MIXED martial arts ace Andy Ogle is hoping the force is with him as he battles it out for a place in the semi-finals of The Ultimate Fighter Live in the US tomorrow night.
Almost a million viewers are expected to watch the North Tynesider, the only Briton to make it onto the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) reality TV show, take on Al Iaquinta in his quarter-final fight.
Iaquinta, 25, of Wantagh in New York State, has only lost one of nine fights in a three-year career, but Andy will be doing his utmost to double that tally of defeats when the pair come up against each other in Las Vegas.
The 23-year-old, also only beaten once in three years of cage-fighting, will be just two fights away from the show’s top prize, a £100,000 UFC contract, if he wins.
And if he does make it all the way, the Tynemouth lad reckons he’ll have his North Tyneside upbringing to thank.
“I’ve been doing some form of martial arts since I was six or seven, but the real interest only came when I was about 14,” he told the News Guardian.
“Why did I start? Because it’s tough out there, man.
“You’d get young lads from Meadowell and Howdon looking to fight and get into bother, so I really felt I needed to know how to defend myself properly, and it all started from there.”
Andy began by taking kickboxing lessons at the Attitude Martial Arts Academy in North Shields, went on to take a degree in sports science at Sunderland University and now – well, when not confined to a reality TV set in Nevada – trains at the city’s Section 18 Fight Academy.
Cheering him on back here in North Tyneside as he vies to secure a place in the show’s semi-finals a week tomorrow will be mum Jan, dad Gordon, brother Jonathan and girlfriend Rachel Howard.
Andy, Europe’s Supremacy Fight Challenge featherweight champion, hasn’t been able to speak to them since going into the fighters’ house in March, but the thought of his loved ones back home is still spurring him on towards the show’s final in June.
“It’s the thought of Rachel that’s keeping my head strong in here,” he said.
Away from the gym or cage, one of Andy’s favourite pastimes is watching old films with trainee physiotherapist Rachel, 23, of Wallsend, so he’s looking forward to more than a brief encounter with her and his DVD collection once he gets back to the UK.
“I’m a massive movie fanatic,” said Andy, a former pupil of Whitley Bay’s Marden High School and Tynemouth’s Priory Primary School.
“I love cuddling up with Rachel on the sofa and watching movies that take me away from things.
“You stick on an old film, maybe something like Brief Encounter or North by Northwest, and it takes you away from the real world for a couple of hours.”
His favourite films of recent years are the Star Wars movies, so he, and the rest of the north east and UK, will be hoping the force is with him tomorrow night.
The Ultimate Fighter Live is screened on FX in the US on Friday nights and by ESPN in the early hours of Saturday mornings over here in the UK.