Cody Land is 11 fights into his professional MMA career.
So, when he heard about tryouts for the 18th season of The Ultimate Fighter for his weight division, Land jumped at the opportunity.
While he didn’t make the final cut of male bantamweights, Land was one of those selected as an alternate in case a replacement was needed.
“The tryouts were awesome,” said Land, during a recent interview with FightLine. “Definitely a very competitive group. It was crazy. (As an alternate) I cut weight with them and if someone missed weight, I could have potentially been given a spot to fight to get in the house.
“But everyone made weight.”
Land (9-2) competed in Nebraska last month, defeating Carlos Claudio via submission. He has won three straight and is 5-1 in his last six overall.
One of his two career losses came to Anthony Gutierrez, who made it into the Top-16 for The Ultimate Fighter 18, which debuts in September on FOX Sports 1.
“It was an amazing learning experience, yet tough at the same time being an alternate and seeing the other fighters (make it),” he said. “I feel like I would have been a better pick to be a cast member than a select few, but the UFC and (FOX) producers didn’t see it that way.
“I’m not complaining because it’s all about the journey and it was definitely the coolest part of my career to date.”
Land talked with Sean Shelby, the matchmaker for the UFC’s lighter weights, and said “the fact that he knew who I was, and knew my managers, made me feel confident that I’m that much closer to my dreams.”
As a prep, Land never wrestled – his hometown didn’t have a team. Instead, he focused on football and power lifting. He earned three state power lifting titles.
“Maybe it was ‘little man syndrome,'” said the bantamweight, “or just the fact that I know my family is tough, but I had it in my head from the beginning that no matter the opponent, at the end of the fight – win or lose – they would know who I was.”
Land currently trains at Premier Combat Center in Omaha, Nebraska alongside the likes of Joe Ellenberger – brother of UFC star Jake Ellenberger – Laramie Shaffer, Darrick Minner and Kevin Gray. He is coached by Kurt Podany, Ryan Jensen, Jason Brilz and Danny Molina.
Brilz, who has won 20 MMA fights, competed in the UFC from 2008-11, going 3-4. Jensen is also a veteran of the UFC and Strikeforce. He has two stints in the Octagon – going 2-6 with losses to Thales Leites, Demian Maia, Mark Munoz and Court McGee.
“There is a ton of great fighters out of Premier and great coaches,” Land said. “We have a great group of smaller-weight fighters and tons of guys that are 170-and-up, as well, that are also great fighters and teammates.”
Speaking of larger fighters, Land was quick to recount an interesting bout he had several years ago.
“The most memorable win in my amateur career would have to be when I drove eight hours from my hometown to fight in Iowa,” he said. “The opponent backed out and no one at the show would agree to fight me except a 170-pound-plus fighter. This was back in the day of unsanctioned fights and I weighed just 147.
“I said ‘screw it’ and won via TKO in the first round.”
The Gutierrez loss, his first, was in Titan Fighting Championship and aired on live television.
“It was my first time fighting on TV and I had lots of jitters,” he said. “But it was definitely a great experience.”
Land will attempt to secure the Midwest Championship Fighting bantamweight title next month when he faces Johnny Torres in the main event. UFC fighter Spencer Fisher will be a special guest at the card.
“The fight will be in North Platte (Nebraska) and my hometown of Brady is actually right next to it,” he said, “so I’m fighting back home which is always fun.”
As most fighters do, Land has an exceptional support team.
“My end goal originally was to fight full-time,” he said. “Which I’m doing now thanks to all my sponsors and their support, a supportive girlfriend and my managers keeping me busy.”
Photos courtesy EDH Photography