Canadian MMA hopefuls battle it out for spot on The Ultimate Fighter Nations show

September 23, 2013


Canadian MMA hopefuls battle it out for spot on The Ultimate Fighter Nations show

Neil Davidson (The Canadian Press) Toronto – It was show and tell for Garett Davis at the Canadian tryouts for “The Ultimate Fighter Nations: Canada vs., Australia.”

The 36-year-old from St. John’s came with his black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, his Top Rank martial arts 170-pound championship belt, a Newfoundland flag and about a dozen gold and silver medals from international competition.

“I’d like to represent my family, friends and Newfoundland and also Canada,” said Davis, who proudly wore a T-shirt bearing the Newfoundland flag. “I want to make Team Canada and show Australia what’s up.”

Davis (15-11) now lives in Vancouver but proudly notes how he is the first MMA pro fighter and BJJ black belt from Newfoundland. A former King of the Cage Canada champion, he has fought for the King of the Cage and Hardcore Championship Fighting world titles.

“I’m ready to take it to the next level and go to the UFC,” said Davis, who tried out unsuccessfully in 2005 in New York for the original “Ultimate Fighter” reality TV series.

How Davis and the other 70-odd Canadian fighters fared in Sunday’s tryouts will be kept under wraps until the final cast is announced.

Reporters in attendance were only allowed to see the grappling portion of the tryouts for welterweights (170 pounds) and middleweight (185 pounds). UFC matchmakers Joe Silva and Sean Shelby then trimmed the field for striking drills, with a further cull before interview sessions.

Australian tryouts have already happened.

The Canada vs. Australia season follows on the heels of “The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes,” which aired last fall as a U.K. vs. Australia spinoff of the original series, which held tryouts last month in Indianapolis for Season 19.

There have also been two all-Brazilian versions of the show.

Filming of the Canada-Australia series is scheduled to start in late October and end in mid-December about an hour’s drive north of Montreal.

Montreal welterweight Patrick (The Predator) Cote (20-8) and Australian Kyle Noke (20-6-1) will serve as rival coaches and fight in April after the series has aired.

Cote, a former middleweight title contender, appeared on Season 4 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” which featured veteran fighters making a comeback. Noke was on Season 11.

“With all the fighters in Canada, we’ll be able to find a really solid team to beat those Aussies,” said Cote.

“It’s our battlefield, it’s our home. They’re coming here. So I’m going for a sweep, I want to win all the fights. Not only for me, but for me guys.”

More than 70 fighters showed up Sunday, with two-thirds of them welterweights. They were photographed, weighed and given grey shorts and a black T-shirt with a number on the front.

Then they waited for their chance to shine.

There were some familiar faces from the Canadian fight scene including Toronto’s Alex Ricci, Martin (The Hammer) Grandmont of Drummondville, Que., Regina’s Derek (The Lion) Parker, Edmonton’s Luke Harris and Sheldon Westcott, Matt MacGrath of Cornwall, P.E.I., and Kajan (Ragin) Johnson of Burns Lake, B.C.

Trainer and former fighter Lee Mein, whose son Jordan is a UFC welterweight, brought two of his fighters from his gym in Lethbridge, Alta., to the tryouts: Brandt Dewsbery (10-2) and Peter Neufeld (7-3). Both had tried out for the original show previously in Las Vegas.

With just a 90-second window to show their talents on the grappling mat, there was not much time to showcase skills.

Mein’s advice to his fighters was simple: “Just go for it. Show that you’re willing to fight and take risks.”

The bottom line? “Don’t play it safe.”

Top gyms were also represented.

Jake MacDonald is no relation to UFC welterweight contender Rory MacDonald but has trained with him at Toshido MMA in Kelowna, where Rory began his MMA journey before moving to Montreal to train at Tristar.

Jake MacDonald (3-0) normally fights at lightweight (155 pounds) but hoped to make the show as a welterweight.

“I just hope they get a chance to see what I really can do because I’ve been training for a long time,” said the 24-year-old. “I can throw down pretty good.”

Olivier Aubin-Mercier (4-0) trains at Tristar, home to UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, Rory MacDonald and several other UFC veterans. A former member of the national team judo, he switched to MMA after seeing a GSP fight on TV while trying to learn English.

“I tried it and I loved it,” he said.

He has sacrificed for his sport. He trains and teaches martial arts part-time.

“That’s how I’m living,” he said adding: “I’m not living, I’m surviving.”

Surveying his opposition Sunday, Aubin-Mercier had a pretty good handle on who might advance.

“I have four or five names in my head that I’m pretty sure are going to make it. A lot from Ontario,” he said.

Ricci tried out for the TV show previously in North Carolina only to be told he did not have enough experience. Now sporting a record of 7-1, he believes that is longer an issue.

Looking around the room, he too saw a lot of familiar faces.

“I see a lot of good fighters here,” he said. “It’s going to be a hell of a day, that’s for sure.”

MacGrath (13-8), a full-time chef with P.E.I.’s Department of Health, he got into MMA after a successful amateur career in judo. The 33-year-old started with Brazilian jiu-jitsu before transitioning to a fight career that has included bouts with past or future UFCers Matt Veach, Claude Patrick, Jonathan Goulet and Kalib Starnes as well as TUF alumnus Dean Amasinger.

At 31, Grandmont (12-7) was one of the veterans in the room. In recent years, he has juggled work and school with training and fighting.

After applying for the tryouts, he said no when he got the initial acceptance call for the auditions. Then he changed his mind. While he knows his fighting days are numbered, he believes he has yet to showcase all his skills.

“I see myself as the old guy here,” he said in his raspy voice as he surveyed the other fighters.

“I’m here to have fun first and then we’ll see what happens.”

Ryan Dickson (6-1) of Burlington, Ont., had his own reasons for coming to the tryouts.

Slated to fly to Brazil to train there earlier this year, he went to the doctor beforehand after feeling off. The 23-year-old was diagnosed with testicular cancer, undergoing surgery in late February.

The good news is he has been symptom-free since the surgery. Just being able to attend the tryouts was a blessing.

“This has been my dream since I started (training). But it’s especially special now because of what I’ve gone through.”



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