September 14, 2010
Fighter appearing on reality television show
Spencer Paige will compete with 27 other contestants on Spike’s ‘The Ultimate Fighter 12’
CORTLANDVILLE — Spencer Paige was about 5 years old when he learned that he could take on other people in martial arts and win, physically and mentally.
He has kept on competing, first in karate and then in the rising sport of mixed martial arts, starting to fight professionally as a SUNY Cortland student and teaching it.
Now the 24-year-old will be on national TV, competing on Spike TV’s reality show “The Ultimate Fighter 12” on Wednesday.
The show, created by Las Vegas-based Ultimate Fighting Championship, brings 28 fighters together to battle for UFC contracts. Fourteen are eliminated after individual fights and the other 14 are divided into two teams coached by UFC fighters, in this case Josh Koscheck and Georges St-Pierre.
The 14 contestants move into a house and the ones who are eliminated are not sent home right away, because sometimes they are put back into competition. The fighters are deprived of entertainment or contact with the outside world, as they train and fight. They are eliminated one by one until two are left for the final fight and a six-figure UFC contract.
Paige cannot say, due to his contract, whether he was chosen to live in the house or how he fared in the fighting. He said people will need to see the show to find out.
The show airs every Wednesday, leading to a Dec. 4 finale between the two remaining fighters.
Paige trained the past several years at Central New York MMA, a gym at the J.M. McDonald Center, working with Cortland native and “Ultimate Fighter 7” veteran Erik Charles. He now coaches and teaches at CNYMMA’s gym in Watertown where he lives.
The 5-foot-8 Paige fights in the 155-pound division. He had a 7-2 record prior to taping the show and has not fought lately, waiting for the show to reach its end.
Paige, a native of Norwood in St. Lawrence County, ended up training at CNYMMA while studying kinesiology at SUNY Cortland.
He said that for the TV show, all 28 fighters are shut off from the world for six weeks while the show is produced, because some of the fighters cut initially could be brought back as wild cards. The men not chosen to live in the house stay at a hotel, in single rooms.
“No cell phone, no computer, no books, no journals, nothing but training four hours a day and fighting,” said Paige during a visit to CNYMMA’s training center. “I called my girlfriend and told her I wouldn’t be talking to her for six weeks. When you get there, they take everything. Your clothes too. You just have the clothes and gear they provide while you train and fight.”
And argue. The show puts aggressive, athletic young men together with little to do except talk and pick on each other.
Cameras follow their rivalries and comments about each other.
The strict rules enforced by UFC President Dana White prohibit the fighters from contact with the outside world, which includes seeing women, let alone talking to them. Paige said they watched for women or even images of them on billboards as they traveled by van to the gym.
Paige’s path to the TV show started with nine years of karate lessons in Canton, about 10 miles from his home.
He dreamed of playing baseball professionally and went to St. Lawrence University to pursue the sport, but did not fit in very well socially and dropped out.
While working for his home village’s public works department, Paige began to train as a mixed martial arts fighter. He was inspired by the light heavyweight final fight in the first “Ultimate Fighter” show in 2005, where Forrest Griffin defeated Stephan Bonnar but White offered contracts to both fighters.
“The show didn’t have very good ratings until that fight, when a million people tuned in — that really made the UFC,” he said.
He began to teach others, at gyms in the region, discovering he was a good instructor. He enrolled at SUNY Cortland to get his college education back on track and started training with the college’s jiu-jitsu club, with Tamdan McCrory, who became a UFC fighter.
Paige left the college in 2007, one semester shy of his degree, and devoted his time to help Charles manage CNYMMA. Like Paige, Charles had been inspired by the finale of the first “Ultimate Fighter,” which he says launched the sport into the public consciousness. The UFC has grown into a multimillion-dollar business through pay-per-view.
CNYMMA got a boost when Charles fought on “Ultimate Fighter” — one fight at 185 pounds, which he lost. He says it did not cause dramatic change, and he has turned down UFC offers to try out for the show again, plus the show no longer has fighters in the larger divisions.
But his appearance added a dash of fame.
“My one fight on that show, I lost in front of a million people but I learned a lot,” Charles said. “It was a little bump of fame, then it went away. But people remember how you represented yourself when you were there. I want Spencer’s being on the show to generate positives for us, so people see this sport is more than just knuckleheads fighting.”
Paige tried out for “Ultimate Fighter 8” and was not chosen, but the producers remembered him. For this version of the show, where all of the fighters are in his weight division, he began with 80 to 100 other fighters competing in Charlotte, N.C., in April.
Then the UFC flew him to Las Vegas in May for psychological tests and interviews with the show’s producers, to gauge his personality as well as his fighting potential. The producers asked him to return for the show’s taping in June and July.
Paige said he wants the roughly 800 students at CNYMMA’s three gyms in Cortlandville, Watertown and Binghamton to see him on the TV show and watch how he conducted himself, because he tried not to appear cocky.
“They knew I disappeared for six weeks, they didn’t know why,” he said. “A lot of people who will watch the show really look up to me. I wanted to represent us well.”
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