Monday, Nov. 8, 2010 | 2:05 a.m.
When Danny Davis Jr. first attempted to earn a spot as a contestant on the UFC reality show “The Ultimate Fighter” in 2008, he did so with just two amateur fights worth of experience and practically no grappling skills to speak of.
A lot has changed since then.
Davis (5-3-1) was one of 300 mixed martial artists who attended the “TUF” casting call last week at the Red Rock Casino in Summerlin for the show’s anticipated thirteenth season.
The auditions briefly test fighters in grappling and striking and are overseen by president Dana White, matchmaker Joe Silva and Spike TV executives.
Born and raised in Las Vegas, Davis arrived at the tryouts 90 minutes before they were scheduled to start and was one of the first welterweights to perform.
The experience this time around was much different than when Davis first tried out for the ninth season of the show at a Chicago audition two years ago.
“At that time I only had two fights and didn’t even get past the grappling stage,” Davis said.
“This time around, you see me wearing a UFC hat. That’s because right now, I already feel like I’m in the UFC. I believe that after it’s all said and done, I will be on the show. I’m very confident.”
Davis, who is scheduled to compete in his tenth pro fight Saturday at the Eastside Cannery Casino under the King of the Cage promotion has good reason for his confidence.
The standup-based fighter has trained alongside former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir since last December and is close to receiving his purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under world-class instructor Robert Drysdale.
Two or three years ago, simply running with some of the bigger names in MMA might have been enough to earn Davis a spot on the show — but, like the fighter himself, the tryout process has developed over time..
After approximately 900 fighters showed up to the Chicago tryout in 2008, the UFC and Spike decided to add a requirement that all applicants have at least three professional fights of experience.
The rule has made a drastic change in the level of fighters they’ve seen since.
“You can see the change in quality of guys going through this,” said Brian Diamond, senior vice president of Spike. “It used to be guys were real skilled in just one area or they were basically novices just here for the fun of it.
“Now you see guys here who are dead serious.”
Guys like Davis, who train full time and treat mixed martial arts more as a profession than a hobby.
Davis, in fact, has been waiting for a second chance to try out for the show ever since he was first turned away from it in 2008. Since the ninth season, TUF has yet to feature welterweights, leaving Davis on the sidelines watching heavier or lighter fighters.
While there’s other ways to break into the UFC, Davis believes his best shot is as a contestant on the show and said he had been closely paying attention for the day his weight class would be called upon again.
“I would have been at the tryouts wherever they were,” Davis said. “If it was in China, I would have been there. I’ve been watching the season and I knew it was almost time for my weight to come around.
“I found out about three weeks ago and here I was, first person at the tryouts.”
Davis will now wait for a call from the UFC and Spike to inform him if he’s made it to the second round of auditions. Should he make the final list of contestants, the show is expected to begin filming in Las Vegas in January.
Although there have been various formats on how spots in the house are earned, the show has adopted an elimination round in recent seasons, where 28 fighters compete for 14 spots.
While the show is filmed in Las Vegas, the city has lacked a representative in the previous two seasons. The most recent Las Vegas native to compete on the show was heavyweight Roy Nelson, who ended up winning the 10th season.
Davis attended Green Valley High School and Chaparral High School before falling into trouble with gangs when he was 16.
After two stints in juvenile correctional facilities, Davis says he redirected his life and now speaks to underprivileged kids in the area.
Representing the city of Las Vegas, in addition to a shot at a UFC contract, is an opportunity Davis says he’s looking forward to in 2011.
“It would mean the world to me,” Davis said. “I was born and raised out here and I have a lot of local love. I’m active in the community; I go out and talk to kids at lower income schools and the institutions.
“Just to be a Vegas native on the show would be so gratifying.”