Fighters are not like the rest of us, case #45465. Guam’s Jon Tuck was in the biggest fight of his life, one that wasn’t going to even count on his unbeaten record, but that didn’t matter. Taking on New York’s Al Iaquinta in The Ultimate Fighter 15’s elimination round in March, Tuck had five minutes or less to end the bout or impress the judges enough to move him into the reality show’s Las Vegas house for 13 weeks that would change his life and his career forever.
Then he dislocated his toe. And it wouldn’t snap back into place. But he kept fighting, because that’s what fighters do.
“The problem was that I was just trying to snap my toe back into place because it was bent all crazy and it was messing up my movement,” Tuck recalled. “I wasn’t able to pivot, get good angles to strike, or move in and out. I was trying to snap it in by shaking it and I even tried to put it back into place by throwing a high kick to his face, but that didn’t work out for me.”
Yeah, while most would seek the nearest exit or softest place to fall down, Tuck figured that if he kicked Iaquinta hard enough his dislocated toe would fix itself.
“What I could I do?” he chuckles. “I was just trying to finish the fight.”
Despite a valiant effort, Tuck wasn’t going to accomplish his mission, losing a decision to the eventual finalist, but he made enough of an impression in those five minutes to earn a return call to the UFC for a Saturday fight in China against Tiequan Zhang. Did that invitation surprise him?
“Yeah it did,” he said. “But I was very excited. It was unfortunate what happened to me in The Ultimate Fighter, and if the toe incident didn’t happen I think I would have made it into the house and possibly won the show as well.”
It’s almost as if everything turned out perfectly for the Hagatna product, who got the UFC call while also being able to return home to watch his daughter’s first weeks and months, something that might not have happened had he made it onto TUF 15. In fact, his trip to Vegas forced him to miss her birth.
“The Ultimate Fighter flew me out a day before everybody else, and when I left, my girl had just gone into labor,” said Tuck. “Luckily, I had my cell phone, and I got to at least Skype with them. I didn’t get to see the whole thing, but I got to see my daughter here and there right before I went into the house.”
It’s one of the sacrifices a father must make sometimes to make a better life for his children, and that’s precisely what the 28-year-old Tuck was doing by trying out for TUF.
“You have many dreams,” he said quietly. “I had dreams of being in the UFC and dreams of being a father too. So I was doing it for the family as well.”
Both dreams came true, and on Saturday, he’ll look to extend his unbeaten record to 7-0 when he battles Beijing’s Zhang, the only Chinese fighter on the UFC’s first card in China. If that makes Tuck the bad guy, so be it.
“I have no pressure whatsoever,” he said. “I’ve always been the underdog and I’ve competed in world championships and fought against the hometown hero and it all turned out perfect for me. I end up winning, and if people boo me that doesn’t bother me. I just give it a hundred percent and look for the win every single time no matter the opponent. I treat each fight as a title fight.”
And while Zhang is a pioneer in Chinese MMA, Tuck knows what that feels like, as he’s setting the standard for the sport in Guam, who has produced Joe Duarte in Strikeforce, but no one in the UFC until now. And the people of the nation have responded to “The Super Saiyan.”
“Guam has roughly 185,000 people that live on the island, but there are people from Guam, Chamorros, all over the world,” he said. “I get amazing feedback, and it’s kind of like I became the (Manny) Pacquiao of MMA for Guam. For The Ultimate Fighter, I heard so many inspiring stories that made me feel so good about doing what I do and representing the island. I heard that the people from Guam stopped whatever they were doing to watch the show and I had support from service people around the world and it felt sweet to know that people had my back and supported me, and that I was doing something that inspired them as well and made them feel proud. The people are very supportive in Guam and it doesn’t give me any pressure. I carry the island flag and the fighting spirit from Guam and I fight every fight as if it’s my last.”
That’s got to be a pretty heady feeling for a young man who pretty much stumbled onto combat sports.
“Growing up I wasn’t able to do too many sports other than stuff with other kids,” he said. “I was a hyperactive kid, and when I started doing jiu-jitsu, it was just as a hobby and to get into something to keep me disciplined. But then it felt like if BJ Penn could do it for Hawaii, I wanted to be the guy for Guam.”
Currently a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Tuck won an Abu Dhabi world title in 2010, and since turning pro in MMA in 2007, he has won all six of his bouts, all in the first round. So his call-up to the big leagues was no accident. But as far as walking with his nose up in the air as the man spearheading MMA in Guam, Tuck is not that guy. He instead carries himself with the humility that made boxing’s Pacquiao so popular in the Philippines and around the world.
“Now that the UFC is expanding in the Asian market, I think there are tons of other guys that are just as skillful in other weight classes, and it’s only a matter of time that people see more Chamorros and people from Guam fighting in the UFC as well,” said Tuck. “I’m just blessed that I was the guy that was the first.”
If he wins on Saturday and beyond, he certainly won’t be the last. That’s the big picture. When you view his motivations on a more personal basis, it’s no surprise that Jon Tuck is fighting for his daughter.
“She gives me the extra fire to fight harder,” he said. “So in this next fight, I’m more developed as a fighter mentally and physically, and I look to put on an exciting show and show the world what I’m about, and make a statement.”
See Tuck's first fight on "The Ultimate Fighter Live"
Jon Tuck - One Pioneer Prepares to Face Another in Macao
"I just give it a hundred percent and look for the win every single time no matter the opponent. I treat each fight as a title fight." - Jon Tuck