Nations has come many miles, with a story for each. Starting at the age of 17 in 2002, he’s taken the long road to get here. With that said, the kid with dreams of being a ninja is finally where he belongs. That “time served” mentality, along with being sidelined by injury, created a sense of urgency in Kajan when he fought Brendan O’Reilly. It really was now or never for him.
Once in the cage, his experience shined against his Aussie counterpart. Brendan’s bull-like rushing was his demise as “Ragin” secured the choke and ended his two-year hiatus as a UFC fighter! The biggest smile in the house just got bigger. Kajan was beyond happy, and the feeling would last days. No matter where you found him, he would glow. You could truly tell he loved what he did, and was enjoying the moment, place and time he was in. Well deserved.
Sub me in, coach…
Kajan’s win of course did not sit well with the Australians, as the initial momentum swung in Team Canada’s favour. Not to mention, they lost to one of the biggest personalities in the house: the rapper/fighter never shied away from speaking his mind. To the Aussies, this seemed cocky and arrogant, which they disapproved of from the beginning. But I understood Kajan. He and I were not too different in that sense. Both of us are who we are, no matter what anyone else thinks. So when it turned out the next fight would involve the house’s other large personality — yours truly — it didn’t sit well with our Kangaroo Jacks.
Of course this was a calculated plan. Fighting early, if successful, would allow me a longer break before the next bracket in the tournament. The show is a war of attrition after all. For me, this sport has always been about the competition, the hunger to win at the most primal activity one can be a part of. Not to take away from the science, art and discipline that goes into a fight, but this is war. Only one will survive.
Being picked to go head-to-head with another undefeated fighter, Zein Saliba, was a little daunting, but at least I had already won the first battle. (Insert hair joke here.)