In other words, Wilks is passionate about the film and his new lifestyle, and he will answer any questions about it, but he’s not a preacher. And that’s how he was when he was an active mixed martial artist as well. Wilks wasn’t a talker, preferring to let his actions speak for him, and while that led him to a 5-2 record on the local circuit in his adopted home state of California, he wasn’t exactly approaching his pro career as the be-all, end-all of his existence.
Wilks wasn’t about to turn down an opportunity, though, especially one that would allow him to knock an item off his bucket list, so when he heard about The Ultimate Fighter’s ninth season being one that would pit teams from the U.S. and U.K. against each other in 2009, he was in.
“When I was doing this stuff, I was fighting every year or so,” he said. “My focus was always realistic self-defense for the street and training the military, and MMA was sort of a side thing. It was the closest thing where I could test myself, but I never set out to become a career mixed martial arts fighter. The only reason I went for The Ultimate Fighter is because I was turning 30, and I told my roommates who were watching previous seasons that I could beat all those guys. (Laughs) They, said, ‘Okay, go on and show us.’ I didn’t want to look back and say, ‘I could have fought in the UFC.’ Turning 30 really triggered something in my head. I thought, I’ve got to do something, I haven’t really achieved much, so that’s why I set out to do that and win it. But I was never really planning on being a 10-15-year UFC competitor. It wasn’t my focus, really.”
Wilks was good, though, so good that he finished Che Mills, Frank Lester and Lester again in succession to earn a spot in the finals. He was about to achieve what he set out to do, and he knew that being in the world’s collective living room every week was going to allow him to do things he wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise, like open a gym, which he did before his UFC debut.
“When I knew I was gonna be in the finale, I had a few months to train, so I thought this is a good opportunity to open my gym,” he said. “Well, that takes a couple months to get going. And, in retrospect, was that a great idea? I remember literally walking out to the finale against DaMarques Johnson, thinking, ‘Holy crap, I probably shouldn’t have just opened up the gym.’”
Wilks chuckles about it, now, but at the time it was a real concern whether opening up the gym and setting up something for the future took some of the focus away from his present. Ultimately, he didn’t have to worry, as he submitted Johnson in the first round and became the TUF 9 winner.