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By: Jamie Penick, MMATorch Editor-in-Chief
Zak Jensen comes into the tenth season of the Ultimate Fighter, debuting Wednesday, September 16th on Spike TV, as one of the under the radar fighters. With four former NFL players, three UFC veterans, Roy Nelson and Kimbo Slice in the cast, Jensen hasn't gotten much press as of yet. As one of the middle of the pack guys in terms of experience, Jensen brings a strong wrestling base and a good record thus far in his career to the TUF house for this season's heavyweight tournament.
I had the chance to sit down with Zak at the Gorilla Combat gym in Chanhassen, MN, to discuss his time in the house and as much as he could about his time on the show without giving anything away. In part one of a two part interview, Zak touches on a last minute flight to make the tryouts for the show, the first day in the UFC training center, expected debauchery and entertainment from the house and more. Check back later for part two and Zak's thoughts on the coaches feud between Rashad Evans and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, being a member of a growing number of Minnesota fighters on the cusp of the big time, the quality of the fights for this season of TUF and more!
Jamie Penick: Zak, you're coming up on the heavyweight season of the Ultimate Fighter, set to air next week. Obviously it's the first time the show's had heavyweights since season two, but first off, what was the overall feeling you had when you got tapped to be on the show?
Zak Jensen: I was shocked, actually. I was actually trying to get through the security door to where my girlfriend lived, and I had groceries in my hand and my phone rang. I looked down and saw [it would be the yes or no call], and I was told "congratulations, you leave on this day," I think it was May 30th is when we left. We stayed in a hotel for a day, and then the first was when we started. And I just said, "ok, thank you," and they told me what I could bring and what I couldn't bring, and then they hung up and I just sort of stood there. I looked down at my phone like, "ok, that did just happen." I was in total shock because, you know, I went through the whole process where they're like, "ok, everything looks good, your medicals are good, your background check came back, you know, we can't give you the hundred percent but we'll call you back in a week and let you know." So they did that thing. So then you're just kind of like, that's the worst thing because it's like "yeah, but we don't know yet, we can't give you the one hundred percent," but it was just kind of, I was shocked.
Penick: So how did that process work for you, trying out, I mean? Where did you have to go for your tryout?
Jensen: I went to Seattle. I found out on Sunday night that the tryouts were Monday morning in Seattle; so I got on the last flight out there, you know, got there like 11:00 at night, tryouts started around 6:30 that next morning.
Penick: How many guys showed up for that tryout in Seattle?
Jensen: There was three weights. There were heavyweights, light heavyweights and middleweights. There were maybe like 250-300 people. There were over a hundred heavyweights.
Penick: Getting onto the first season with just all heavyweights, obviously you didn't have to fight to get in the house this time because they just had the 16 of you. Now the first season they did heavyweights there were a lot of glorified light heavyweights, obviously with Rashad Evans winning that season and then moving down to 205, but this season was legit heavyweights. Coming in the first day, what were your thoughts on the guys you were coming in with?
Jensen: I knew a few people from the tryouts and being around. When I got on the van to go [to the UFC training center] Roy Nelson was in the van with me, Mike Wessel who I already knew, James McSweeney was, and there was one more I can't remember, it was either Matt Mitrione or Wes Shivers, I can't remember. But they were all big guys, so I can remember just sitting there looking up and there were a lot of big guys. I can remember we were sitting in there and we were counting and there were only 15 guys [in the gym], and we were like "where the hell is the 16th person?" Well, first off we thought we were going to fight on there, so we were just kind of waiting and then we realized we weren't going to fight and there was still one person missing, so we kind of figured out who it was. We were thinking, "we're obviously not fighting," so the anxiety of not knowing what's going on, that kind of got cleared up. But you're looking around and it's like, I'm a big guy, but I'm not 6'8", 6'9" like Wes Sims, you know, it's kind of like, I'm looking around and [thinking], "you know I'm actually shorter than this guy." Then we got Wes Shivers who, you know, is huge, he's around 300 plus pounds normally, and then Marcus Jones, who's just a big guy, just kind of, it's funny. James McSweeney was one of the smaller guys, he's around 220, and then Kimbo's not as big as everyone thinks he is.
Penick: Yeah, I know the group picture they did for your season they've got Kimbo behind the coaches and he looks like the smallest of the bunch.
Jensen: He's not as tall, and he's got a really big upper body but his legs are really small. I think he could cut down to 205 if he wanted.
Penick: Now, Kimbo's got a bad rap before by being pushed as "the face" by Pro Elite when clearly he was still learning and still coming up, but this time around it's a completely different situation with this show, because there's been a lot of talk about how he's just this nice guy and a lot different than what people would expect him to be, what was your experience with Kimbo?
