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SportsMixed Martial Arts

'Ultimate Fighter' contestant Roger Zapata's ultimate sacrifice

Roger Zapata is a contestant on Season 19

Roger Zapata is a contestant on Season 19 of "The Ultimate Fighter." Credit: UFC

Flying across the country to get punched in the face, all in the hopes of being able to get paid to do it again, requires courage. Doing so four days after your daughter was born takes strength.

Those first days of parenthood bring to the surface every emotion possible. From joy to wonder, from amazement to nervousness, from "Wow, look what we just did" to "Wow, what do we do now?"

And, of course the comedy of errors that are cute and beautiful now and funny anecdotes at graduations and weddings.

"She ended up peeing on me, which was an awesome moment for me," said Roger Zapata, a contestant on Season 19 of "The Ultimate Fighter."

Zapata, who grew up in the Bronx and Carmel, left home in Albany the day after that moment to fly to Las Vegas, his dream in front of him. If Zapata were to win his qualifying fight to be a contestant on the full season of "TUF," he'd be away from Milania for six weeks. No phones, no Skype, no FaceTime, no Instagram, no Twitter, no Facebook. No chance to follow every development in his baby girl's first six weeks of life. That in itself is a test of the man's will.

"This is my biggest dream right here," Zapata said.

Zapata said his girlfriend, Gabrielle, was "such a rock" and helped make it easier for him to go chase that dream of fighting in the biggest and most competitive mixed martial arts promotion in the world. His family and hers both backed him 100 percent, he said.

Zapata (4-1) trains at Renzo Gracie in Latham, just outside of Albany. He found out about tryouts for "TUF 19" about two weeks before they were held in Indianapolis in late August. He arrived in Indianapolis hours before they started.

"I think I was the fifth person there, I wanted to make sure I wasn't late," Zapata said. "My No. 1 thing was I'm not gonna travel from New York to Indianapolis and be late."

He contemplated sleeping in his car if need be.

"You gotta chase your dreams," said Zapata, who is on B.J. Penn's team on the show. "When it comes time to chase your dreams, you gotta do whatever it takes. Planning ahead sometimes doesn't do it."

With a newborn, Zapata thought: "What's my next move?"

With the tryouts, Zapata thought: "Just get it done. Do whatever you can to show you can fight."

He did enough at tryouts to make the final cut of 32.

He did enough in the qualifying round to make the final 16 on the full season of "TUF."

And his quarterfinal bout against Ian Stephens airs Wednesday night.

New York Sports