In early 2005, the now lucrative and powerful UFC was in a lot of trouble. MMA was still considered a freakshow blood-sport by many and needed to be discussed with hushed tones and was certainly not covered by major media outlets. Dana White had convinced his friends the Fertitta brothers to purchase the company years earlier and despite White’s optimism, the UFC was hemorrhaging money. That was all until a show came along called “The Ultimate Fighter”. The show placed 16 up-and-coming fighters in a house a la MTV’s “The Real World” and forced the housemates to fight their way through training and competition to win a big-money contract with the company. One of those castmates, Sam Hoger, eventually lost to the winner of the show, current UFC Light-Heavyweight Champion and fan-favorite posterboy Forrest Griffin. However, before Hoger was eliminated he was able to stir up the show enough to have his housemates call him a thief and MMA keyboard warriors cursing his name the world around.
Every story needs a villain, and “The Ultimate Fighter” had theirs in Hoger. He was accused by several fighters in the “TUF” house of stealing supplements and UFC merchandise from their gym bags and was ostracized by the crew.
Fast-forward nearly four years to the present day, and the UFC is now big business selling-out shows throughout the U.S. and abroad, and MMA is finally being taken seriously as a legitimate sport. As for Hoger, he defeated Bobby Southworth at the show’s finale episode event and went on to fight top-flight competition such as Stephan Bonnar, Rashad Evans and Lyoto Machida. He lost those fights via decision, including a narrow split against Evans but managed to get a win along the way against Jeff Newton. The Machida loss would be his last fight in the UFC. Afterwards he fought in the IFL where he lost against Lion’s Den fighter Vernon White. That fight took place in April of ’07. Hoger hasn’t fought since.
In just a week, Hoger will make his return to MMA as well as his return to heavyweight when he takes on Jason Dolloff for the east coast’s premier MMA promotion, World Championship Fighting in Wilmington, Mass. Hoger will be headlining the event. It will be his first fight in nearly 18 months.
Hoger currently runs the Houston chapter of Team Miletich. He has been the head trainer there for two years. Although he is kept busy with his students, Hoger eventually found his way back to competition. I recently caught up with Sam and talked with him about his return, his stint on ”TUF”, and his future in the sport.
“I Just had an itch to get back into competition while I was still young enough to enjoy the sport.” said Hoger of his return. “I have a team that is focusing solely on my improvement, which is something I have not had before. I do miss my team in Iowa, but I am building an extension of that team down here in Houston. I’m spending a lot of time with these guys I have down here right now and it’s become a very developmental process. The students are learning, they’re coming along and getting better and I’m really happy about that.”
Although Hoger is back in competition, his heart lies with his students and his gym in Houston.
“I’ve been running the Miletich gym for about two years now. I had my first guy go pro a little while back and in his first match he knocked a guy out in two seconds. I didn’t even know that was possible to end a fight in less than six or seven seconds but he managed to pull it off. Type in Cale Grady in YouTube and you’ll see what I’m talking about.”
Hoger will hang up his teaching hat this coming Friday September 19, when he locks up with Dolloff at the Aleppo Shriners Auditorium in Wilmington, Mass. The event boasts nearly a dozen MMA bouts featuring the upper echelon of east coast talent. Most recently, Affliction’s Dan Lauzon and the UFC’s Jon Jones called the WCF home. Also, Massachusetts natives Kenny Florian, Joe Lauzon, Jorge Rivera, and Sean Gannon will be in attendance for a pre-show autograph and meet-and-greet session that also includes Marcus Davis and trainer extraordinaire Mark DellaGrotte.
“WCF puts on stellar shows and their shows are the best in the Northeast. Joe Cavallaro and his crew put together solid cards and they’re kind of like the UFC of the east coast.” quipped Hoger of World Championship Fighting.
As for his opponent Jason Dolloff, Hoger is confident and relaxed.
“I’m just going to go wherever the fight goes. I don’t really have one set plan in reference to how I’m going to approach the fight. I’m looking to evolve with the fight. The worst thing you can do in this game is have one set plan then when things don’t go your way you’re like a fish out of water.”
The fight also marks a return to heavyweight for Hoger who competed in the 205lb. division for the UFC. Hoger is happy to be back home at heavyweight and feels it will greatly improve his all-around game.
“As a heavyweight I have been undefeated. It wasn’t until I went down to LHW and sucked all that weight off that I started getting beat. I’m naturally a 250-260lb. guy so when I cut all that weight off and got down to 205 I have nothing left. Even at 205 I am still able to put on the fights that I do, but none the less it’s hard. I’m really happy to be a heavyweight now. I don’t see any reason to go down to 205. There’s only one reason in the world I would go back to 205, only one, and that’s Forrest Griffin, I wouldn’t even want his title. Me and him, we still got a fight. It’s still looming. I’ve been saying that since I got off the show. I don’t think we’re done with the second round of that fight. It’s personal.”
Hoger remains tight-lipped about strategy, but he has plenty to say when it comes to “The Ultimate Fighter.”
“Reality TV is not real. Reality TV is made for entertainment purposes. All the things we did were practically setup and we had huge meetings about production and we just tried to get the show where it was at. I’ll definitely say TV is made for entertainment and we did a god job of entertaining the people. What we started is now on its 8th season and it’s too bad it doesn’t seem like they can reproduce what we did. We had the greatest season ever of “TUF” in that first season and I’m definitely going to take my credit where it’s due. Much of that is due to what I have done. What I did on that show in order to create the entertainment that was necessary so that people would get fixated on the show. Now, all they do is destroy the house and give upper-deckers.”
Never one to miss an opportunity to express his opinion, Hoger has plenty of thoughts when it comes to his place in the world of MMA and the role he played on “TUF”. Without question, his persona on the show created controversy that the show needed to rope in viewers.
“The whole bad-guy image thing is definitely an act that I enjoy doing. It was a lot of fun when I was in the UFC to try and get at the fans and it was fun to throw coal on the fire. It was a good time and I do it mostly for fun and laughs so my friends and I can laugh about some of the crazy things I said and did. It was fun while it lasted but getting older, it’s just not that important to me. I think with the work that all the guys did on that first season we made a bigger impact on MMA than anyone in the history of the sport. I am part of the reason that this sport is main-stream. If it wasn’t for me and the work of those guys, I don’t really think we’d be where we are. I think the UFC would be a company that’s broke. I think the Fertitta’s would still be pumping money into Dana White’s pipe-dream. They were telling us they weren’t going to be able to sell the show, they couldn’t get it on a network and they told us that the needed something. So low and behold I took it upon myself to give them something. Bottom line is was it entertaining? Was it as entertaining as that second season that I almost fell asleep watching? We were the greatest cast of “TUF” ever. Now I feel like I might as well be watching Ghetto Brawls, at least I can get some drama from Ghetto Brawls before the fights happen.”
World Championship Fighting’s card next Friday will be a glimpse into the future talent of the UFC, WEC, and EliteXC, where many of the WCF’s talent winds up. You can check out the entire fight card at www.wcfighting.com and you can purchase tickets HERE.