Jensen: He was actually a really nice guy, he's cool to hang out with, we played a lot of cards, played pool with him a lot. We played spades, everyone was kind of playing spades because we had to occupy our time, you know. We took turns cooking, he took his turn cooking, he made good steaks. He goes, "I don't know how to cook, but I know how to make steaks and sauces." So he would always make barbecue sauce, and he was a good guy and got along well with everybody. You know, the judging the book by it's cover type thing, a lot of the guys were like, "oh crap, what are we going to have to deal with," but he was actually just a really nice guy.
Penick: Did you have anyone on this season, like in the past couple of seasons we had Junie Browning and then his brother, was there anyone like that at all on this season, or was it pretty much a different environment for you guys?
Jensen: Well I mean, we're all older. I was the third youngest and I'm 26. So I think we had a lot more maturity than seasons past. There's bound to be debauchery because you're in that house for so long that things just happen. Sooner or later someone's going to go, not off the deep end, per se, but it happens and the house gets so small. There's four rooms with 16 guys, everyone's feet are hanging off the beds. It's not exactly the most comfortable place to be for six weeks. I mean it's a beautiful house, but there will be some drama this season, there's always pranks, and it'll be very entertaining television.
Penick: Well I know Dana White has already come out and said there's just so much from this season that could be shown that they could have extra on the internet, was it just a whole lot of eventful stuff there?
Jensen: There was a lot of eventful stuff, it wasn't like horrible stuff, but it was good, entertaining stuff. Everyone got along, and we all had a great time. Obviously we got drunk, it happens; in a house full of free liquor, it's going to happen.
Penick: Yeah, free liquor, nothing to read, nothing to look at, that's what's going to happen.
Jensen: There's going to be a lot of good stuff. From what we were watching, we were wondering what they were going to do, I mean just with the stuff that I saw, you know I think it's going to be a really good season and I just can't wait to watch it.
Penick: Now coming in you're about in the middle of the pack, experience-wise, we've got some guys with UFC experience this season, some guys relatively new to the sport, we've got the four former NFL guys on here, how did the different levels of ability and experience on this season come across in training.
Jensen: Everyone had great athletic ability, and especially the four former NFL players because I mean they already excelled in one sport and carried over into this. Marcus Jones, for example, a great athlete, number one draft pick, good at jiu jitsu. I was talking to him, and he started up about two years ago, but he just really excelled at jiu jitsu and he just loves what he does and he's a good athletic guy. I think everyone had enough experience to where they could hold their own, but everyone had their own learning curve. You had Wes Sims, who had the most fights out anyone, he fought Frank Mir twice. That's experience that no one else can have unless you actually do it. You know, Roy Nelson was there, he just got his black belt from Renzo Gracie, so there's varying levels and everyone found out where they stood and what they needed to work on and worked on what they needed to do.
Penick: I think that's the nice thing about this season, too, because you've got guys that have a lot of legit experience and a lot of years in the sport, so whoever is going to come out on top of this season is going to be viewed as more legit than perhaps in the last few seasons where it's a lot of newer guys that haven't faced the same type of competition. Now, if you're getting through three guys getting to the final and then win the final, you're getting through some very good competition.
Jensen: Like you said there's the three UFC vets and then Roy Nelson, those are the four most experienced guys. Wes Sims he's got all that experience, Mike Wessel who's fought in the UFC, Scott Junk and Roy Nelson. We had a couple of guys, like Matt Mitrione, I think he was 0-0 but he had some amateur fights, Demico Rogers was the same. But everyone brought their own skill set, and even though they didn't have a lot of fights, I mean, for me it was hard to find fights for awhile. That's why my fights are all in big bunches, I mean I'd get them and then I wouldn't have any, so it's hard to say by people's records what their experience level is, especially at heavyweights because we all came from different sports and started late in everything. Like I said everyone came with a background they excelled at and they brought it to the house.
Penick: Now I'm sure you can't reveal which coach you had on the show as we'll find that out next week in the first episode. But with who you did end up with, what were your expectations of them as a trainer and how did they end up coming out as a trainer for you on the show?
Jensen: My expectations were, either one of them, obviously they're both former World Champions, and definitely great at what they do and I was looking forward to their coaching staffs because they both brought good people in. I knew that if he couldn't help me with what I needed to work on his coaching staff could. I definitely looked forward to working with them and I got a lot of experience. I learned a lot while I was there, and it was the best training camp I've ever had. Because, I mean, you also have seven other heavyweights that you don't have [back here]. Like right now, there's one other heavyweight here [at Gorilla Combat], I mean there used to be another heavyweight here and he cut down to 205. The other heavyweight is fighting at 185 on Saturday.
Penick: So clearly these guys are not "heavyweight" heavyweights, they're guys that can cut down below, and here on the show you're getting guys on your team that are your size.
Jensen: Yeah, that's the first time that's ever happened. I mean, I went to the [Minnesota Martial Arts] Academy, and trained with Brock [Lesnar] and [Chris] Tuchscherer, but it's like they're the only other guys around. It's few and far between and this was great. If I could do it again and just have that as a camp I would do it, I mean it'll never happen, but it'd be nice to have that.
Jamie Penick, editor-in-chief
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