ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- It started slowly for The Ultimate Fighter 17 contestant Bubba McDaniel, the first few potshots trickling in over social media once the season began. Then came the startling loss to Kelvin Gastelum -- the 21-year-old last pick who upset his way to the finals -- and a tiny snowball became an avalanche.
By the time McDaniel, broken and weary from cutting weight four times in five weeks, suffered a gruesome loss at the hands of Uriah Hall, the Jackson's MMA product could barely log onto his Twitter account without seeing a torrent of hatred and vitriol from complete strangers.
"I was very down on myself when I first got out of the house," McDaniel admitted to MMAFighting.com. "I really was. I was down on myself, and I was not liking the way I finished the show. I did consider myself something of a [favorite]. I'm in [Jackson's MMA] giving these guys hell everyday, and going in and underperforming, of course I'm going to be down on myself.
"Now I'm back to a point where I'm feeling positive again. And if I didn't feel positive going into this fight, man, why am I still fighting? So I have to get back to being the guy that I was walking into the other fights. I was on a nice fight win streak before I got into the house. Technically I still am, but in my own head I'm not. I've got to rebuild, and that's what I've done. I've rebuilt. I went and talked to a sports psychologist. I've had to get myself back in tune with the person I want to be when I fight."
It was tough for McDaniel, a teammate and sparring partner of coach Jon Jones and once one of the favorites of the show. McDaniel entered the house believing himself to be an alpha, and left a shell of his former self following a string of increasingly disappointing performances.
McDaniel's new sports psychologist, Dr. Keith Wagner, is an old friend from his days at Wichita Falls. Wagner put McDaniel back in tune with the man he was before the show, and the 29-year-old fighter glows as he speaks of it. "I had to re-find the animal that I want to be in a fight," McDaniel said.
Today's world is a strange place. Someone you've never met, someone halfway across the world, can not only form an opinion about you, but then tell that opinion to you directly, with whatever variation of colorful language they manage. The public can be merciless, even if what it sees on TV isn't always representative of how events occurred in reality. In the case of TUF 17, miles worth of footage was left on the cutting room floor, most of it far more flattering to McDaniel than what ended up on television.
But ask anybody who knows him and real life, and they'll tell you. McDaniel is a likable guy. He jokes, he laughs, and for the most part, he's not bitter at the experience, despite how he was portrayed on the show.
"Am I happy all the way around?" McDaniel asked with a chuckle. "No, of course not. But I'm portrayed on the show as somebody that got a lot of airtime, and a lot of people understand the hard aspect of being a guy that's supposed to go in there and perform well and then not [doing it]. I feel like that all day long. I didn't perform well. These people that are seeing the fights, they're like, ‘You suck!' And I'm like, ‘You're right. That sucked.'"
It's telling that McDaniel elects to look on the bright side when he just as easily could've been soured by the experience. A 6-foot-3 middleweight, McDaniel walks around weighing upwards of 220 pounds. Even less than a week from fight night, he's hovering around 210.
Anyone who's cut weight in the past will tell you, draining that much out of a human body in a short timespan is not a pleasant experience. But doing it over and over, and over and over again, all while living under outlandish circumstances, between the stresses of the camera and another fight always looming around the corner, is a pressure that few can understand.
"At the house I tried to cut it down to where I didn't have to [cut] so much [weight]," McDaniel explained. "But you've got to remember, at the house I couldn't carb load back either, because I had to think, okay, maybe I'll have another fight.
"I remember I looked one time and I was 211.5 [pounds], and I was like, ‘Holy crap, I've got to make weight again.' It was bad. It was one of those things ... the physical and mental toll. The physical toll, I think, actually started playing a part on me mentally because I was asleep most of the time if I wasn't [training], and then I was starving if I was awake. It was bad. It was really bad. I had a lot of head games being played with myself at that point.
"I was honestly broken down before the Kevin Casey fight," McDaniel recollected. "Making weight for the Kevin Casey fight even, I was looking at myself in the mirror going, ‘I don't want to make weight.'"
It's probably unfair that, for the most part, people accept what they see on television as fact. But of course we all do it, especially under the inexplicable lens of reality television, where opinions and judgments are incubated purely at the discretion of an unseen editor.
"Honestly, it's one of those things where, I did it too before I got there," admitted McDaniel. "It's because you don't understand what it's like being there and you don't understand how much [weight] each guy is actually cutting. You just see what they look like on TV. You don't know what people's real weights are. What they're actually eating throughout the day. You don't understand. I've looked at other seasons since then and thought, man, I understand what that guy's going through. But it's something that I don't think the fans can even understand or even start to comprehend until they have to live something along those lines, and that's the only place to do it.
"So do I take a lot of [the criticism] with a grain of salt? Yeah, sure. Is it unfair some of the times? Of course I'm going to feel that way. I'm getting a lot of crap talked to me, but it's okay. It's like they say, anybody that's at least talking about me, it's always a good thing. At one point in my life would I have thought that this could ever happen, where people around the world would be talking to me? Even if it is talking crap? Na. Never. It was in my wildest dreams, and now it happened. So I'm okay with it."
Overall McDaniel views his experience on TUF 17 as a positive, even if it took him a while to get to that point. Yet even after all of the disappointment, McDaniel still has a chance to make his mark.
Like the rest of his cast mates, McDaniel is fighting at Saturday's The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale in Las Vegas, NV. UFC officials took to McDaniel enough to slot him and his opponent, Gilbert Smith, on the FX-televised main card. As is the case with most TUF Finale bouts, the winner will likely continue his UFC dream while the loser is relegated back to the regional grind.
The old McDaniel would've been shaken by the immense pressure of the moment. However the new Bubba, hardened by a bizarre experience and new world overflowing with haters, all of whom are frothing at the mouth to kick a man while he's down, welcomes the challenge.
"It's not as much pressure as you'd think it is right now," McDaniel jovially concluded. "I might feel it when we get to Vegas, or when the weigh-ins happen. But as of right now, I've had the hate of the world come at me. I've had everything crazy come at me and everybody's like, ‘Bubba sucks!' So, everybody thinks Bubba sucks. Well if they think Bubba sucks after this fight, that's okay. I've already dealt with it. But I'm going to go out there with the intentions of changing everybody's mind."