Eric Spicely is a contestant on Season 23 of The Ultimate Fighter: Team Joanna vs Team Claudia. He will be offering episode previews and insights from his time on the show throughout the season.
Episode 1 – First time for everything
Arriving in Las Vegas and getting ready for weigh-ins for the fights to get into the house was completely surreal. We all arrived a few days before and were hanging out and talking. It didn’t feel real, like we were all about to fight in a couple of days, mostly because we didn’t know against whom. We all sat in the workout room before weigh-ins joking and laughing and even during weigh-ins there were a lot of conversations going on.
Then once we got to the gym for fight picks it all got real.
More from Episode 1 of The Ultimate Fighter: Team Joanna vs Team Claudia: Scouting report, notes and all the elimination fights | Episode 1 recap | Fighter blogs: Eric Spicely: First time for everything, Amanda Cooper: This is my chance
Suddenly no one was talking and laughing anymore. It felt like everyone was sizing each other up. Anyone could be a potential opponent for the biggest chance of a lifetime. (UFC President) Dana White made the fight picks and everyone squared off and the place was silent. We went into fight mode. We left and headed back to our hotel rooms. It was kind of crazy how things switched so fast.
I was matched up with Kenneth Bergh - probably one of the biggest guys and covered from the neck down in tattoos, one of the only guys I had not done research on. I had said to myself: 'Well it looks like I’m going home.' This also kind of made me very calm. I don’t put a lot of pressure on myself when it comes to fighting. I know what I’m capable of.
It was very different to not have your coaches there warming you up. Everyone in the back looked nervous. You walked into The Ultimate Fighter Gym and it was silent. It was a completely new experience: no music, no friends or family there to cheer you on. I had just found out who I was fighting the night before, where I’m used to having eight weeks to prepare and study my opponent. But I made due and made my walk into the historic Ultimate Fighter Gym.
My fight was very quick, I slipped a jab and took him down right away and went to work. He tried to stand up and work a guillotine. I took him back down and immediately took his back and rear naked choked him. That’s the best case scenario for a tournament like this. You want to win and not get hurt and be able to fight again right away. I didn’t even get touched. I sat and watched the other fights studying each fighter.
After the fights were over we did team selection. I was hoping to be on Team Joanna, as I warmed up in the red corner and I was really excited about working with BJJ champion Robert Drysdale. I was selected as the second male fighter on Team Claudia after Andrew Sanchez. He and I bonded very quickly as we are both grapplers. I said when we get to the house let’s try to get a room together if you get in there first. We ran in and Andrew claimed our room, a smaller room with three beds which I was thankful for. The house was beautiful. It was very surreal to have been there after watching so many seasons of The Ultimate Fighter and to now be living in the house was a dream come true. The house had everything you could want: a pool, a hot tub … brand new everything. It was hard to sleep with no doors and all the lights on in the house, as well as the noise, but you slowly get used to it.
We had our first training session shortly after and it was brutal. They put us right to work and they worked us hard. The first day we were sparring and doing shark tank drills. Two of our teammates were injured and couldn’t train with us so it was just Andrew and I. We pushed each other hard and fed off each other. We made a pact that we would be there for each other and always work hard since we were down two male members. I have never trained twice a day for six days in a row and it was incredibly tough. It really made me question if I wanted to really do this full time as a career.
At first I didn’t think I could do it. I was sorer than I have ever been in my life and these practices were not like at home. You didn’t have your friends and your jokes. It was just right down to business non-stop for two hours. There was also a bit of a language barrier which made it difficult at first. Our boxing coach didn’t speak an ounce of English and was coaching full practices in Portuguese. I remember at one point Andrew and I looked at each other and we both just knew that we were thinking: 'man what the hell is going on.'
We knew we were going to be in for one crazy ride.