Johnny Nunez would prefer to be talking about his late call to The Ultimate Fighter: Redemption show and the bout airing tonight against James Krause, but duty called for the Las Vegan, who stepped up and made his voice heard when the wrestling program at his alma mater, Boise State University, was cut on April 18.
“He (school president Bob Kustra) decided to cut the program for a baseball program that he’s been working on for about two years, that he called his ‘pet project,’” said Nunez, the disappointment still evident in his voice.
“This is happening a lot lately,” he continued. “But for it to be Boise State, it was a stab in the back. The whole five years I went there, Bob Kustra would get in front of all the athletes at our luncheon and tell us that we would add programs before we cut programs. And he contradicted himself. Kids signed letters of intent and now all those kids are screwed. That’s not right.”
It’s not, and anytime a program is cut, it hits home to fans and alumni, but especially to the athletes and their families, forcing some hard decisions and often the abandonment of a dream. As for Nunez, he doesn’t hesitate when asked what college wrestling meant to him.
“I wouldn’t be where I’m at right now if it wasn’t for college wrestling,” he said. “I wouldn’t have gone through high school undefeated and had the dream to be going to college and getting a scholarship. And if I wouldn’t have been in that situation, I wouldn’t have started doing jiu-jitsu with Scott Jorgensen and looked up to Jens Pulver and those guys who wrestled at Boise State as well. It hit me really, really hard and I think it does that to anybody who loses their home school’s wrestling program.”
So Nunez is graciously giving up talking about himself and his time in the TUF 25 house to discuss Boise State wrestling and garner support for the cause. UFC President Dana White and former UFC women’s bantamweight champion Miesha Tate have already made their voices heard, and it’s given Nunez hope that something can be done to bring the program back.
“It’s one of the oldest sports,” he said. “Kids love to wrestle and it makes them such better people and better athletes. Even if you’re not a wrestling fan, support the dream of a high school kid going to college.”
Clearly geared up and ready to go for this fight, it’s fitting that the 31-year-old picked up the phone and made a late entry into the TUF 25 tournament after Hector Urbina left the house after not making weight for his first bout. The lightweight, who appeared on TUF 22 as well, didn’t even ask what division was being featured this season. He was in.
“I don’t think they picked me to go in at the beginning because I was smaller,” he said. “But I was pretty excited to even be in the mix to get on the ‘Redemption’ show. That was great. Before I thought about it, my first reaction was, ‘Yes, I’ll do it, I’ll fight.’ I didn’t even know what weight class it was and I didn’t care.”
Nunez’ reasoning was simple: he wanted to get that UFC contract. If he does, that’s one goal off the “To do” list. If he doesn’t, he’s not going away until he does.
“My main goal (with TUF 25) is to get into the UFC, and just to have the opportunity to come back and do this again is a blessing already,” he said. “I’ve already got so much out of this sport and I could honestly retire next year and be happy, but I still have some goals to reach.”
And he’s willing to fight bigger and stronger opponents to do it. It’s a mindset shared by his peers on the show, all of whom are seeking redemption in one way, shape or form.
“I think a lot of guys were really a lot more mature,” Nunez said. “Even the guys who messed up the first time like Julian Lane and Jesse Taylor, those guys were so much mature because they knew what they really wanted and they knew this was it.”
Yet win or lose, Nunez makes it clear that he left nothing on the table during those six weeks in the competition.
“One thing that (TUF coach) Cody Garbrandt told me to do was seize the moment, and that’s what I did.”