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Chris Camozzi making the most of second chance in the UFC

Former TUF 11 contestant looks to hand Dong Yi Yang first pro loss

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Sam Morris

The Ultimate Fighter contestant Chris Camozzi.

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Chris Camozzi knows what it feels like to have his dreams taken away.

Fortunately for the UFC middleweight, he also knows what it feels like to get them back.

Camozzi (13-3) will look to hand undefeated UFC newcomer Dong Yi Yang (9-0) his first professional loss Saturday on the undercard of the UFC 121 event in Anaheim, Calif.

It's an opportunity Camozzi relishes, especially after a devastating experience on the "The Ultimate Fighter" reality series earlier this year left him feeling like his mixed-martial-arts career was over.

After earning a spot as a contestant on TUF 11 with a decision win over Victor O'Donnell, Camozzi was released from the house during the show's third episode when doctors announced he had suffered a broken jaw in that fight.

So, while 14 other middleweights competed on national television for a UFC contract, Camozzi flew back to his native Colorado, where he couldn't train or even eat solid food for the next five weeks.

"It felt like the end of my career," said the 23-year-old Camozzi. "It was almost like somebody in my family had died. I had been broke, fighting on small shows and just waiting for my opportunity. When that happened, it felt like that opportunity had passed because of an injury."

As it turned out, Camozzi's shot at a UFC contract wasn't finished.

In May, he received a call offering him a spot on the TUF 11 Finale card scheduled for June 19 at The Palms in Las Vegas.

Just like that, the opportunity to fight for the biggest mixed-martial-arts organization in the world had reappeared as quickly as it had been taken away.

"It was real surprising to get that call," Camozzi said. "Once I got it, it was just a big relief. I had already started training again by then, but I was still bummed out about not being on the show. After that call, I felt motivated again."

Camozzi went on to earn a unanimous-decision win over James Hammortree in one of the most entertaining fights of the event.

Although he ended with the win, disaster nearly struck Camozzi again in the first round when he says he suffered a dislocated left shoulder.

Showing the same durability that helped him finish a fight with a broken jaw, Camozzi fought through the injury and actually had the shoulder pop back into place in the middle of the fight.

"I think I was throwing a punch and he came up underneath and bumped my arm out of place," Camozzi said. "We were in the clinch against the cage and I couldn't even lift my arm. He took me down and right when we went down my shoulder hit the mat and popped back in. Until that happened, I was kind of panicking.

"I've never had any injuries in a fight before and now, in two UFC fights, I've had two serious ones."

The win took Camozzi's career from an all-time low to a UFC contract and the chance to fight on a card that many are calling one of the best of the year on paper.

The UFC 121 event is headlined by a heavyweight title fight between Brock Lesnar and Cain Velasquez. In the co-main event, former Strikeforce middleweight champion Jake Shields is set to make his UFC debut against Martin Kampmann.

In addition to a great card, Camozzi also feels he's been matched up against a great opponent in Yang, who has recorded TKO victories in his last eight straight fights.

Earlier this year, Yang's teammate Chan Sung Jung, the "Korean Zombie," was involved in one of the best fights of the year against Leonard Garcia in the WEC's lightweight division.

Although Camozzi says he spent most of his recent training camp working to improve his wrestling, he's more than willing to trade shots with Yang at UFC 121 much like Jung and Garcia did.

"I've thought about that a few times," Camozzi said. "I've made sure my cardio is on point so I can keep up with the pace of that kind of fight. I could probably use my wrestling, but I'm a stubborn guy. I don't like to admit somebody's better than me in any area. If he wants to turn it into that kind of fight, I think that favors me."

Other than handing Yang his first professional loss this weekend, Camozzi says his short-term goals are to simply improve his game and preserve his spot on the UFC roster.

Oh, and he'd like to fight on national television — something he still never has had the opportunity to do, despite finding his way onto a reality show.

"My main goal is to make it on the televised portion of an event," Camozzi said. "If I win this fight, maybe I can make it on to the main card of the Spike TV portion next time. I want to end fights in good fashion and put together wins."

Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at LVSunFighting

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