TUF 14: Five fighters to keep an eye on
NEWARK -- Several hundred featherweight and bantamweight fighters packed the Marriott at Newark Liberty International Airport on Monday. Each man had one goal in common: to earn a spot on Season 14 of "The Ultimate Fighter." Walking through the hotel lobby, it was impossible to pick which fighters were most likely to survive the first round of tryouts.
But separating prospects from wannabes became easier when grappling and striking sessions commenced.
About 50 fighters at a time were called into Grand Ballrooms D and E. Awaiting their arrival were UFC president Dana White and matchmaker Joe Silva.
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Less than half the fighters would advance beyond the grappling and striking drills. Those who did not were advised to keep their chins up, work on their skills, improve their records and return for a future tryout.
Next for the survivors was a brief interview with the show's producers. Their fates won't be known for a few weeks.
It's too early in the process to say who will be called to Las Vegas; the interview process was private. But five fighters stood out during the grappling and striking sessions, each of them likely leaving strong impressions on White and Silva.
John Fraser: Possibly the most unassuming fighter at the tryouts. During warm-ups, the baby-faced featherweight went virtually unnoticed. When the grappling began, however, Fraser caught the eye of everyone in the room. No one combined quickness and technical skills quite like him.
During stand-up drills, his punches and kicks were sharp. He also displayed very good balance.
Fraser, who trains at Team Supreme in Sarnia, Ontario, came to the tryouts prepared to succeed on Day 1.
"This is my second time giving this a shot," Fraser told ESPN.com. "I tried out for 'The Ultimate Fighter 5' at lightweight. I didn't bother for a while, because I'm no lightweight, that's for sure.
"I talked to Joe Silva about two years ago, and he told me there are two ways to get in: either keep fighting and winning -- and I'm doing that -- or try out for 'The Ultimate Fighter.'"
Since returning to action in 2009 after a three-year hiatus, Fraser has won four fights in a row. His professional record is 7-3-0.
"Jiu-jitsu is my strength," Fraser said. "But confidence is my biggest strength. I go into fights, no nerves. I let my hands fly and never worry about getting taken down. If that happens, I always have my jiu-jitsu to back me up there.
"I have good boxing; I have good jiu-jitsu. I am happy wherever I go."
John Robles: A 28-year-old bantamweight who calls PKG Training Center in Los Angeles home, Robles has only four professional fights under his belt -- all victories.
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But what he lacks in experience, Robles offsets with a strong desire to quickly learn as much as possible.
"I'm very new to MMA, but I keep my mouth shut and my ears open and hope to do my best," Robles told ESPN.com. "My base discipline is jiu-jitsu, but I'm well-rounded.
"[Being] that I'm new to MMA -- I'm not a wrestler; I'm not a boxer -- I don't get stuck in a zone. I get out there and feel things out, and whatever happens, happens."
Carson Beebe: If his name sounds familiar, it's because this 135-pounder is the younger brother of former WEC bantamweight champion Chase Beebe.
But Carson is determined to step outside his brother's shadow. Making it on to TUF would go a long way toward helping him achieve that goal.
"I absorbed all the knowledge I could from [Chase], from his experience," Carson, 22, told ESPN.com. "But throughout my career I've been known as Chase Beebe's little brother, and I'm tired of it. I'm ready to make a name for myself, and right now is when I'm going to do it."
Beebe is 6-0-0 as a pro. Wrestling is his base discipline, but his stand-up continues to show improvement. His jiu-jitsu makes him dangerous on the ground.
John Dodson: Becoming TUF Season 14 bantamweight champion is just the first stage of Dodson's long-term goal: He intends to hold multiple titles.
It won't be easy. The 5-foot-3 Dodson has been competing recently at flyweight.
"It gives me a chance to put flyweights on the map," Dodson told ESPN.com. "I want to let everybody know that the flyweights are here to stay.
"I want to hold titles at 125, 135 and 145, and I want to hold them all at once. It doesn't matter in what order I get them. I just want to hold all three titles."
Dodson will rely heavily on quickness to offset his size disadvantage. But his greatest weapon could be his fun-loving attitude.
"Fighting isn't that you have to be mad at somebody," said Dodson, who is 11-5-0. "You can be fighting your best friend and be buddy-buddy afterward.
"I go out and have a drink with most of the people I fight anyways. I usually buy the drink, even if I lose."
Charon Spain: It wasn't physical skill but personality that helped Spain stand out from the other TUF hopefuls.
The 23-year-old featherweight says he's 4-1-0 as a pro. ESPN.com could not verify his record, though a few websites appear to support his claim.
Spain didn't overwhelm during the grappling session, but his striking skills raised eyebrows. If Spain connects flush with a punch or kick, his opponent is likely to go to sleep.
"I'm a stand-up fighter; I like to go out there and bang," Spain told ESPN.com. "That's my thing. I came from a boxing background to kickboxing. But now all my wins are by submission as a pro.
"I'm a freestyle fighter, so wherever the fight takes me, I go there and finish it off."
If Spain earns a spot on TUF, his outward enthusiasm won't go unnoticed. He'll definitely be fun to watch.
Franklin McNeil covers MMA and boxing for ESPN.com. He also appears regularly on "MMA Live," which airs on ESPN2. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/Franklin_McNeil.
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