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Hundreds of hopefuls turn out for ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ 15 tryouts

New version of the UFC’s reality show set to debut next year

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Steve Marcus

Mixed martial arts fighters warm up during tryouts for the next season of The Ultimate Fighter at Texas Station Monday, December 5, 2011.

Ultimate Fighter Tryouts

Mixed martial arts fighters Demitrius Turner, bottom, of Savannah, Ga. and Maka Watson of Kauai, Hawaii wait to be called during tryouts for the next season of The Ultimate Fighter at Texas Station Monday, December 5, 2011. Launch slideshow »

The UFC has hyped the changes planned for its long-running reality show “The Ultimate Fighter” next year.

With the series’ switching channels from Spike to FX, “TUF” will begin to air live fights for the first time with the 15th season next spring on Friday nights.

The show is also expanding internationally. A Brazilian version will debut next year and the UFC hopes to eventually supplement it with a few seasons in other countries.

The idea is that someday, all the “TUF” winners from different nations could come together and fight each other to crown a world champion.

“It’s like the World Cup of ‘TUF’,” UFC President Dana White described earlier this year. “Dude, if we can nail that one, that’s my dream.”

The excitement for the new era of the program was apparent Monday at Texas Station, where the UFC held tryouts for welterweights and lightweights out to make the 15th season’s cast.

More than 400 fighters showed up for the event. They were given the chance to showcase grappling and striking skills in front of UFC matchmakers Joe Silva and Sean Shelby, and if they made the cut, interview with producers.

Many of the hopefuls spoke positively about the opportunity and saw added incentive in the new format.

“I was thinking in my head a long time ago, that would be awesome if all the countries had a reality show and the last eight left had a tournament for the winner,” 32-year old Kultar Gill said. “I’ve heard they might do something like that with this one and the one in Brazil. If they do that, it would be awesome.”

To Gill, from Abbotsford, British Columbia, the thought of appearing on “TUF” was promising enough to come out of retirement.

As a K-1 and DREAM veteran with several notable bouts, Gill (10-8) was one of the most recognizable fighters at the tryouts. But “Black Mamba” hasn’t fought since 2008, when he called it quits after losing five of six bouts to focus on running his gym.

Gill said he became a better fighter in the three-year span. Known primarily as a striker, Gill has used his time away from professional mixed martial arts to earn a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

He impressed as one of the first fighters to grapple in front of Silva and Shelby.

“I didn’t get tapped out today or anything,” Gill said. “Using my jiu-jitsu and being on the ground, I used to be a fish out of water. Now I love it. Now I’m a shark. I destroy everyone now. It doesn’t matter. I don’t have any weak points.”

Not everyone was as fortunate as Gill and got their tryout over with immediately. Demetrice Turner, a former Marine who lives in Las Vegas, spent most of the day waiting for his turn.

Turner (3-3) trains locally at UFC middleweight Wanderlei Silva’s gym. He re-located to Las Vegas two years ago after growing up in Savannah, Ga., to chase his dream of a fighting career.

“If you want to be a Hollywood actor, you go to Hollywood,” Turner said. “If you want to be a fighter, you come to the fight capital. You come to Vegas.”

Turner is a natural featherweight, but would fight up in division at lightweight for the chance to appear on “TUF”. He wanted to try out for “TUF” 14, which featured featherweights, earlier this year but the auditions were held in New Jersey.

“By the time I found out, I ran to the airport but there were no flights going out,” Turner said.

“It was pretty much a no-brainer today because it’s right in my backyard. It’s not like we’re paying to try out. It’s a free tryout.”

Turner “could write a book” on why he should make the show. Gill was more specific.

“I have a huge personality, which helps out a lot,” Gill said. “People love me for that. When I go out, I go out to fight. I don’t have a boring fight. Even my losses aren’t boring. Win or lose, I don’t care. I go out there to take heads off, no pansy stuff.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or case.keefer@lasvegassun.com. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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