Even though the goal of The Ultimate Fighter is to watch an athlete emerge with a UFC contract and graduate to a fresh start in the Octagon, not all prospective competitors on the series have the same end game in mind.
Some want to get the experience that comes with training with top level coaches for six weeks. Some simply want to get their name out there to use for future marketing, and others just want that dose of reality show fame. But Allan Zuniga’s intention was clear from the moment he heard about the tryouts for TUF: Undefeated in Las Vegas. So when asked where he saw himself in his career at that moment…
“I saw my career in the UFC,” he said.
That’s an answer that’s as real as it gets, and with that kind of single-minded focus – and a perfect 13-0 pro MMA record – it’s no surprise that he found his way onto the show, even though he believed he was on the verge of being in the Octagon without the aid of the TUF competition.
“I thought my call to the UFC was close,” said the 26-year-old, who faced more obstacles than his castmates due to the fact that he doesn’t speak English.
“It was somewhat complicated, but I knew how to handle it,” said the Team Miocic lightweight, who faces Team Cormier’s Richie Smullen on Wednesday night’s episode.
What may have been more of an issue was that while the majority of the cast of TUF 27 come from renowned camps or at least from places where MMA is already a part of the combat sports culture, Zuniga arrived in the competition from Costa Rica, which isn’t exactly a hotbed for the sport. But “Tigre” believes it won’t be too long before his country starts producing UFC-level talent.
“It (MMA) is of a good level,” he said. “It’s the best level of Latin America, it just needs more exposure. And the level of MMA in Costa Rica is still progressing more and more.”
Leading the charge is Zuniga, a pro since 2010 who owns a 2016 victory over UFC vet Marcin Bandel. The win showed his potential, but it still has to be scary for his family to see him being the trailblazer in a sport that still isn’t mainstream in their country.
“My family has reacted with nerves, but also pride and confidence in me,” said Zuniga, who doesn’t rule out an eventual trip elsewhere to train. But not until he has done what he set out to do with his team at home.
“It is always good to learn from all places, although I must finish learning and growing in Costa Rica with my team, Mandarina MMA.”
Loyal, focused and ambitious. What more could you want from a fighter? Zuniga plans on giving that to fans every time he fights.
“They should expect someone who gives everything in the Octagon and fights to the end.”