From now until it's August 31 debut, UFC.com introduces you to the 16 champions battling to win The Ultimate Fighter: Team Benavidez vs Team Cejudo and get a chance to face current flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson.
With a trio of current and former champions around him at the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, California, Adam Antolin was likely given his marching orders for season 24 of The Ultimate Fighter without Daniel Cormier, Cain Velasquez and Luke Rockhold even saying a word.
If you’re representing AKA, you better come home a winner.
“There’s definitely an expectation to do well,” Antolin said. “They have that for me and I have that for myself, and I have to rep this gym on the level that they expect. There are champions over there, we fight a certain way, we win a certain way, and we expect to compete at an elite level and to succeed. I took that with me and I can handle that too.”
On Wednesday, the TUF 24 season begins, and just like Spring Training, on the opening night, hope reigns supreme. Each of the 16 competitors is a champion on the regional scene, and while there are plenty of young guns battling for the season’s prize – a shot at UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson – there are also veterans like the 34-year-old Antolin, who believes his experience in competition – and in life – gives him a decided edge in the tournament.
“The competitors are starting out younger and they’re getting more exposure younger,” said Antolin, who turned pro in 2008. “But I definitely think that I have that advantage of being more mature. I can look at things from a bigger perspective. While this is everyone’s dream, it can be more overwhelming to them because they haven’t experienced as much in life. I’ve been around and I think I have a worldly view and can put things into perspective, and when I get out there, it’s another fight. I’ve taken more losses in life and have won more in life, so I’m able to put things more in perspective and calm down and slow things down a little bit better than some of these young guys might be able to.”
He’s already proven that on the local circuit, where it’s tough enough to get fights if you’re from a stellar camp like AKA. Add in being a 125-pounder, and the degree of difficulty ramps up. It’s why eight years as a pro have only produced 14 fights for Antolin, who did get started late in the sport.
“When I started fighting, I was 26, so I had finished wrestling and was finishing up my Bachelor’s degree,” he said. “I just felt the need to compete, so I went into this. When I started, there was no 125-pound division. I was lucky to be around 135, and so I was getting these catchweight fights at 130 in my first three to five fights. And they were guys like me, where 135 was big for us, and there was no 125-pound weight division, so let’s just make up a weight class and go fight at 130. (Laughs) Gradually, the 125-pound weight class started to come around, and the mid-tier promotions started focusing on that. And I’m lucky to be where I am geographically, because Tachi Palace was one of the first promotions to feature the flyweights. So it was always my goal to work towards fighting for them and fighting for that belt.”
Meet The Ultimate Fighter season 24 cast: Kai Kara-France | Yoni Sherbatov | Jaime Alvarez | Matt Schnell | Alex Pantoja | Ronaldo Candido | Brandon Moreno | Eric Shelton | Matt Rizzo | Hiromasa Ogikubo | Tim Elliott | Terrence Mitchell | Adam Antolin
The Tachi Palace promotion is notable for giving Ian McCall his boost into the big show once he established himself as a flyweight there, and it has put an emphasis on the 125-pounders over the years. In November of last year, Antolin got his shot in the show and delivered a second-round submission of Alex Perez to win the TPF belt. The Ultimate Fighter is next up, and it’s almost full circle for Antolin, who tried out for season 14 of the reality series in 2011.
“I made it through the grappling process, the striking process, and I went to the interview and they liked me, but they just thought I was too small, and rightfully so because those guys are pretty big,” he recalled. “They said come back when we do a show with 125 pounds.”
Five years later, Adam Antolin is back. And he plans on staying a while.
“Hard work, right place, right time.”