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MOUNT WASHINGTON - When season 14 of “The Ultimate Fighter” mixed martial arts reality series premiered last week on Spike TV, millions of Americans tuned in to see some of the best fighters in the world duke it out for a chance to win a lucrative Ultimate Fighting Championship contract.
Sitting at a booth surrounded by friends and family at a Louisville pub, Bullitt County natives and professional MMA fighters Josh and Bruce “B.J.” Ferguson watched the highly anticipated two-hour premier for the first time.
While those around them wondered which fighters were going to make the cut, the outcome was no mystery to the Ferguson brothers as they were among the 32 fighters featured on the show.
Professional MMA fighters Josh, 23, and B.J., 30, clenched their spots on the show after trying out in the spring.
Josh, or Taz as he’s commonly referred to, said he didn’t know what to expect when he and his brother made the trip to Newark, N.J. to tryout, especially considering they had auditioned last year without success.
Though neither expected much prior to trying out, B.J. said he was confident he and his brother would make the final cut when they left Newark.
They competed against hundreds of MMA fighters from around the globe before being chosen among the top 16 in the bantamweight class.
Despite the overwhelming odds the Fergusons faced, B.J. said they may have overestimated their competition, they weren’t intimidated.
The Fergusons waited weeks before receiving the call from Spike TV notifying them they made the cut.
Within weeks Josh and B.J. were headed to Las Vegas for filming.
The first episode featured the Fergusons among the 32 finalists who competed for 16 spots in “The Ultimate Fighter” house.
Josh said he was told “The Ultimate Fighter” had never seen brothers fighting in the same weight class make it so far in the competition.
While Josh delivered his first-ever knock out during the premier, earning him a spot in the house, B.J. was eliminated.
B.J. said he knew he wouldn’t go to the house if he was eliminated. He expected to win. There was a lot of pressure and his wife and kids weighed heavily on his mind.
“It was lose and go home or win and spend six weeks away from my family with no contact,” he said. “I feel like I was prepared, but the nerves were more than they had ever been in my life as far as the pressure to win.”
B.J. said he was initially crushed when he was eliminated.
“It broke me down,” he admitted.
But, as B.J. said, every fighter goes through a tough loss and as time passed he got his head on straight.
Despite the loss, B.J. said he’s not giving up on his professional fighting career and as a matter of fact, he and his brother recently signed with a new manager.
“I’m going to fight until I can’t fight anymore,” he said. “Ride it till it’s over, you know.”
B.J. said the international response he received when he made it to the top 16 in his weight class was overwhelming and he feels the exposure will help him in his career.
“It’s a blessing even though I didn’t make the cut,” he said. “It’s a lot of exposure.”
Despite being eliminated, B.J. said he enjoyed being on “The Ultimate Fighter.”
“I got to meet a lot of cool people and the experience helped me work on myself... The training was intense...It really put me where I want to be for the next fights,” B.J. said.
After saying goodbye to his brother, Josh spent six weeks in “The Ultimate Fighter” house in Las Vegas while the reality show was in production.
He felt bad his brother wasn’t with him in the house, but the fighter said the experience was a dream come true.
Cameramen followed Josh and his fellow contenders everywhere, capturing their every move. Outside of the house, the finalists were only allowed to go to the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino for fights and to the gym for training.
As Josh explained, the confinement was stressful.
To relieve some of the tension, Josh said he and his fellow competitors messed with the cameramen on occasion.
Everyone in the house wore microphones during production so the cameramen didn’t miss any of the drama.
When it was lights out, Josh and some of the others in the house would say something into their microphones and wait for cameramen to come running. The moment they showed up the fighters would pretend they were asleep.
Asked what it was like having cameras on him 24/7, Josh said it was weird, but he tried to ignore them and after a while he got used to them.
Josh said that while he did grow more at ease with being filmed, at times it was difficult minding what he said and did.
“When you follow me with a camera for six weeks I’m going to do something stupid” he said laughing.
In addition to the stress of having their every move caught on film, there was also the volatility of living with the very same people they were fighting in the cage. There were personality conflicts. Josh said it was difficult.
“The real hard thing was not talking crap about the other guys in the house,” Josh said.
For the most part, Josh said he got along with everyone in the house, however there were times when he had to hold his tongue.
The 23-year-old built many lasting friendships during production and he enjoyed getting to know fighters with different experiences and learning their varied levels of training for comparison.
Josh said the show was not only mentally taxing, but physically demanding as he trained four hours a day, six days a week.
He said he was grateful for the world-class training he received and he wouldn’t trade being on “The Ultimate Fighter” for anything.
“It was real cool,” he said, adding that the folks with Spike TV treated him well and took good care of him.
When production wrapped up in mid-July, Josh said he was glad to come home to Kentucky.
“I’ve never been so excited about anything as I was when I got to come home,” he said.
Josh said the best thing he gained from his experience was getting used to the big time.
“I remember thinking it’s not all fairy tales now, it’s real...The El Dorado of MMA,” he said.
After watching his sons compete on “The Ultimate Fighter” season premier, Bruce Ferguson Sr. remarked that the experience was surreal, but the attention has not gone to their heads.
“We’re still just good ole country folk,” he said.
The Ferguson brothers’ journey from local amateur fighters to the national stage began only a few years ago.
The two became professional fighters around 2007. Since then Josh and B.J. have fought in matches around the Louisville area and across the country. Both went 4-0 before their first losses.
With training in not only MMA, but Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai and Western Boxing, the Fergusons boast impressive records.
A brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, B.J. is a former American Fight League 145-pound champion and has a 6-2 pro record and a 6-1 amateur record.
Josh, who also holds a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, holds several gold medals and two high profile titles under his belt in addition to his 7-2 amateur record and 7-3 pro record.
Josh and B.J., who work as part-time trainers at All American MMA Academy and Cage Rentals in Mount Washington, a family business started by their father, said they hope the exposure they receive from “The Ultimate Fighter” will help their professional fighting careers and the gym.
MMA runs in the Ferguson family. Josh and B.J.’s brother Isaiah, 19, is an amateur fighter with an undefeated 6-0 record.
The Fergusons couldn’t reveal exactly what will happen this season on “The Ultimate Fighter,” but anyone who would like to follow Josh’s progress can watch the reality series on Spike TV, Wednesdays at 9 p.m.
The second episode airs tonight on Spike TV, Insight channel 41.
For those who would like to keep up with the Fergusons, visit their Facebook page, All American MMA Academy and Cage Rentals.
Anyone from beginners to professional cage fighters to those who want to get in shape can train with the Fergusons at All American MMA in Mount Washington.
For more information, call Bruce Ferguson Sr. at (502) 664-1672.