College to cable: former wrestler Ramsey Nijem stars in “Ultimate Fighter”


From student wrestler to the Ultimate Fighting Championship, former Wolverine Ramsey Nijem has demonstrated his ability to adapt quickly to the world of mixed martial arts fighting.

Nijem, a recent contestant and finalist on UFC’s “The Ultimate Fighter” television show, started his professional MMA career while he was attending classes at UVU. Without any formal MMA training, Nijem entered what he thought was going to be his first amateur fight.

“That first fight was supposed to be an amateur fight and then it was a pro [fight],” Nijem said.

Nijem didn’t disappoint in his unintentional professional debut, easily defeating his first opponent in front of a home crowd at the David O. McKay Events Center.

“It was a rivalry of UVU versus BYU, so I went out there and beat the crap out of the guy,” Nijem said.

After his first victory, Nijem went on to win three of his next four fights.  Initially, he didn’t plan on auditioning for the “The Ultimate Fighter,” a show that is broadcast on the Spike network.

“It was kind of a weird process at first.  I wasn’t going to try out because I was like ‘Oh, I won’t make it.’  I was very inexperienced and they usually want someone with seven-plus fights,” said Nijem.

Once in Vegas, Nijem decided he would try out for the show.  The audition process started with a two-minute grappling session.

“I actually got submitted in the tryouts, but I came back and I was putting the hurt on him, because I got pissed and was slapping him. The guy was a 185-pounder…he was a big dude, and they took that into consideration,” Nijem said.

Nijem then moved onto the next phase which involved hitting and kicking mitts.  Afterwards he then had a two-minute interview in front of UFC Vice President of Talent Relations Joe Silva and UFC President Dana White.

“In the interview, what it all comes to is that they want to see your personality in the few minutes that they’re talking to you,” Nijem said.

Nijem successfully passed the interview portion of the audition, went home and waited.  He received a call a few weeks later inviting him back to Las Vegas.  Upon his return, Nijem went through medical and drug testing as well as a more in-depth second interview.

Nijem returned home to wait again.

“Friday before I left for the show they called me and I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it, but they told me ‘Get ready to leave for six weeks, you’re on the show,’ and I left that Sunday,” Nijem said.

Two days wasn’t a lot of time to prepare for a six-week filming period.  Nijem didn’t even have time to celebrate or think about the phone call he had just received.

“It never sunk in because I had so much to do before I had to leave,” he said.

Including Nijem, there was a total of 14 fighters on the show that were split into two teams.  The show focuses on training, the elimination-bout format, and the house that all 14 fighters must share.

“It was definitely a neat experience that I never want to go through again, but I did well,” Nijem said about living in the house with 13 other fighters.  “A lot of people complained about missing their family and their girlfriend and TV and stuff like that.  I was really focused on the end result.”

That focus paid off, helping Nijem to win his first three fights and put him in the main event against Tony Ferguson.  They faced off in a live, nationally televised event for the show’s season finale.  Nijem lost that fight in the second round.

Despite the loss, Nijem remains focused on his career by training hard at The Academy in Orem, Utah.  He hopes to be fighting in the UFC again later this year.

“When they [UFC] tell me when and where that is, that is when I’m going to fight,” said Nijem.  “They’re going to give me another chance for sure.”

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