The Ultimate Fighter Season 5 was a fruitful one for the UFC. The show spawned the careers of long time veterans Gray Maynard, Joe Lauzon, Matt Wiman, Manny Gamburyan, Cole Miller and current MMA superstar, Nate Diaz.
However, among the star-studded cast was a quietly spoken young man from Moline, Illinois, Wayne Weems.
In Weems’s most notable appearance during the season, he drew the ire of coach and former UFC lightweight champion Jens Pulver for his lack of experience. Pulver grew frustrated as his student struggled through drills and needed some extra technical instruction.
He would eventually be eliminated in the preliminary round of the competition by NCAA Division I wrestler and future UFC lightweight title challenger, Gray Maynard.
Weems was a relative novice among the 16 aspiring MMA stars. His story is as understated as his demeanour, and takes place a far cry from the bright lights of the UFC and its home in Las Vegas.
Weems has never ventured far from Illinois, and got his first competitive experience when he started amateur wrestling at age seven, a path he would stay on until his junior year of college.
After college, Weems searched for ways to make ends meet and it only seemed logical to use his wrestling skills to help pay his bills.
“I started fighting as a way to make some quick extra cash,” he explains. “I was fresh out of college and broke in the Midwest, they used to hold a lot of shows there, so it was an easy way to make a couple hundred bucks.”
Fighter Or Wrestler?
Another quick way to make money was to appear on professional wrestling shows on the local scene, another regular feature of the Midwest.
“Wrestling wise, I actually got trained and it was something fun to do. There was never much money in wrestling though, until you made it big,” he said. “I trained alongside (WWE star) Seth Rollins in Chicago, I was wrestling and fighting at one point, but after The Ultimate Fighter, I didn’t wrestle much more”.
There was some confusion after his appearance on The Ultimate Fihgter, as rumours swirled that Weems’s MMA record was actually padded with wrestling appearances. However, he explains, that was not the case.
“The only unsanctioned bouts I had were the little shows I fought on around the Midwest. They were actual shows, however anyone could put on a show at the time, so there were a lot of shows in a bar or very small venues with a couple hundred people.”
From Local Bars, To The Big Show
So how did a 24-year-old part-time wrestler, part-time MMA fighter end up on a reality show staged by the world’s largest MMA promotion?
“I was told to make a video by a guy who was managing me and send it in, so I did,” Weems explains. “I never thought I had the skills or personality to make it onto the show, but I figured I had nothing to lose.”
Weems, despite having 13 fights on his MMA record, was exposed to the rigors of professional fighting for the first time.
“It was a huge eye opener for me,” he said. “I only fought to make some extra cash, I had no aspirations to make a living being a fighter, and for the majority of the guys in the house, that’s all they have done their whole lives and that’s what they were aspiring to be.”
Despite having somewhat of a torrid time on the show, Weems counts the experience as the highlight of his career.
“I learned a lot on the show and overall, I enjoyed the experience and friendships.”
Where Is He Now?
Weems amassed an overall (sanctioned) MMA record of 12-2, with only one of those fights coming after his appearance on The Ultimate Fighter. The man once known as ‘The Wayneiac’ still lives in Illinois and has now settled into life as a car salesman, a profession he has been in since his last fight back in 2007.
“After The Ultimate Fighter I fought one more time, but in those days it was very hard to make a full-time living as a fighter. I had a family and needed a more stable income, so I stopped fighting to pursue something more reliable.”
Now a proud grandpa to two granddaughters, 38-year-old Weems channels his competitive drive by competing in demolition derbies, a pastime he’s been involved in for the last two years.
“After fighting, I just kind of settled into life, nothing overly exciting” he said. “I’m a grandpa, sell cars and do demolition derbies for fun.”
Looking back on his career, Weems, in the back of his mind, wishes he’d have given MMA the time it demands.
“I wish I would have taken it more serious, but hindsight is 20/20,” he said. “At the time I was just trying to make extra money, and it just so happened that I fought guys locally who weren’t taking it seriously either. Then, I had an opportunity thrown in my lap that I wasn’t ready for.
“I feel my fighting career would’ve gone differently and better, on a bigger scale, if I would’ve trained more rather than just making a quick buck.”
Now, while Weems stays in shape, he doesn’t see fighting in his future.
“I don’t train and I’m not involved anymore. I run and lift to stay in shape, but other than that no.”
With fighting now firmly in the rear-view mirror, Weems intends to keep it that way and appears content with his much simpler life.
“At this stage I wouldn’t return to fighting,” he said. “It was a unique experience when I was younger, and something that I can say I did.”