As the return of The Ultimate Fighter approaches on June 1 (airing exclusively on ESPN+), we’re taking a look back at some of the show’s notable graduates and where they were at when they were competing to win the toughest tournament in sports.
This girl was beautiful, 12 on a 10-scale beautiful. So when she told Dorian Price to make the trip over the bridge from his school, Hampton University, to meet her at Virginia Beach, he was there, no questions asked.
“I couldn’t wait to tell all my boys about her, because she was bad,” recalled Price, who proceeded to make the 30-minute drive over the bridge to wait.
And wait…and wait…
Watch The Return Of The Ultimate Fighter June 1 With Your ESPN+ Subscription
“I’m waiting, and she never shows up,” said Price. “I call her, and she goes ‘yeah, I decided I really don’t want to deal with you, so be safe driving back.’ That was cold, but at least she said to be safe driving back.”
Like most of these matters, Price can joke about it now, but at the time, it was no laughing matter. He was embarrassed and knew he couldn’t drive back to school because he was going to hear it from an unsympathetic group of his buddies. So Price drove around a bit and came upon a martial arts school called the Linxx Academy. As a fan of martial arts, he decided to go inside, hang out for a while and just waste time until he could drive back to his dorm.
While there, Price saw the class of the night being taught by Frank Cucci. It was the art of Muay Thai, and Price was immediately smitten. But as a college student trying to make ends meet, money for classes wasn’t an option. So he offered to clean the mats at the gym. Cucci agreed, and suddenly, being stood up on a date led Dorian Price to a discipline which has changed his life and helped bring him not only to mixed martial arts, but to the sixth season of The Ultimate Fighter reality show.
“I would describe it as a beautiful, deadly dance,” said Price of Muay Thai. “And I think what attracts me is the art and the discipline you get in Muay Thai. Not to say there’s not discipline in MMA, but MMA’s kind of a hybrid thing. I find that there are a lot more guys in MMA with egos and things to prove, and Thai Boxing is very, very disciplined and I find a lot more people that are more humble in it. I just think it’s a beautiful art form. There’s nowhere to hide in Thai Boxing. In MMA, you can go to the ground and do the lay and pray, but in Thai Boxing, you’ve got to man up. There are only two ways out of there – you’re either going to the decision or you’re going out cold. There are no submissions, no way to tap out – when you’re in there, you’re in there for the long haul. And to me, that teaches more discipline and it teaches perseverance more so than MMA.”
MORE TUF FLASHBACKS: James Krause | Lauren Murphy
But discipline and perseverance had been instilled in Price long before his first Muay Thai class. Born and raised in West Baltimore (a rough part of the city that has been immortalized in the HBO series The Wire), Price had plenty of opportunities to take the wrong path, but it was something his parents wouldn’t allow.
“A lot of people in my situation don’t even have a father in the picture, and I’ve been blessed to have a mother and a father around,” he said. “I have two great parents. A lot of friends I had didn’t have that.”
That’s not to say Price was an angel, as his first two years in high school were less than stellar examples of academic excellence – that is, when he showed up at all.
RETURN OF TUF PROFILES: Aaron Phillips | Ryder Newman | Dustin Lampros | Andre Petroski | Brady Hiestand | Gilbert Urbina
“In ninth and tenth grade I would show up at school with a basketball to see if I could get enough people for a 3 on 3 game,” said Price. “And if no one wanted to go, I would go myself and shoot jumpshots all day. I never really went to school, and when I went I wasn’t really paying attention.”
His parents weren’t having it though, and when the opportunity came up for him to go to Connecticut to enroll in the Avon Old Farms boarding school, his father and his mother (who was nicknamed ‘The Saint of Baltimore’ for her tendency to have an open door policy for local kids who needed refuge in her home) jumped at the opportunity.
“When’s the soonest I can have him up there, because I can put him on the train tomorrow,” asked his mother.
Best Finishes From The Ultimate Fighter
Best Finishes From The Ultimate Fighter
Once in Connecticut, Price – who was forced to repeat 10th grade - got a crash course in life at boarding school, where it was far from a country club atmosphere. Living in a room where a hole had to be cut in a closet so his feet could fit when he slept, Price – like all first year students – washed dishes, wore the school uniform, and when he misbehaved he was forced to shovel snow or do “something that was not cool.”
Funny thing was, he didn’t mind it.
“I didn’t want to go away from home, but I was smart enough to realize that I needed to do something,” he said. “It was the perfect school for me because it was a school that taught discipline.”
And the lessons he learned stuck with him. He went on to Hampton University and later got his MBA from Ohio State with a specialization in Health Care Administration. But despite the fact that he could make a living in whatever he chose to do, there was something about fighting that still had a hold on him.
