Photography courtesy The Ultimate Fighter
Toward the end of last week’s episode of The Ultimate Fighter, the mixed-martial arts reality-sports competition, St. Louis viewers bent forward a bit in their recliners and got excited.
That’s because it was announced that our hometown boy, 27-year-old Fenton resident Adam Cella, will fight the show’s top contender, New Yorker Uriah Hall, in an episode that will air next Tuesday, February 5.
Loquacious TUF coach and pro fighter Chael Sonnen made it clear earlier in the episode that he was going to set up his fighter, Hall, with an opponent he saw as a patsy. Sonnen chose the baby-faced, relatively unimposing Cella (4-0) to fight the feared, menacing-looking Hall (7-2).
Now, here’s where the real excitement comes in. UFC President Dana White teased the Cella-Hall fight by divulging that it will end with “one of the nastiest knockouts I’ve ever seen in the fight business.” St. Louis fight fans are drooling in anticipation of what will be revealed next Tuesday. Most would guess that Cella gets his dome smashed in by Hall; an upset would be sweet for Cella and for his local supporters.
In a milieu known for easily roused anger and tears (that would be reality-TV as well as the fight game), Cella comes off as a font of calm. His oft-repeated explanation of his attitude—that if fighting doesn’t work out, he’ll just return to the family heating-and-cooling business—is a surprising note of practicality in a sport where competitors often intimate that it’s either victory or unfathomable doom.
When you learn that Cella was a virtually unbeatable kickboxer for years, though, the baby face suddenly looks a lot tougher.
We asked him about starring on TV’s The Ultimate Fighter.
Viewers of The Ultimate Fighter are so excited for next week’s fight, with the promise of a KO. In the previews of that episode, they show a clip of a black guy getting into an ambulance, and my friends got real excited because they assumed it was [my opponent] Uriah Hall. But it’s another guy on the show, Kevin Casey. You really can’t know what happens until you see the episode. Also, what a lot of people don’t realize is that all you have to say after a fight is that you have a headache or your hands hurt, and they send you to the hospital. Everyone goes to the hospital. It doesn’t mean anything.
So how far are you gonna take this UFC thing? I’m gonna ride it as long as I can. If it doesn’t pan out, I’ll maybe take a few more fights and then call it a day. I do it for fun. But the show did make things a little more serious, you could say. I’m lucky because I do have our family business to fall back on. It’s a heating-and-cooling company. The only person that can stop me is myself. I’m not naïve. I know only a small percentage of people make it in the sport. I’m a realist.
Were you able to make friends with the other fighters, living together in that house? The house was a real big, nice house. I don’t think any of us live in a mansion at home. The weird part was we had no phones, no TV, no newspapers, no magazines. While we were gone, we didn’t even know who the president was! We did have a pool table and a chess and checkerboard and we threw the football around, so we got to know each other on a different level. We didn’t really have any big issues in the house. In previous seasons, you had drunk people picking fights, and we didn’t have any of that. The big difference, I think, was nobody drank. I think we all became pretty good friends, actually.
Some of the other fighters are big, muscular, and scary, but you don’t exactly look like that. I was probably the smallest one on the show as far as weight. I’m 185. Some of the guys are what we call legitimate middleweight fighters, meaning they walk around at 215, 220, and make weight at 185 the week of a fight. I was making weight without even getting in the sauna. Other guys have to weigh and measure their food and watch everything they eat. Most of the guys are buff and muscular, and I was the soft one. I’m not shredded by any means. Some guys in there were jacked out of their minds. I’m just not a buff dude. Why start now, you know?
You have a serious kickboxing background. I started amateur fighting in kickboxing and got like 35 fights with only one loss. I tried amateur boxing and after 6 or 7 fights, I had won a couple of Golden Gloves, so I said let’s give it a shot with MMA. Kickboxing was where it all started, though.
Do people consider kickboxing your most dangerous skill set? Actually, boxing is my favorite, but kickboxing is considered my strength in MMA. Ironically, most of my MMA wins have come by submission, which says a lot about my coaching staff. But yeah, if you Google my name a lot of kickboxing things come up. So I’m sure other guys see that and figure they’re gonna take me down and grapple. I’m still learning submissions and being on the ground. If kickboxing doesn’t work, I feel fine grappling. I’m still learning the wrestling and the jujitsu.
What would you say to someone who considers MMA too violent for their taste? I can see how it’s growing and becoming a big-name sport. You can see someone on every street in a UFC or Tapout shirt. I think since they started making unified rules—no hits to the back of head, no knees to the head of a grounded opponent, and stuff like that—I think it’s turned into a sport similar to boxing. If some people think it’s too violent, they really don’t understand the sport. I consider MMA kinda like tattoos 20 years ago; they were looked at as horrible, but nowadays it’s hard to find someone without one. Now there’s techniques and skills, and you have to train for it—it’s not a free-for-all “tough-man competition.”
What kind of hits are illegal in the UFC? No hits to the back of head; no knees to the head of a grounded opponent; no hitting someone’s head with the point of your elbow from 12 to 6, meaning straight down; no eye-gouging; no small-joint manipulation, which means like finger-breaking; and, as the refs say, “Don’t stick your fingers in holes they shouldn’t go in!” [Laughs]
What are the show’s team coaches, veteran fighters Jon “Bones” Jones and Chael Sonnen, really like? Jon Jones was my coach, and he’s only 24 years old. To do the things he’s done at that age is unheard of. The people he’s beaten—and beaten them pretty easily—it’s very impressive. But he’ll tell you he’s still learning as well. The way he trains, fights, and thinks of an opponent is by his motto for life, which is “find a way,” as in find a way to win. We all went hiking at Red Rock Canyon while we were down there. He brought a little German Shepherd puppy, and it was scared to cross over a little ravine, and he told it, “You gotta find a way.” Sure enough, it did. Chael I talked to a little bit. On TV, he comes off as a trash-talking, arrogant guy, but in real life he’s one of the most intelligent, down-to-earth people I’ve ever met. He told me some things off-camera that were very nice.
Do you have the “cauliflower ears” that a lot of fighters seem to get? My ears just recently turned bad. On the show, I got hit with a couple hooks in the training sessions, and my ear blew up. I drained it every day for three weeks and then it hardened up, and then it folded back a little, so I looked like an elf. It happened to be Christmas time, so I told everyone I was getting into the season. [Laughs] When it swells, I’ll drain it. My girlfriend thinks it’s gross sometimes, but she loves to watch me drain it. [Laughs] My nose has been messed up since my very first kickboxing fight, too. I can have a doctor fix these things when I’m out of the sport.
The Ultimate Fighter
Tuesdays at 8 p.m. CST