VALPARAISO | Kevin Nowaczyk has been close to the elite level, and things didn't go his way.
And that gives him all the more reason to get back there.
Nowaczyk (13-3), who today fights Jimmy Fritz (2-1) in the main event of Hoosier Fight Club 18, got a shot at the UFC in 2012 with a chance to win his way into "The Ultimate Fighter" house. But he was stopped quickly into the first round by a Dom Waters uppercut.
"'The Ultimate Fighter' was upsetting, but it didn't faze me too much," Nowaczyk said. "I know this is a sport where sometimes, a one-punch thing happens. And I've never actually watched the fight, but from what I'm told, it was just a one-punch thing."
The loss, he said, inspires him to keep clawing his way back to that level. If nothing else, it has showed him that hard work has paid off.
"I've been grinding in this sport since I was 18 and I'm 24 now," he said. "I've been working hard. So it was kind of a reward letting me know I was on the right path. It gave me confidence for sure."
With four wins in his past five fights, and a 5-3 overall record for HFC, Nowaczyk — whose "Give Me Your Lunch Money" nickname is one of the most unique in the sport — wants a win over Fritz to keep him rolling.
It's an opponent he has spent time in the gym with.
"I've never been too good at looking up my guys," Nowaczyk said. "I just focus on myself and my training. But with him, I actually trained with him before. I'm not going to say I'm better than him — but I'm not worried. This guy talks a lot about his jiu-jitsu, so I'd like to tap him out."
In June, at HFC, he took a decision from Quinton McCottrell to get back on track after a loss to Nathan Coy at HFC 14 in February. Coy is a Strikeforce veteran who in two weeks fights 14-fight UFC veteran Matthew Riddle for Bellator.
That may give a little indication into where Nowaczyk is in the industry. If a win over him on the local circuit can help get Coy a fight against Riddle on a Spike TV-televised card, then Nowaczyk can't be far behind.
Nowaczyk's three official losses (the "Ultimate Fighter" loss doesn't go on his official record) have come to Coy, UFC vet Kris McCray and current UFC welterweight and former HFC headliner Neil Magny. They all came by decision.
"I'm hopefully close, but the UFC is pretty unpredictable," he said. "I take a lot of confidence that the guys I lost to were stellar guys. So on the one hand, I'm glad I'm fighting these tough guys. I'm losing decisions, except for 'The Ultimate Fighter.' I think I just needed to open up more – I was nervous. So I'm hoping the next time I get a shot at (a big promotion), I'm not going to crumble under the pressure."