From Day 1 of The Ultimate Fighter 29, Bryan Battle was counted out.
When it came time for coaches Alexander Volkanovski and Brian Ortega to pick their teams, Battle was the last middleweight selection of Team Volkanovski, a decision that looks questionable in retrospect with Battle set to compete against Gilbert Urbina for a TUF 29 tournament title Saturday at UFC Vegas 35.
Battle was the first Volkanovski middleweight to have his hand raised and he defeated Team Ortega’s top pick Andre Petroski and Kemran Lachinov to book his spot in the finals. Given his extensive background, Battle (5-1 as a pro, 8-2 as an amateur) was as surprised as anyone that he dropped during the draft.
“I’ve never been picked last for anything in my entire life,” Battle told MMA Fighting. “I’m not saying I was always the first pick, but I was never the last pick. There was nothing really that happened. Here’s what I will say, during the evaluations, they got cut short so I didn’t really have the opportunity to really flesh out my full game. I did what I could in the time that I was given and I still felt like I was good enough to be picked higher, but I don’t know, there’s just been this thing where people—Even now, like right now in this moment, I won both of my fights in the house and I think more people think Gilbert is gonna win the finale than people think I’m gonna win the finale. Before [Tresean Gore] pulled out, there was a ton of people who thought Tre was gonna knock me out int he finale.
“It’s one of those things that no matter what I do it feels like people are always gonna sleep on me and that’s okay. It’s a weird thing, but people who sleep on me don’t sleep on me very long once they can see what I can do.”
Battle, 26, made his MMA debut in 2017 and during his time as an amateur he fought and beat stiff competition including current UFC welterweight Impa Kasanganay and Contender Series contestant Cody Brundage.
The win over Kasanganay happened three years ago, a lifetime in combat sports, but Battle views those experiences as being formative and indicative of the success that was to come.
“Back then I was really just fighting on guts,” Battle said. “Before I fought Impa, I was supposed to fight for an amateur 205 title and my opponent pulled out. So I had to drop down to ‘85 [to fight Kasanganay instead]. I had to cut from 222 pounds from Monday to by Friday I was 187 pounds. … In North Carolina, amateur fights have same-day weigh-ins, so I cut all that weight and then I fought Impa that night and it was a title fight so it was five four-minute rounds. So I fought him for 20 minutes and I did very, very well.
“I say all that to say my amateur career, there were some killers on there that just because they haven’t gone pro yet people don’t know about them. There’s some guys on there you’re still going to hear about a couple of years from now. I fought some crazy tough amateurs and that’s what’s really given me a lot of confidence going into the pros is ‘cause I fought really tough guys coming up when I didn’t have the skills that I have now.”
Battle enters his UFC debut on a four-fight win streak (not counting TUF exhibitions), with all of those wins coming by way of knockout or submission. He’s stayed true to his roots training at Team Hayastan in North Carolina and is happy to be staying close to home especially with he and his wife expecting their first child in October.
The TUF 29 final four features a mix of characters who fit into some broad narratives: Urbina brings a family legacy to the competition (his brothers Hector and Elias also competed on TUF), while in the bantamweight finals Ricky Turcios evokes memories of a young Diego Sanchez and Brady Hiestand is the young gun of the season.
So what does Battle think he was depicted as on TUF?
“My personality, it wasn’t anything to write home about, it was like, ‘Yo, let’s get to work and let’s get these Ws,’” Battle said. “That was just kind of my attitude for the whole show. My whole show as I’m here for one reason and that’s to win. It was cool getting to show off my family and talk about my family and everything, but in my brain there’s like two different sides. There’s regular life on one side and then there’s fighting on the other side.
“So as far as my role on the show goes, I guess the underdog. The guy people didn’t see coming. I was just there to work and to win whether people believed in me or not.”