Watch Previous Seasons Of TUF On UFC Fight Pass
“I enjoy fighting,” he said. “I have other options, I was doing fine financially, and I could make money doing other things, but doing other things wasn’t as rewarding. Fighting is what I enjoy and I love doing it. I’ve had a lot of pains in my life which fighting helps me release – it’s cheaper than therapy.”
One of those pains was losing three of his closest friends within a three-week period – one died in a car accident and two were murdered. It made Price look at life in a different way, to approach each day as if it may be his last. That attitude shaped him as a kickboxer, and while at Ohio State, it also led him to the sport of mixed martial arts.
“When I was in Columbus I went looking for a Thai Boxing school,” he recalled. “I found one and ended up sparring the instructor and knocking him out. (Laughs) I said ‘Oh man, this is not cool. I’ve only got 14 fights and I’m not that good, I shouldn’t be knocking this guy out.’
Plus, the school was far from traditional when it came to the art, prompting Price to begin another search. By chance, he happened to run into two legends of the game, former UFC champions Mark Coleman and Kevin Randleman, who encouraged the kickboxer to give MMA a try. He did, and after getting submitted in an amateur fight in 2003, he decided he liked it.
“I got choked out,” said Price. “But I said ‘This ain’t too bad. If I learn a little bit more jiu-jitsu, I’ll be okay.’”
Price learned a little more jiu-jitsu – very little. In fact, according to him, the only move that mattered on the mat was the triangle choke, a move that came in handy with his long limbs if he happened to get taken down.
“The one move I had was the triangle choke,” he laughs. “I drilled that triangle a hundred times a day. I didn’t know nothing else, but I drilled that triangle.”
Six of Price’s eight wins have subsequently ended via submission, four of those subs coming via triangle choke. Go figure.
“They brought me along slow and I wasn’t fighting studs at first,” he chuckles. “That helps.”
This early resume, along with his story and personality allowed Price - who has also trained with Jorge Gurgel and Rich Franklin – to land a spot on The Ultimate Fighter show, where he became a member of former UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes’ team.
TUF Moments: Cody vs TJ Coaches Challenge | Free TUF Fight: Scott Smith vs Pete Sell
“I picked up a real intense work ethic,” said Price of his time with Hughes. “Workouts with him were tough and you learn the mindset of refusing to lose and refusing to give up. I’ve always been a fan of wrestlers because of the mindset they had, and he epitomizes that mindset of just absolute drive. I think that intensity is the biggest thing I took away that’s gonna help me in my fighting career.”
Price would be eliminated from the competition on week two when he was submitted in the first round by Matt Arroyo, a result that seemed to be a foregone conclusion once Arroyo survived a solid knee to the head and took Price to the mat.
“I think that flying knee should have changed the result because that was a good knee I landed,” said Price of the fight. “But I don’t take anything away from Matt Arroyo. He’s a ground guy, and once it got to the ground, I knew I was gonna be in deep waters; there was no question about that.”
After six weeks on the show though, Price has upped his ground game, and he believes he’s taken his work on the mat to a new level in the last three weeks since moving to New York City and making the commute to Long Island to train with Matt Serra.
Yes, Matt Serra.
“I started bothering him on the show about how I’m from the east coast and he didn’t pick me,” said Price of this odd union. “Matt Serra took a liking to me from the beginning, and when the show was over, he said his door was always open to me. I then had some difficulties at the gym I was at, and I wanted to get back to the east coast, so I gave him a call to kinda call his bluff, and he was a man of his word. He’s taken me in and it’s been great for me.”
And while Price promises some “craziness” over the rest of the season on The Ultimate Fighter, what you won’t see is any drama with Price and Hughes. In fact, Hughes’ team also offered him a spot at their new gym in St. Louis. But with the gym still getting off its feet and Serra offering Price a spot first, he followed his heart.
“(TUF6 assistant coaches) Matt Pena, Robbie Lawler, and Coach (Marc) Fiore are guys I have a great deal of respect for, and they extended an offer to me to become a Thai Boxing instructor at their gym, but I just needed somewhere to train and Serra was the first guy to make the offer to me,” explained Price, who promises some new wrinkles in his game the next time fight fans see him in action.
“This time they’re gonna see that flying knee and somebody’s head popping off and landing in the first row,” he said. “My skills will be better, but I’m sticking with what got me here, and that’s Thai Boxing. Learning Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and learning how to be better on the ground is gonna make my Thai Boxing better. If I’m not afraid to go to the ground, then they’re gonna see some amazing striking. I don’t want to put my fate in three judges’ hands. I’m going out with a blaze of glory one way or another and I’m not going to a judges’ decision.”
What about all that jiu-jitsu though?
“I told Matt Serra to teach me a flying armbar because I’m liable to try it.”