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Speer will be back, and hopefully so will I

When Tommy Speer submitted to Mac Danzig in "The Ultimate Fighter" season six finale on Saturday in Las Vegas, I slammed my notebook to the floor at the Palms.

Over the past year and a half, I’ve had the pleasure of watching Speer grow as a fighter and as a person. So it was painful to see him lose, and even harder to see the toughest person Iknow reduced to tears.

Speer will be back, though. I’m sure of that. He’s got the best manager in the business (Monte Cox), one of the best jiu-jitsu coaches in the U.S. (Mario Roberto), and he’s going to train for future fights with former Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight champion Matt Hughes when his new gym opens in Missouri. With Speer’s raw talent, relentless work ethic and the best coaches on the planet, the sky is the limit for this kid.

And it’s refreshing to know Speer’s head always is in the right place. The first time I met Speer, he told me his goal was to one day pay off his family’s farm debt with the money he earns through mixed martial arts. That’s not something you hear from most 23-year-olds.

Despite Speer’s loss, I had the time of my life in Las Vegas.

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Friday morning I tagged along to watch Speer cut weight at "The Ultimate Fighter" (TUF) training facility. (Yeah, the one you saw on TV each week). And I must say, the place is three times smaller than it looked on TV.

But it was still neat to see where they taped the show. And it also gave me the opportunity to meet Speer’s family, Roberto and Hughes.

Roberto originally is from Brazil, but he now teaches jiu-jitsu and mixed martial arts at Fourth Street Gym in Rochester. He’s well-known and highly respected in the MMA community, though many in Rochester are just now learning there’s a world-class jiu-jitsu coach in town.

Meeting Hughes was a bit surreal, much like the rest of my big weekend. He’s a small guy, though he has plenty of muscle packed on to his tiny frame.

Spending time with Speer’s family also was enjoyable. They were warm and welcoming — your typical southeastern Minnesota farming family.

Friday evening brought the weigh-ins, which were held in a conference room at the Palms. Half the room was filled with many of the UFC fighters I’ve been watching for the past four years, and the other half was filled with star-struck fans. It was a who’s whom of past TUF contestants. And I was just as star-struck as all the other UFC rubes in attendance.

Saturday was fight day, and I’m certain I was more nervous than Speer. When I reached my seat on press row at the Palms, which was the front row on the floor, I sat back and soaked it all in.

Between preliminary fights, I finally was able to meet UFC president Dana White, who in the MMA community is larger than life.

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Fans were treated to two fights that are immediate contenders for "fight of the year." I know I won’t soon forget Jon Koppenhaver’s win over Jared Rollins or Roger Huerta’s comeback win over Clay Guida.

Other highlights for my wife and I and the two friends who traveled with us to Vegas included the Wynn’s champagne brunch, the Tournament of Kings at Excaliber, the wax museum, Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville and watching the Vikings in the sportsbook at Harrah’s on Sunday. I even managed to equal out my previous losses at the sportsbook by winning a poker tournament Sunday at the Riviera.

All in all, it was an amazing weekend. Attending a live UFC event is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, one I hope happens more than once in my life.

Ben Pherson is a sports reporter for the Post-Bulletin. He can be contacted at bpherson@postbulletin.com

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