EAST LIVERPOOL - Many people set out eager to chase big dreams. A smaller number-if they are lucky and skilled enough-reach a stage where that dream begins to come into view. That is where East Liverpool's Josh Stansbury currently finds himself.
Stansbury, 29, has been trying to climb the ladder in the sport of mixed martial arts for the past nine years and is currently in the midst of his biggest chance to do so.
The 2003 East Liverpool High School graduate has been selected as part of the cast for "Ultimate Fighter 19" a competition-based reality show produced by the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), which is the largest mixed martial arts promotion company in the world.
"For a mixed martial arts competitor, reaching the UFC is the ultimate goal," Stansbury said. "It's like a football player reaching the NFL. For me to be a part of this show is a huge step toward achieving that goal."
The show will debut on Wednesday, April 16 on FOX Sports 1 and will run through the first week of July. Thirty-two fighters (16 middleweights and 16 light-heavyweights) make up the cast. For the premiere episode, which has already been recorded, the competitors will engage in a preliminary fight to whittle the number to 16 total fighters with the winners getting to move into a house in Las Vegas where they will live under the same roof for the rest of the show and compete in an elimination-style tournament. The winner receives a six-figure UFC contract.
"I've been watching the show pretty much since it started, there is a lot of drama," Stansbury said. "People who tune in will see a lot of intense competition and guys competing for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
After earning a 10-2 record during his four-year amateur career, Stansbury has spent the last five years competing as a professional. After dropping his first two matches he is on a current five-match winning streak. He defended his North American Allied Fight Series light-heavyweight title in his most recent bout in August.
"The more I keep fighting, the more I am learning and the more experienced I'm getting," Stansbury said. "I feel like I am in peak condition going into the show."
Stansbury found out about tryouts for the show on the Internet last August and drove to Indianapolis three days after his title defense to see if he could make the show. Contestants were put through a series of skills tests before being interviewed. Those surviving the initial cut were flown to Las Vegas for a final interview process to see if they would be a good fit for the program.
"I wasn't quite sure what to expect," Stansbury said. "I wasn't sure if I would make it or not, but I thought it was worth giving it a shot. One of the main things in this sport is making sure you get noticed and I thought it would be a good opportunity for me."
Stansbury was an accomplished high school wrestler for the Potters finishing fourth in the state meet as a junior. After high school, plans to wrestle collegiately at Muskingum did not pan out and Stansbury went to work at Wal-Mart. It was there that he became friends with former national champion West Liberty University wrestler Nick Spencer. Spencer was already fighting mixed martial arts and encouraged Stansbury to follow suit.
"I never felt like I reached my full potential with wrestling," Stansbury said. "I love to compete and I felt I still had more to prove to myself. Mixed martial arts filled a void for me."
Stansbury is getting paid an undisclosed amount for being on the show, but at the lower levels of mixed martial arts there is not much money to be had. Stansbury, who has two sons and a stepson, did not know exactly how much he has currently earned in career winnings but acknowledged the number was low.
"At this stage it really isn't about the money," Stansbury said. "I am fighting for the love of the sport and to gain experience and exposure."
Stansbury currently works for the Paper Service Co Inc. in Lisbon and credits the company president Randy Barnard with helping his career. Barnard helps back him financially and creates a manageable work schedule so Stansbury has plenty of time to train. Also vital to his success has been Harry Stewart of East Liverpool who opened the Team Impact gym in East Liverpool and is also a sponsor.
"Along with my dad, those two are my inner circle," Stansbury said. "They have all helped me out so I can have time to chase my dream."
With concerns about head trauma growing more and more prevalent in MMA, Stansbury acknowledged the danger but said it's not something he burdens himself thinking about.
"Sure I want to be able to remember my life when I grow older, but while you are in the middle of training and in the middle of a fight you really don't think about it at all," Stansbury said.
Stansbury knows he is not getting any younger, but feels he still has plenty of years left no matter what happens on the show.
"I got a later start than most fighters so I really feel like I haven't hit my peak yet," Stansbury said. "I still feel that I have a lot left to accomplish."