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Exclusive: Sean O’Connell Breaks Down the ‘TUF’ Experience

Sean O'Connell MMA UFC The Ultimate Fighter
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When Sean O’Connell made his MMA debut in April of last year, he had no fight training outside of a few cardio kickboxing classes. Somehow, he knocked out his opponent in 36 seconds. Then, he knocked out his next two opponents, both early in the first round. By November, O’Connell was 5-1 and had earned the heavyweight title of the Ultimate Combat Experience, a local promotion in his native Salt Lake City. It was then that Sean decided he should probably join a gym.

Just being picked as one of the 32 hopefuls for The Ultimate Fighter 8 would be enough of a success story for the up-and-coming fighter — even if he did get eliminated in his first match by Shane Primm. But for Sean, his brief brush with the Octagon is only one stop on his journey as a fighter, of which there are many more to come. We recently chatted with Sean to find out what it’s like being on TUF, from the audition process to the moment when Dana White asks you to please get the fuck out.


How did you become involved in mixed martial arts?
I was a football player in college, and after I graduated I felt like I needed something to keep me in shape and keep me competing — I didn’t want to just be done and get fat like everyone else does when they stop playing sports. What really got me interested was probably the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. I’d seen UFC fights before, but that’s what turned me on to how intense the training was, and how much went into it. So I followed it for a few years, and then I decided to try my hand at it. I wanted to prove to myself that I was as tough as I thought I was.

I got in touch with the Ultimate Combat Experience, which does a show here every weekend, and they set me up with an opponent. I went in and knocked the guy out, so I figured I’d keep going. But I didn’t really join a gym officially until after my sixth fight. I got a sponsor to pay for my training at Jeremy Horn’s Elite Performance, and from then on I’ve been training with Jeremy and trying to make my game a little more well-rounded.

How did you come to the attention of the UFC?
One of the guys who trains at our gym, Nick Rossborough, was on the season before as a middleweight. He was still in contact with the producers and put in a good word for me, because the buzz was they were going to do a season with light-heavyweights. I felt like, hey, maybe I’m ready to do this, so I sent in the highlight reel of my fights, and I went out to the live audition in Boston after having several phone conversations with the Spike TV producers. I went through the process and ended up getting selected.