Frank Lester didn’t lose to James Wilks, he was beaten – badly.
The welterweight suffered a broken nose, two black eyes, and a gash that required 24 stitches to close during the Ultimate Fighter: United States vs. United Kingdom second round match. An oral surgeon went to work on Lester with a scalpel immediately following the fight to remove the roots of the four teeth Wilks knocked out of the American fighter’s mouth, leaving his gums, “raw as hell,” Lester said.
But the residual ache of the beating was nothing compared to the hell Lester would put his body through in an effort to make weight for an unexpected third fight.
With nothing to do in the TUF house and no reason to stay fighting fit after his loss to Wilks, Lester began putting away heaping helpings of Haagen-Dazs. The extra calories, coupled with intense power lifting sessions, caused the fighter to swell to 201 pounds in a matter of days.
When signs pointed to Jason Pierce being removed from the tournament either due to injury or an attitude problem, Lester volunteered to replace him despite the fact that he looked like an extra from “Dawn of the Dead.”
“I saw Dana [White] walking back to the offices and I stopped him, tapped him on the shoulder,” Lester said. “I was like Dana, ‘If Pierce is out, I want that fight.’ He kinda looked at me like I’m f—— stupid and patted me on the shoulder like I was some little kid and he taps me on the shoulder and he goes, ‘You did great man, that was a great fight the other day.’ And he just walked off.”
Lester learned later that he would be given the chance to fight David Faulkner, one of his better friends in the house. He was ecstatic until the Haagen-Dazs came back to haunt him.
“I think I found out Friday and the fight was Monday or Tuesday or something,” Lester said. “Dude, I had to f—— cut 30 pounds in like, three days.”
Dana White put Lester’s dream on life support and there was no way he was going to let it die on the table a second time. “I remember I got into the sauna at 2 a.m. in the morning, cutting weight,” he said. “The whole house was asleep and I f——- woke up in the middle of the night for two hours in the sauna and I went to bed and I got up at 8 a.m. and I passed out because I was so tired and I woke up and I did it again and somehow.”
“I’m telling you, Mark Miller and Santino [Defranco] had to like, hold me and carry me into the van,” Lester said. “No f—– bullshit, I thought I was going to die.”
And Lester very well could have. Other TUF contestants have played up the pain of cutting weight for the sake of the cameras but the Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran put his health in serious jeopardy. When Rory Markham misjudged his weight prior to his UFC 95 fight against Dan Hardy and was forced to cut 31 pounds in four days, the rapid weight loss caused a partial collapse of Markham’s lung and fluid build-up around his heart.
But Lester survived the crucible and entered the match with Faulkner determined to leave whatever he had left in the cage. “I wanted to go out throwing on my feet,” Lester said. “Whether I won or lost I wanted to go out like a gangster.”
The bout, which Lester describes as “a f—— dog fight” was set to enter the third stanza when Faulkner failed to answer the bell. “I don’t know why Faulkner quit,” said Lester, adding that Ross Pearson thought his British teammate was deterred because the uppercut he favors didn’t put Lester out when it landed. Faulkner confirmed as much to Lester after the fight.
“You know how many people I’ve hit with that uppercut and they go to sleep,” Faulkner asked Lester. “It looked like it didn’t even phase you.”
“The thing was, it did phase me,” Lester said, “but I didn’t want to show it. If I get hit, I’m coming forward, because I’m not gonna let him smell blood and jump on me. When he hit me, my mind went kinda fuzzy, you know, went black a little bit so I started throwing hands.”
Lester was the first TUF contestant to win after being given a second chance, and everything after this is gravy for the Team Quest fighter. No matter what happens in his rematch with James Wilks, Lester’s gutsy display has earned him fans and secured his place in TUF lore. It’s hard to imagine than anyone has ever gained more by losing so much.