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WSOF title challenger Josh Hill's nickname is ode to pro-wrestling legend relative

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Josh Hill was only 8 years old when he first started watching UFC tapes on VHS, but at no point in time was being a fighter any kind of a childhood dream.

But after accidentally falling into fighting seven years ago, Hill, an undefeated bantamweight, finds himself days away from a World Series of Fighting title fight against champion Marlon Moraes (14-4-1) on Thursday night.

While technically unbeaten, Hill did lose a decision during season 18 of 'The Ultimate Fighter,' where he was on Team Tate. While usually fighters on the show get a shot on the finale, and with a win, end up as UFC regulars, Dana White didn't like the men's fights, and except for the finalists, decided against bringing the other cast members back.

The snub led him to WSOF, where he debuted on June 7 with a first-round knockout win over Mike Adams, giving him a 10-0 record ahead of what looks to be a classic grappler vs. striker fight against Moraes. Hill's usual M.O. is takedown and ground control.

The title fight was pushed back several times. It was originally set for September, but then Hill got hurt so it was moved to Dec. 13, but in November he got the word it was being moved to early January.

"I was pumped and bummed," he said. "I wanted a fight before the end of the year, Dec. 13 was perfect. I could fight and then enjoy the holidays and not worry about dieting over Christmas."

He was then given the date of Jan. 17, and noted that early January is the worst time to take a fight. The obvious reason is you have to diet all through the holidays, but a secondary reason is that a lot of people stop going to the gym in December so a lot of regular sparring and training partners aren't around during the hardest part of camp.

"Then they called and pushed it to Feb. 12, which gave me more time, and I was able to eat through the holidays."

But as a small bantamweight, 5-foot-6, and currently about 140-141 pounds -- meaning Hill only has to cut a few pounds -- he's much smaller than most guys he fights. He could move to flyweight, but with a 10-0 record, his feeling right now is that if it's not broke, why fix it?

Moraes has won six fights in a row in WSOF, putting himself on the map with a decision win over Miguel Angel Torres on November 12, 2012. Most recently, he defeated another former TUF fighter, Cody Bollinger.

"[Moraes is] good," said Hill. "He's the champ for a reason. He's well-rounded, he's been on a roll with World Series. He's going to be a tough guy to beat for sure. Striking is his best attribute. He's got a lot of powerful shots. It's another challenge. After my last win, I said I wanted to fight for the belt. I didn't get in here to beat up low level bums and go around and call myself a fighter."

Hill never wrestled or boxed before the age of 21, but there is something of a family history when it comes to another form of wrestling.

"I never wrestled," he said, even though his style now is based on wrestling. "In school, we didn't have a wrestling team. I wish we did. Wrestling was the one discipline I excelled at the fastest. Maybe it was my body type. I started striking the same time I started wrestling, but I always went back to my wrestling and found it was my dominant discipline, taking guys down and ground and pounding them."

His great-uncle, the brother of his grandfather, was John Hill, a noted pro wrestler from 1959 to 1988, although almost nobody would recognize him by that name. John Hill wrestled under more than a dozen different names during his career, including under a mask as Mr. X, The Destroyer, The Assassin and The Masked Strangler. But he was best known as Stomper Guy Mitchell, Jerry Heenan and Gentleman Jerry Valiant.

Josh Hill wasn't that close to John Hill, since John moved from the family's home in Hamilton, Ont., and after his career, settled down in Indianapolis. But the family decided when Josh was looking for a nickname to go as "Gentleman" Josh Hill, to honor his great-uncle. John Hill never lived to see it, as he passed away from a long battle with Alzheimer's Disease on March 20, 2010, at the age of 68.

"I was sitting with my dad and uncle, and joking around about a nickname, and they came up with 'Gentleman' Josh Hill. And there's a meaning behind it."

John Hill headlined around the world, and faced nearly every top star of his era, including Hulk Hogan, Bruno Sammartino, The Sheik, Dick the Bruiser, Gene Kiniski and Dusty Rhodes, and is the answer to a couple of pro wrestling trivia questions.

In the mid-60s, he was brought to Indianapolis to be part of a brother tag team with a rookie named Bobby Heenan, which is where the name Jerry Heenan came into play. It was quickly determined that Bobby Heenan was better off as a manager, the guy who would do the interviews and interfere on behalf of other heels rather than wrestling nightly. So as Jerry Heenan, he became the first person managed by Bobby Heenan, who went on to become arguably the greatest pro wrestling manager of all-time.

