Thursday, April 5, 2007

See 2 men go from Springs to the ring in TVs ‘Fighter’

By Andrew Wineke

Who knew Colorado Springs was home to such a bunch of badasses?

I’m from Seattle — land of pocket protectors and soy chai lattes — so I’m not going to put on any airs about coming from a tough town. Still, when I heard that not one but two contenders for SpikeTV’s “The Ultimate Fighter” were from the Springs, I was shocked.

But there they are: Corey Hill and Noah Thomas.

“The Ultimate Fighter” is Spike’s toprated show, and ultimate fighting in general is riding a wave of mainstream popularity.

If you haven’t seen it, ultimate fighting is sort of like boxing, mixed with wrestling, mixed with all sorts of martial arts. The idea is to drop two fighters in an octagonshaped ring and let them do whatever they want to each other.

In “The Ultimate Fighter,” 16 up-and-comers live together in a house and fight their way through elimination rounds for a shot at a contract and stardom in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, or UFC, the sport’s main tournament.

Thomas, 26, is a native son of Colorado Springs, although he now lives in Fort Collins, where he’s studying history at Colorado State University — in between, you know, kicking butt and taking names.

He wrestled at Wasson High School but admitted he was too much of a punk to learn from his coaches.

“I was a knucklehead, to tell you the truth,” he said. “Now that I’m older, I’ve gone through the Marine Corps, I’ve grown up and learned how to take instruction.”

Thomas credits his stint in the Marines with igniting his interest in ultimate fighting, although not in the way you might think.

Thomas was a Marine martial arts instructor, but he said that was basic stuff — just enough to keep people from stealing your lunch money. It was goofing around with his fellow soldiers that taught him to fight.

“We always just beat the crap out of each other,” Thomas said.

After leaving the service, he entered a local “No Holds Barred” tournament on a whim. He won eight fights in one night, and the rest is history.

“I suck at every sport that involves a ball,” Thomas said. “This is something that I was good at.”

Corey Hill, 28, is an import to the Springs. He grew up in Florida, where he was a state champion wrestler. After college, he and a group of friends started fighting — just fooling around in the park. Hill got serious about it and moved to Colorado with his wife and two kids to find a gym where he could step up his level of competition.

It certainly worked out for him. He moved here in August and was on the show just a
few months later.

“It all played out in less than six months,” Hill said. “Things started happening fast for me.”

Like most reality shows, “The Ultimate Fighter” puts its competitors together in a house and cuts them off from the outside world.

“Physically, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” Hill said. “I’m a better fighter now than when I left.”

One wrinkle of this season, the show’s fifth, is that all of the fighters were in the lightweight division. In past seasons, several weight classes would be represented, meaning not everyone in the house would end up fighting.

“In the past, people have been able to make friends and stuff,” Thomas said. “This time, you could be friends with each other, but you have to realize that you could be fighting each other at any time.”

Thomas and Hill aren’t allowed to reveal anything about the contest, which finished filming in early March, but both say they want to make a career in the ring and they plan to keep on fighting.

“I think I found something that I like,” Hill said. “I definitely see big things for Corey Hill in the fighting game.”

Thomas promised the show would be fun.

“We’re a bunch of crazy guys,” he said. “It was entertaining being in it, so I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like watching it.”


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