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If you were tuned into FX on your television Tuesday night, you saw Santa Rosa's Collin Hart, competing as a mixed martial artist.

I spoke to Hart before the season premiere of "The Ultimate Fighter," FX's mixed martial arts reality show. On Tuesday night's telecast, Hart defeated Mike Jasper to make the initial cut from 28 to 14 fighters to be coached as two teams by current UFC stars Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen.

I wish I could tell you more about how the rest of the fights go. I wish I could tell you how this competition ends. I can't. Hart's victory Tuesday night is all I know.

As a good reporter I tried asking Hart. He couldn't tell me either. Couldn't fault him actually, once I learned the facts.

Hart is one of 28 MMA middleweights who began Tuesday night's competition for the chance to be named The Ultimate Fighter.

Notice the verb tense I just used. "Competed." The competition has been completed. It was filmed over a period of time sometime in 2012 and will be broadcast on FX for the next 12 weeks.

Who will win? Don't know. How will it end? Are you kidding? There's a very good reason that Hart, a 2007 Analy grad, can't say.

"I would be fined $5 million and prohibited from ever fighting again," said Hart who attended SRJC.

Hart signed the non-disclosure contract agreeing to those stipulations. This is a television show and, well, suspense is required.

The winners of Tuesday's 14 fights were chosen in a draft by the coaches. Sonnen had first pick, but Hart wound up being selected to fight for Jones' squad.

Jones is the undefeated UFC light heavyweight champion. After the FX series airs, Jones and Sonnen will fight at UFC 159 on April 27.

The taping will end with two finalists in a live bout sometime in April at the Hard Rock Casino and Cafe in Las Vegas.

The winner of that match will be crowned The Ultimate Fighter, sign a six-figure contract with UFC and become a recognizable and marketable name in one of the fastest growing sports in America.

I did offer Hart congratulations which might seem weird at first blush, since we don't know he did after his opening-round victory.

Other than those involved in the show, no one knows, not even his folks. However, Hart did become one of the final 28, and that's a story in itself.

Two hundred and fifty fighters applied and auditioned. The first test was a two-minute grappling contest. A fighter couldn't throw a punch or kick. No striking of the opponent.

The UFC people wanted to see, basically, who were athletes, who could move with coordination and speed and who had power and could apply it.

"Three-quarters of the fighters were eliminated after that," said Hart, 6-foot-2, 185 pounds. "If you were a stand-up fighter you were at a disadvantage."

Hart certainly had an advantage. He wrestled his sophomore and senior years at Analy, and for two years at SRJC. He played football for Analy but freely admitted he didn't apply himself as he has done to MMA. And MMA aroused him in a way football did not.

"Adrenaline is my drug of choice," Hart said. "I'm an adrenaline junkie. MMA is like working out, skydiving and playing chess all at the same time."

The second part of the audition dealt with conversation. UFC and FX wanted to make sure that a fighter could actually speak in complete sentences on camera. This is a TV show after all and the sport and the network would be ill-served by a fighter who spoke like a kindergartner while digging for ear wax and then examining it.

"I don't remember exactly what I talked about," said Hart, a bouncer at the Belvedere bar in Santa Rosa, "but I talked a lot."

After grappling and talking, Hart became one of the 28 fighters who made the show. He doesn't get a badge for it or even a mint under his pillow for the achievement, to be one of 250 to make the show, but it is a selection worthy of pride and distinction.

It means enough that Tuesday night Hart gathered with his family and friends at Christy's in Railroad Square to watch the season premiere of the show. Sure, it had to seem a little surreal for Hart to watch himself, knowing the result while even mom and dad did not.

That said, Hart is a young man in the sport. He is 4-1-1 as a pro. Of the 28 fighters who started the show, only three are younger. He has come a long way in a short time, and there is so much more in front of him than behind him.

"Collin will definitely be a championship fighter," said David Terrell, owner of Ultimate Fighting Alliance in Santa Rosa. "He has so many years ahead of him that he'll be able to grow. He's only 23 now. Wait until he gets to 25, 26, 27. Wait until gets his man-strength."

Terrell is Hart's trainer. Once a UFC fighter himself, Terrell is known globally. He was a star in the industry. He once fought for the UFC middleweight championship. He is a black belt in Jiu Jitsu. He's not a guy who just fell off the turnip truck.

"I've seen what the rest of the world has to offer (in terms of instruction)," Hart said. "It doesn't get any better than this (Terrell). He has taught me everything I know. And to have a world class fighter in my hometown, I feel extremely blessed."

Terrell, 35, said he feels blessed that Hart is his pupil.

"It is easy to work with Collin," Terrell said.

"He's easy to get along with. He understands this is hard work and he doesn't mind putting the work. He's very nice and ... and he's a nice devil."

Terrell said that with a smile. Hart is soft-spoken and, as Terrell said, it's the soft-spoken guys who pose the biggest challenge in the octagon-shaped ring.

Hart knows how to remain under control, Terrell said, even when he gets a good whack. That's because Hart doesn't react to pain like most of us.

"I always run toward the pain," Hart said, "instead of running from it."

Which might sound like some sort of instinctive, mindless, bull-rush until he said something else. "It's like doing math in your head," Hart said, "while someone is punching you in the face."

Figuring how to counter that punch while your nose is being pushed sideways by a fist — how can someone do that?

Hart does. That's part of the physical and mental genius required for MMA, to be a thoughtful warrior. "Right now," Hart said,

"I'm right now right where I need to be in my career." I would like to congratulate him on that, but I can't because, well, I don't know where is. I guess that's why I'll have to keep watching the show.


You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.

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