Is Bobby Southworth the monster he made himself out to be in the fifth episode of the original TUF season? Or are our memories intentionally shortened?
Upon entering the TUF house, nobody had any background on any of the fighters, regional MMA may as well have been nonexistent and social media barely existed. The entire thing was up in the air. Only one thing was abundantly clear and that was Jason Thacker’s place amongst the rest of the fighters.
Training in an abandoned truck stop, Thacker fought like it and won nobody’s respect early, earning him the brunt of in-house pranks and an unflattering nickname, “Strange Brew.”
So discouraged by his performance in comparison to the rest of the cast, Thacker had given up already. He was skipping practice and would take his licks and removal from the show as they came. It was already decided.
Fighters were halfheartedly coaxing him to join the practice before stating in interviews they weren’t going to hold his hand. One fighter and one fighter only gave enough honest encouragement and motivation to change Thacker’s mind.
“I felt bad for him. Obviously, he didn’t belong there but he was there. I’ve always been a martial arts instructor,” Southworth said. “If you help this guy to get better it’s sooner rather than later that you’ve got another training partner to push you, so it's like a circular thing. Some people aren’t iron, but they need a little tempering. I don’t know if Jason was going to do that but that’s just where my mind was at. It wasn’t helping any of the seasoned veterans at that time to pick on this kid.”
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It was a shock to nobody when Thacker was the first fighter cut. On his way out, the last man to bid him farewell was Southworth. “Keep your chin up, square your shoulders. Stand up strong. Walk out of here like the warrior you are,” Southworth encouraged as Thacker disappeared into an obscurity that lasted years. Without a friend in the house or a prayer in the world, Thacker always had Southworth to lean on and always would have.
“Everybody was trying to f*** him up,” Southworth said. “It was obvious he didn’t have a lot of skill, so a lot of the guys would kind of use him to make themselves look better. I thought that was kind of weak. I would have continued to push him as long as I saw a desire. I’m a coach at heart, and as long as I saw a desire and a will to compete in the daily training sessions, then I definitely would have encouraged him.”
One week later, TUF fans watched as the overweight Southworth was given the task of fighting first. Coming into the show far into the heavyweight weight limit, Southworth had a brutal cut to make 206 pounds. It was dangerous and ill-advised and thankfully nobody in TUF history has since attempted such a feat. But it takes a different kind of grit and a different kind of animal to accomplish that weight cut.
Yet after making the weight, Southworth further proved what kind of competitor he was when he knocked out Lodune Sincaid in only 12 seconds.
The world was introduced to Southworth by immediately seeing his heart and his determination. In just two weeks it would all come crashing down.
Dana White and the Fertitta brothers treated the fighters to a restaurant with an open bar and backstage seats to a Kid Rock concert…also with an open bar. When middleweight young gun Diego Sanchez was hit pretty hard by the night out, TUF house wild card Chris Leben just couldn’t resist the urge to tee off. What did it cause? The collective fight world to forever change their opinions on Bobby Southworth after a very regrettable exchange.
“Chris was making fun of him and that was where him and I had the faceoff,” Southworth recalls. “It started because I asked him to stop messing with Diego because he was on a bad one; stop giving him so hard of a time. Chris was like, ‘f*** you.’ So we had the square off and I called him a fatherless bastard. Obviously, it wasn’t my highest point.”
Hours later Leben was asleep in the backyard a little too close to a hose for a crew of fired-up fighters.
“It was meant to be all in fun,” Southworth said. “He was sleeping on this little rise, so his feet were going downhill and his head was at a higher point. The prank was to let the hose trickle downhill so that his sleeping bag would be wet. I turned the water on and Koscheck was supposed to put the hose down but instead he put it in Chris’s face.”
Leben came unhinged and went on a destructive rampage so memorable that fans to this day have forgotten Southworth’s desire to push Jason Thacker when nobody else would and push through a 20-pound weight cut long before a UFC fighter was the highest earning athlete alive.
“It was meant to be funny,” Southworth explained. “I wanted us to turn the hose on and run back so that basically he was going to wake up all wet and not know who did it to him and come back and we all would get a laugh out of it. I didn’t think it would be a big deal but after our negative confrontation it wasn’t the best decision.”
The tirade at the house was far from the last of Southworth’s worries. The world was about to see Southworth at his absolute worst. The lowest point in his life was about to be on basic cable for everybody, including parents who were already on the fence about his MMA career, to see.
“It’s almost like the little kid who got caught stealing the candy bar and the shopkeeper caught him and called home,” Southworth said. “When you get all the way home you know your mom is going to be at the door waiting. I think I kind of went cold for a minute.”
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To this day, Southworth’s night earns him disapproving headshakes and charmless places in top 10 lists across the internet. Years later, Southworth doesn’t point out that it was Koscheck pointing the hose at Leben or that the incident started in a drunken attempt to stick up for a friend. The only finger he points is at his students that he has been coaching for almost a quarter of a century.
Is he happy about his image stemming from the groundbreaking series now in its 29th season? Not thrilled, but he finds a very true outlook on the whole experience.
“If you really watch the show, I think I’m the only guy you truly see both sides of them,” said Southworth. “You see the good type of person I can be, and you see the bad type of person I can be. Anybody could have been made to be a hero and anybody could have been made to be a villain, but I was the only one in the storyline that was really made to be both.”
So who was Bobby Southworth? Is he the helping hand of Jason Thacker, the 20 pounds in 24 hours competitor or the one who stirred up a horrible drunken tirade? The choice is yours to make, but don’t make it without taking all three angles into account.
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