Australian mixed martial artist Vik Grujic is one of the stars of The Ultimate Fighter: Nations, Australia vs Canada, currently airing on FX. Throughout the series, Vik will present to The New Daily readers an exclusive live blog detailing his thoughts and experiences, post TUF Nations. Log on to The New Daily every Friday for Vik’s weekly blog.
Martial arts has been my passion for … well, as long as I can remember! I had a very poor upbringing. The youngest of three children, raised by a single mother, I looked up to Bruce Lee, his teachings and example playing a major role in my development and philosophy towards martial arts.
It’s been a 26-year journey studying martial arts, but it was only six years ago that I walked into a dojo keen to try my hand at Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ). Within six months, I had won gold medals in the Victorian Jiu-Jitsu Championships and the Pan Pacific Jiu-Jitsu Championships. Not only did I pick up some medals, I also picked up my nickname. Carrying my “war beard” in competition, I was told of my resemblance to Leonidas from the movie, 300. It wasn’t long before I was known as “The Spartan”!
I had my first MMA fight on November 22, 2008, just 10 months after beginning training. But that was nothing compared a much bigger battle that I had ahead of me. Two weeks after my first MMA fight, I was scheduled to have the first of two operations to remove my thyroid gland — the result of cancer. The second operation took place just days before my third daughter was born, and I spent her first few months in and out of the house as I trained and completed radiation therapy. Still, just three months after my second operation, I was back in the ring for my second fight! Fighting in life and in the ring go hand in hand I guess!
My journey to The Ultimate Fighter: Nations, Australia vs Canada has featured a lot of ups and downs. The past 10 years has consisted of a lot of struggling to simply survive and keep my head above water on a weekly basis. As recently as last May, I was preparing to fight on the AFC against a tough opponent … on the same day I had an eviction notice served on myself and my family.
To get to this point in my career, it’s been seven days a week of hard labour: Training at night for two to three hours, facing the stress of losing my home, trying my best to prepare for a big fight. Working seven days a week for months has meant sacrificing valuable time with my family. No support. No help. Just hard work!
Episode 1 — The Ultimate Fighter: Nations, Australia vs Canada
The tryouts were a big deal. I was convinced by a friend to send my application, as I didn’t even consider myself a contender. I had to ask for a friend to sponsor my trip to Sydney and my accommodation, as I simply couldn’t afford it. I recall rolling with (fellow Team Australia member) Tyler Manawaroa in the first stage of the process. I was surprised and amazed I made it through to the final selection stage.
Just those few days in Sydney being a part of the process was like a dream come true. You can only imagine how I felt after weeks of nervous anticipation when I received the call at work that I made it onto the show. I was scared. Happy. Shocked. I rang my wife and explained to her what I was told and listened as she burst into tears with happiness. I walked out of my job in commercial painting and I have never looked back!
After leaving my family behind in Melbourne I headed to Sydney for the trip to Montreal, Canada. This was not an easy trip. The flight to Vancouver was delayed for 10 hours, so all of the Team Australia boys spent the day at Zein Saliba’s house. Then, in Vancouver, we had to stay in a hotel overnight for our flight to Montreal. Then, it was a journey from the Sheraton in Montreal onto the house in Lachute. That meant hardly any sleep for nearly three days — we were completely jetlagged when we first laid on eyes on the Canadians as we were being fitted with our microphones at the gates of the gym, both sides getting a close look at one another.
Walking into the gym for the first time was mind blowing. The images of UFC legends. The UFC logo everywhere. I was feeling pretty small. The feeling of being in over my head was creeping in — but at the same time, I felt a real sense of accomplishment at how far I’d come!
It sucked to see the Canadians win the coin toss, which gave them the first fight pick. And although I honestly did not feel ready to fight if I was called up first, I would have fought regardless.
When we arrived at the house we were just stunned. I was hoping for a picturesque setting with a log cabin to reside in. To my amazement my expectations were far exceeded. Thanks UFC! First thing I did was claim my bed. We all raided the fridge and food as we were half starved at this point. Having cameras in our faces was very strange and amusing at the same time. It took a little while before we came to accept that there were going to be cameras everywhere we turned.
No matter how hard I pushed, my body wouldn’t respond. My lungs were on fire when I tried to breathe.
As we were sitting to our meal, the Canadian boys made their entrance … very noisily! The first few days were very hostile as the feeling-out stage was in full effect. Who was the top dog? Which is the more dominant team? Who will fold when tested? It was almost like being back in a new high school on the first day. As with anything in life though, you stand your ground … you’ll be alright!
Our first training session was difficult. I’ve never experienced jetlag to that extreme in my life. No matter how hard I pushed, my body wouldn’t respond. My lungs were on fire when I tried to breathe. This carried on for the next week-and-a-half. Being on TUF and under the watchful eye of the UFC I tried not to show it. And it really helped being guided by Team Australia coach Kyle Noke, as well as Izzy (Israel Martinez) and Tussa (Roberto Alencar) … these were the most solid training sessions I have been a part of. I was truly blessed to have the opportunity to be in what I refer to as “UFC Training Camp”. How to build a better fighter!
Going into his fight against Kajan Johnson, Team Australia’s Brendan “The Badger” O’Reilly was just as jetlagged as the rest of us Aussies. The pace we were subjected to was a stark reality. Our journey to this point had been Land in Canada > Arrive at house > Train > Fight. We simply had no time at all to recover. To his credit, this didn’t faze Brendan. He trained hard, prepared well and never complained once. A proud member of Team Australia.
He made weight like a champ and stood his ground like the Dwarven leader he his. I often referred to Brendan as Gimli from The Lord of the Rings movies — so strong spirited, how can you not love the guy?
He was really amped up for this fight, and as a result, he rushed the takedowns … even though he was getting the better of the standing exchanges, which is where we all felt he could have won it. To me, it looked the jetlag caught up with him when he was trying for those takedowns. He was cut open by a knee early, but that little scratch meant nothing to Gimli. Unfortunately, Brendan ended up making a crucial mistake in shooting when he shouldn’t have, which allowed Kajan to take his back and get the finish via rear-naked choke.
Brendan fought hard, but a loss is not a fighter’s end — it’s just a lesson learned. In the words of Brendan to the Canadian boys post fight: “We’re not scared. We’re Australians.”
We all felt down after losing the first fight. Down … but not out. We rallied together as a team and pushed on. It was now time for the next pick. The middleweight division! I was certain I would be called up. There were a lot of thoughts going through my head. I was scared. I hadn’t yet felt comfortable being away from my family. I was in the company of all these new faces. And I was scared I would fail in front of the world after putting my whole life on the line for my one shot!
Team Australia’s Zein Saliba ended up getting the call to fight the Canadian ‘model’, Elias Theodorou. I’m not gonna lie … I was relieved. Yes, I could eat for a few days again and not be forced to cut weight too hard. Thankfully I was now starting to feel like I had a grasp of my current reality. With Zein now preparing to fight, it was up to us to back him up with whatever he needed.
Now comes the time when Team Australia has to get on the board. Episode 2, here we come!
• Watch The Ultimate Fighter: Nations, Australia vs Canada on FX every Thursday at 4.30pm. You can read Vik Grujic’s weekly blog every Friday on The New Daily.