When The Ultimate Fighter finally decided to showcase bantamweight and featherweight fighters, Roli Delorme was more than up for it.
But the 135-pounder from Winnipeg couldn't afford the trip to New Jersey for the Season 14 tryouts in March. So he threw a party.
"Charged people $10 to get in and got enough money to go to Jersey and try out," Delorme explained.
For the first time, the reality TV show features the smallest of the UFC's seven weight divisions with bantamweight (135 pounds) and featherweight (145) on display. That made for a logjam at the open tryouts.
"There were 300 guys standing in line," Delorme recalled. "And another 300 trying out for featherweight."
Plus, there was added pressure from his friends having dug into their pockets to help pay his way, although the 27-year-old tried to play that down. All he could do was his best.
Others were making the decisions who would advance to the next round of casting.
"I went out there with an open mind, to go out there and do my best," Delorme said. "If they like it, they like it. If they don't, they don't. For me, it was a slim chance I thought even to get in."
Last man standing wins
Grappling and hitting the mitts were just the first tests. Interviews, background checks and further reviews followed in Las Vegas. Not to mention winning a fight just to crack the final cast.
More fights follow each week with the last man standing in each weight class winning contracts to fight to the UFC. The live televised finale, which includes a middleweight showdown between coaches Jason (Mayhem) Miller and Michael (The Count) Bisping is set for Dec. 3.
UFC president Dana White acknowledged a mistake was made in Season 13, which did not include elimination fights.
That was remedied for Season 14. Viewers get 16 fights — either in full or highlights — in the two-hour opener Wednesday night to see which eight bantamweights and eight featherweights advance.
'Nobody was getting in on a free ride, we all had to earn it.'—Roli Delorme
"All the guys there were the best, from wherever they came. They picked the guys really well," said Delorme.
"Those guys can fight. All the guys there. We knew when we got there (for the elimination fights). Everybody was there to fight. Nobody was getting in on a free ride, we all had to earn it.
"That's what you see in the first episode."
The five-foot-nine Delorme (6-1) made his pro debut in 2008. He competed in judo for some eight years and then moved on to jiu-jitsu at 21.
"Everything blended really well," he said. "It felt really good."
Delorme was fighting as an amateur within two years. Today, he is a brown belt under Curtis Brigham at the Winnipeg Academy of Mixed Martial Arts.
"I think we have one of the best jiu-jitsu teams in the country," said Delorme.
"We have so many guys in the club, I go there and work my ass off every night. I get my ass kicked there all the time."
He used to own his own small pizzeria — the Niakwa in suburban Niverville — training all day and then working all night. He was both the businessman and chef.
But now he trains and fights full time, looking to grasp the brass ring.
Cracking the cast of The Ultimate Fighter was a great opportunity. But he had to leave his baby daughter. Taliya was born in January and the tryouts were in March.
Under a gag order since taping ended, Delorme finally gets to watch the season open with friends and family at a local Winnipeg hotel Wednesday.