Fighter tries out for TUF
NEWARK, N.J. - Aaron Meisner doesn’t really consider himself a "reality TV guy," but here he is, auditioning for the seventh season of Spike TV’s "The Ultimate Fighter."
"I’m just gonna be myself," says Meisner, who drove up from Philadelphia for Monday’s open casting call. "There’s nothing too outrageous about me. I think they look for different types of personalities. I think they always look for people who clash, but maybe they look for normal people, too."
He’s being modest. He’s not normal, unless you consider having a Philadelphia Eagles cheerleader for a girlfriend and being a full-time fighter versed in boxing, Muay Thai and Brazilian jiujitsu normal.Even so, the 29-year-old’s skills haven’t quite prepared him for his first reality TV open casting call.
"This is not like a fight at all," Meisner says outside the audition. "This is like not knowing what to expect."
"The Ultimate Fighter," currently airing its sixth season on Spike TV, pits voyeuristic, testosterone-fueled drama alongside mixed-martial-arts action. It’s become the fastest method for fighters to become Ultimate Fighting Championship superstars and, well, reality TV guys.
Past contestants have gone on to win title belts and nutritional supplement sponsorship deals.
The current season of "The Ultimate Fighter," featuring coaches Matt Hughes and Matt Serra, will conclude with a live match between finalists at The Palms Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on Dec. 8.
Three weeks ago, Meisner was asked by producers to attend the one-and-only audition for the seventh season of the competition, which will bestow a middleweight fighter with a six-figure, multi-fight contract with the UFC.
"I got a call on my phone and saw it was from California," Meisner says. "I don’t know anybody in California, so I figured it was pretty important."
For the past four years, Meisner has fully dedicated himself to becoming a mixed-martial-arts fighter, working as a personal trainer on the side to pay the bills. These days, his life mostly consists of training and "doing nothing." He always wanted to be a professional athlete, but Meisner can’t really explain why he’s so passionate about fighting.
"It’s fun to punch people in the face," he says.
Meisner ponders the question further.
"And get punched in the face," he adds. "I guess I like the punishment. What other job can you get punched in the face and get paid for it?"
These "Ultimate Fighter" tryouts don’t resemble any "American Idol" or "Apprentice" audition. There are no people dressed in costume, no women, and no line around the building. Most of the 149 UFC wannabes, like Meisner, are simply sprawled out on the floor outside a ballroom at the Hilton Newark Airport waiting for their number to be called.
Some stretch. One guy is doing jumping jacks. Many chitchat about fights they’ve seen or been in themselves.
After a few hours of waiting and warming up, it’s Meisner’s turn.
During the first round, paired-up participants grapple on a large mat on the floor in front of a panel of judges, including UFC president Dana White, "Ultimate Fighter" executive producer Craig Piligian and Spike TV senior vice president of sports and specials Brian J. Diamond.
The rules are simple: No elbows. No slamming. No can opening — whatever that means.
"I did what I wanted to do. Stayed defensive," Meisner says after his one minute in front of the panel.
Each of Meisner’s three professional MMA fights ended with him knocking out his opponent, so he’s not used to grappling. He was hesitant about only showing off his floor work at first, but it was good enough for Meisner to earn entree to the second round, where auditioners geared up for a striking session.
His striking impressed the panel enough to grant him a five-minute interview with White, Piligian and Diamond.
Of the 149 men who showed up to audition, about 20 will join candidates who submitted tapes or were recommended by current UFC fighters for a final audition in Las Vegas. Then, 16 will be selected to have their lives taped while they train, live and fight together.
Once filming begins in January, contestants won’t be allowed contact with the outside world.
That’d be fine with Meisner.
"I don’t have anything to do for six weeks, anyway," he says. "Except train."