Over the course of nearly 20 seasons of The Ultimate Fighter, things have gotten a little stale. I mean, what are we going to see now that we haven’t already seen three or four times already? Enter: TUF 17, whose opening episode was a breath of fresh air. It was shot differently, giving it a new look and feel, and it had emotional resonance thanks to the addition of family watching the competitors fight their way into the TUF House. It also had Uriah Hall, who kicked so much ass, Dana White, Chael Sonnen and Jon Jones practically tripped over themselves heaping on the praise.

The day after the first episode, Fighters.com caught up with the New York native and Tiger Schulmann’s MMA product to get a little insight into this promising TUFer. How did he like living in the TUF House? Did he forge any lasting friendships? What does he think of Chael Sonnen, Jon Jones and Dana White after meeting them? Read on.

A lot of people say being cooped up in the TUF House is a living hell. How was it for you?

“It was different. It was right where I needed to be. I think I’d recommend it to a lot of people ”“ not the fighting part, but the part where you stay in one place and only have your thoughts. You know, you’re locked in a house and there’s no TV, there’s no outlet but your thoughts. Sometimes you can’t just talk with someone else because that’s the person you might be fighting. So it was good for me to kind of have my thoughts. I had to talk to myself more, and it made me have a little more depth to myself. I understand things a lot better. In the end, I only had myself to rely on, so I had to be positive, I had to be confident, to give one hundred percent. Going to train every day was the best feeling. Going back to the house, I was like, ”˜Oh shit.’ When I trained it was a release.”

Did you make any friends?

“I made friends on the show, I think. But in the back of everybody’s mind they’re like, ”˜Oh, I’m going to have to fight this guy.’ I actually made friends with a guy from the other team ”“ Dylan Andrews ”“ who taught me to kind of control my emotions. He said, ”˜If stuff is bothering you, anything you’re thinking about, just write it down.’ I started writing stuff down and it made me feel a lot better. It’s almost like having a therapist.”

“Him and Clint Hester, they were cool. And Bubba McDaniel, he was cool, too.”

What was the worst part of the experience?

“I don’t think there was really a ”˜worst’ part of the experience. I think everything happened the way it should have, and I got a lot from it. I feel like I grew more as an individual. Same thing about the ”˜best’ part of it. It was right where I needed to be, it was perfect. I needed that distraction from the world. I needed it to focus on that one thing”¦ I can’t really say anything bad about it.”

From what we’ve heard from fighters who took part in past seasons, you can eat almost anything you want there. What was the best thing you ate?

“The best thing I ate over there”¦ man, I had a lot of stuff, to tell you the truth. The chicken fingers were awesome. Maybe it was because I was hungry and I had to eat healthy for a while, and junk food tastes so good, but I liked the chicken fingers.”

You got to spend a lot of time with Sonnen, Jones and White. What did you learn about them that you didn’t know before?

“I definitely didn’t know that Chael Sonnen was such a good guy off-camera. I’d seen stuff that he says on-camera, but maybe that’s his way of building up a fight or whatever. But the Chael that I met was the complete opposite. The guy, just the way he spoke, the way he motivated us, it kind of showed he wasn’t there for himself. He was there for us. That really came across in how he taught us and how he motivated us, and tried to bring us to the next level.”

So you were glad to be on his team?

“In the beginning I said I wished I had been on Jon Jones’ team, and a lot of people at home said, ”˜Man, you should’ve been on Jone’s team, you have the same fighting style.’ But Jones couldn’t have taught me what Chael did. Jones would’ve probably taught me physical stuff, but Chael got in my head, and I think that was exactly what I needed. I needed someone to get into my head and take me to the next level, and that’s what happened. Jones, he’s a cool guy ”“ the coolest guy I’ve ever met. Just talking to him, I feel like I’ve known him forever. I wasn’t there to just hate anybody, I was there to learn and grow as a fighter.”

And what did you learn about Dana White?

“I definitely know that when you hang out with Dana White, you’ve got a walk around with a clicker for how many times he says the ”˜F’ word”¦ But other than that, he seems like a really cool guy. I think Dana could tell you a simple story and make it exciting. Like, ”˜Wow, that’s the best story I ever heard.’ But he’s very passionate about what he does.

Tune in to FX tonight for a new episode of The Ultimate Fighter 17.

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