The first day that Cristiano Marcello stepped foot in The Ultimate Fighter house, he was already one of the most experienced competitors the show had ever seen.
A veteran of 15 pro fights, Marcello's wealth of knowledge extended far beyond what he had done in Pride or other organizations. The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt had spent years teaching the best of the best out of the Chute Boxe academy, including Wanderlei Silva, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, and many more.
It wasn’t much of a surprise, based on his past experience and reputation, that Marcello was a leading candidate to win the reality show competition when it began.
It all came crashing down, however, after the first week of the show when Marcello was selected to face Team Cruz's top pick, Justin Lawrence.
Not because Marcello wasn't up to the challenge or that Lawrence was just too tough, but the Brazilian was hoping to have a little more time to acclimate to the new training and new team before getting his first fight. He found out right away that in the UFC things move fast and sometimes you're forced to move quickly or get run over.
“The huge problem about that fight was because it was too early. With my techniques and experience in Brazil before, it was just too early. With the environment, learning technique, a new camp, it was just the worst thing for me. If the fight is two weeks later, all my body is comfortable,” Marcello told MMAWeekly.com prior to The Ultimate Fighter Live season finale.
“If the fight had gone to the ground, it would have gone a minute or two minutes, no more than that.”
But the fight didn't hit the ground and Marcello was knocked out in the second round, forcing him out of the competition and to the sidelines where he had to spend the next nine weeks watching his teammates train and prepare for fights instead.
Marcello wasn't discouraged, however, because as an instructor himself for most of his career, he knows the valuable lessons that go along with learning. So Marcello became the model teammate and learned from coaches like Urijah Faber, and learned wrestling from four-time All-American Lance Palmer, and just became a student of the game.
“The time I stop learning is the time I have to quit. If you want to keep fighting, you have to keep training at a high level with new guys and the top guys, and you have to keep learning,” said Marcello.
While Marcello was always training and learning, he still didn't know if he'd get another chance to prove himself in the UFC. In past seasons of the reality show, only some of the participants who didn't make it to the finals got the chance to fight again on the finale.
Luckily, Marcello got the call and he was elated to say the least.
“I fought the best guys in the world in Pride and the best guys all around the world, so for me to fight in the UFC it was the goal of my life,” Marcello stated. “I've been excited and the moment they said to me I would be fighting in the finale, I was excited to fight, to represent my country, to represent my gym. I'm very, very happy.”
In his match this Friday at The Ultimate Fighter Live finale, Marcello faces Team Cruz fighter Sam Sicilia. While they were on opposite teams during the season, Marcello says he got along well with Sicilia in the house, but when it comes fight time, he has no problem facing his former roommate.
Marcello mentioned it on his Twitter and he'll even tell Sicilia now what his game plan ahead of their fight.
“100-percent Jiu-Jitsu,” said Marcello. “It's the thing I love to do. It's the thing that's in my veins, 100-percent Jiu-Jitsu. Like people say in Brazil, Jiu-Jitsu saves.”
Marcello will try to employ that very strategy when he faces Sicilia this Friday in Las Vegas on The Ultimate Fighter Live finale.