The Ultimate Fighter continues to roll on.
With the 18th installment of the UFC's reality fighting program set to make it's premier next Wednesday night (Sept. 4) on Fox Sports 1, the casting process began once again on Tuesday morning in Indianapolis.
A new batch of hopefuls filed in to the "Circle City" looking to earn a spot on the show's 19th season. Middleweight and light heavyweight fighters came from all corners of the globe to display their skills and do their best to impress UFC brass as the battle to become the next "Ultimate Fighter" officially got underway.
With a six-figure contract on the line and the opportunity to earn a spotlit introduction to the UFC fan base, the process is undoubtedly nerve-racking for those involved. Winning the tournament can change a fighter's career, but before those hopes can materialize, a fighter has to survive the initial stages.
One fighter who is familiar with the process is former title challenger Chael Sonnen. As a coach on the 17th season of TUF, the "Gangster from West Linn" mentored a crop of fighters all looking to turn their dreams into reality.
While the mercurial former No. 1 contender has regularly produced magic on the promotional side of the fight game, his stint coaching on the reality program showed how much commitment and passion the Oregon native puts into the next wave of fighters looking to break through.
Sonnen was on hand Tuesday to check out the action and provided support for the fighters looking to take the next step.
"It''s a tryout and 80 percent of success is just showing up," Sonnen told Bleacher Report. "There are great numbers here, a great atmosphere, but there are a lot of really tough guys here as well. The Ultimate Fighter is not only the toughest tournament in sports, but it has such a deep tradition. Forrest Griffin is a Hall of Famer. Stephan Bonnar is a Hall of Famer. Rashad Evans was a world champion. The guys who come through this tournament—and this is step one—the sky is the limit."
"These are the future stars. A lot of these guys are happy to see me today but I'm just as happy to see them. I'm looking around and wondering who is next because one of these guys will eventually emerge."
Over the past four years, the resurgent middleweight contender has risen to carry one of the highest profiles in the sport. Nevertheless, Sonnen is also well aware that his time in MMA will eventually come to an end and it will be up to the next wave of mixed martial artists to continue the push forward.
He believes the future will only get brighter for MMA, but as a man who has committed the majority of his life to athletic competition, Sonnen intimately understands the importance of the developmental process.
"I love it and this sport just keeps getting bigger," Sonnen said. "We just launched a network a week ago. We broke all the records and exceeded the numbers of what I thought we would do and I thought I had an optimistic view. It's very exciting and it just keeps moving on, but this is one of the most important parts of the sport that isn't always seen or celebrated."
"The developmental aspect and the next guys are a huge part of it. I'm happy to be a part of it and carry the torch for as long as I can, but someday it is going to burn out and we have more guys coming up. It is very important we encourage them and nurture that and that is a lot of what you are seeing here today."
Duane Finley is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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