Throwing footballs never led George Roop to a scholarship, so the former Canyon Del Oro quarterback switched gears and cracked the junior college books.
When a set of twins popped into the picture, Roop decided to maximize his wrestling and martial arts talents and throw a few punches in the world of cage fighting.
Now he holds an 8-3 record — at the expense of a few previously undefeated fighters’ jaws.
“I just had to put school on the back burner, take responsibility and provide for my kids,” Roop, 26, said.
In May, Roop earned a slot on Spike TV’s Ultimate Fighter 8, a cable reality series that tracks 16 mixed martial artists as they live and train together for six weeks in Las Vegas.
Through a series of interviews and fights, the 6-foot-1-inch, 165-pound Roop made the cut from 300 prospective contestants down to 32, who then battled for the show’s 16 slots after hitting Sin City’s tarmac.
Living among the household of drama and testosterone for the taping’s duration, plus being away from his 3-year-olds, tested Roop’s fiber the entire time — despite being paid for the appearance.
“There’s a lot of competition and tension,” Roop said. “You know you could have to fight any time, with 48 hours notice.”
Reality television’s pervasive world chased Roop from the training room to the rest room, always under camera’s eye and within the microphone’s earshot.
“I’m not Hollywood at all,” Roop said. “To have a camera and zero privacy for six weeks, there’s a little bit of pressure.”
But pressure remains a constant for a guy who earns his paycheck trading blows with chiseled pugilists. Often times, the punishment begins well before scrappers enter the cage, as they try to make fight weight.
Roop’s familiar with the process — an elastic deal with gravity that allows him to fight and win at several weight classes.
Whether sweating off 10 pounds of water weight through 45 minutes running the treadmill in a plastic suit, or gaining 25 pounds in 4-1/2 weeks of hardcore chow-downs, Roop’s done it.
“It’s easy when you don’t have to worry about paying for your food,” Roop said.
Thanks to his flexibility, Roop has held the bantamweight and lightweight belts from Arizona’s Rage in the Cage MMA league, at 145 and 155 pounds, respectively.
But thanks to his pals — who stuck him on a plane for the Ultimate Fighter’s Boston tryouts just three days before the successful 24-second TKO Denver bout he trained for in April — he’s got the chance to win a $100,000 UFC contract.
There’s a good chance Roop could hang around until the show’s Dec. 13 finale, according to former Tucson trainer Dominic Alexander.
“He’s not just a fighter. He’s a professional athlete,” Alexander said. “Any jerk can get in a cage and swing away just because they can take a punch.”
With a renewed sense of purpose and the demeanor of “a scientist,” Roop returned from the taping tight-lipped — thanks to Spike TV’s non-disclosure contract — and with the accelerated “fight IQ” that separates warriors from brawlers, Alexander said.
“Ultimately it’s a live chess game. You’re trying to make people make their bad move,” Alexander said.
Fellow strategist Rudy Baez, who has trained alongside Roop for five years and helps manage his Tucson sponsorships, notes his colleague’s “nice and outgoing” attitude — unconcerned with fighting outside the ring, beyond dietary matters.
“He’s just tough. Some people have that fighting spirit and some don’t,” Baez said. “People are going to respect him for how tough he is.”
As if he wasn’t sold on the sport already, the experience kept Roop in Las Vegas, where he now trains under former MMA heavyweight champ and Ultimate Fighter 8 coach Frank Mir, who took the Tucsonan under his wing.
Roop spends three hours a day in the gym, pounding himself into a “cardio machine,” atop a regimen of arts, including jujitsu and muay thai, that supplements the Taekwondo black belt he earned at age 10.
“When you get a chance like this, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime. You kind of have to go with it,” Roop said.
Despite his training schedule’s demands, the self-described “scrawny” fighter finds time to travel back and spend time with his kids in the hometown he’s “privileged” to represent.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to test myself in the UFC,” Roop said. “I’m not about to let Tucson down.”