The other trivia question came also by accident, as he was technically half of the first World Wrestling Federation tag team champions. In 1978, The Valiant Brothers, then composed of James Fanning (Handsome Jimmy Valiant) and Thomas Sullivan (Luscious Johnny Valiant) were scheduled to win the World Wide Wrestling Federation tag team titles early the next year. However, Fanning contracted Hepatitis. Hill, at this time wrestling as Mad Man Mitchell, was friends with both Fanning and Sullivan. Sullivan called him and asked him to become the third Valiant Brother, Gentleman Jerry. He bleached his hair blond and they won the WWWF titles. During that reign, Vincent Kennedy McMahon, the current owner of World Wrestling Entertainment, convinced his father, who at the time ran the company, to shorten the name to WWF. So technically, he was half of the first-ever WWF tag team champions.

"I didn't know him very well, he lived in Indianapolis, but whenever he'd come down here to visit the family, I'd hop by," said Josh Hill. "When I was a kid, he was already out of wrestling. But I'm close with my grandpa, his brother, and saw him when he came to town.

"My dad and uncle gave me a bunch of his memorabilia, like calendars with my great uncle on them. Jerry Valiant was his biggest role for sure. I would hear stories about him."

While this never made the airwaves, pro wrestling was a major discussion topic on the Rousey-Tate season of 'The Ultimate Fighter.'

Frequently, late into the night, Hill, Shayna Baszler, Jessamyn Duke and Anthony Gutierrez would get into animated discussions about it.

"Yeah, we talked about it all the time," said Hill. "I was always a pro wrestling fan as a kid growing up. I lost touch with it for a few years, and then a few years ago, I got back into it."

Hill's connection to pro wrestling isn't limited to family, as he himself did a pro wrestling match last year, largely due to the fact one of his childhood best friends, Scotty O'Shea, became an independent wrestler in Ontario.

"I've known him since we were both babies," said Hill.

They did a several month angle of MMA vs. pro wrestling for Alpha-1 Wrestling in Hamilton, leading to a pro wrestling vs. MMA fighter match.

"It was fun," said Hill, who said he would be open to doing more pro wrestling. "One of his gimmicks is that he's a computer hacker. So I smashed him with his keyboard over the head. My finish was a rear naked choke."

There was more reality in that one than they figured.

"He was supposed to tap, but he didn't, and then he stopped moving. He totally went out. I put him to sleep for real. I thought, `Uh, oh,' but the crowd ended up really liking it because they could see it was real.

"I had a lot of fun doing it. I'd never done it before. I fooled around with it, and watched it a lot. I took some kicks and throws on the mat. We went through a rehearsal of what we wanted to do so we kind of put it together. I have great respect for those guys no matter what. They've got both athleticism and the ability to carry a show. Just going out there to remember everything, and the way these guys react on the fly, it's pretty incredible."

Hill grew up as a hockey player, but at the age of 21, he could see that his hockey days were coming to an end.

"I needed something competitive and I found MMA," he said.

It wasn't actually that simple. He was big into weights, and trying to get a strong as possible. He saw a grappling class in the gym, and with no experience at all in it, tried it out and had a natural aptitude for it.

"I was naturally pretty good, and I signed up the next day," he said. "In a month-and-a-half, I did my first (grappling) tournament and I won the whole thing. A couple of months later, I went into more advanced tournaments. I was pretty good at this, so I thought if I continued to train, I could do it."

Without ever having an amateur fight, he was offered a pro fight on Oct. 10, 2009, which aired nationally as part of The Score Fighting Series.

"I was very green, but I ended up getting the KO of the night. I was on television. A ton of people saw it. I thought, `This is surreal, it's pretty crazy.' I got the high of winning like that. I wanted to do it again and again. I went back to it and then I wanted to try and do this as a professional as a career."

He was 9-0 as he entered 'The Ultimate Fighter,' when things went wrong. Both of his grandmothers were in the hospital at the same time as the show filmed.

"When I was leaving to go, I knew that if I won, one of my grandmothers had cancer, I'd go back-and-forth to the hospital, so I thought if I won it, it would be the last time i saw them. I won my first fight, but I definitely wasn't mentally right. I got into the house, and stayed there for six weeks. It was good and I had a great time doing it. It was an amazing experience. I met people I'm still friends with today."

Hill lost his second fight via overtime decision to Michael Wooten and was eliminated, but the biggest blow was finding out he wasn't being brought back for the finale.

"It was a close fight," he recalled. "I almost had the finish in the first round. I lost the second round. The third was close. I tried to be flashy and got taken down, and he finished on top. I didn't get the takedown, and lost the decision. We were waiting to hear if we got called (for a fight in the finale). When it didn't happen, it was a bummer for sure. I thought I'd at least get one shot, but it didn't work out. But now I'm fighting for the World Series title, so it worked out."