Sometimes, if an opportunity of a lifetime doesn’t quite pan out, it may spell the end of a career, a dream or a goal. In that case, it’s time to regroup and begin working in another direction. Sometimes, though, that opportunity may not pan out in the beginning, but hard work and perseverance will finally pay off.

Omaha, Nebraska’s Drew Dober had the opportunity of a lifetime after being chosen to fight for a spot on season 15 of The Ultimate Fighter reality show. Most of the people that make it into the house get some decent exposure on an international platform, but not every contestant actually makes it anywhere in the UFC after the show ends. In fact, the majority of contestants do not.

Dober didn’t even make it into the house, because of a very strange one-round loss in the qualifying round. It was the first and only time UFC parent company Zuffa went with the one-round format, and it “weeded out” some very good fighters. If it’s hard to get a contract after being on the show, it’s exponentially harder to make it into the UFC after missing a shot to get into the house. Well, Dober chose to stay at it, work his ass off, and chase that dream. That hard work has finally paid off.

Only two weeks ago, Dober got a call from the promotion, offering a quick contract, and on Nov. 19, it was announced that he would face Sean Spencer. Spencer was already a short-notice injury replacement for Zak Cummings and was scheduled to fight Sergio Moraes, but when Moraes became injured, Dober was quickly called up to fill in. It was an offer he gladly accepted.  So, tonight in the first fight on the Fox Sports 1 prelims, Dober will make his UFC debut at the TUF 18 Finale, live from Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.

“It’s been a mixture of excitement and anxiety,” said Dober in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “The pressure of the big time, but the excitement of being able to achieve my dream of being in the UFC—it’s a dream I’ve had since I was 14.”

Excitement and anxiety aside, the UFC is the biggest stage in mixed martial arts, and it’s no walk in the park, so one has to wonder just how ready Dober really is to face a guy who already has two Octagon appearances under his belt.

“My conditioning has never been an issue, because I am always training as hard as I possibly can, whether it’s pre-fight or post-fight or off-season or whatever,” explained the Omaha native. “The thing that first struck my mind was, ‘Oh crap, I need to start cutting weight.’ It hasn’t been too bad, and I’m getting through it. I just had to start eating clean again, and the fight’s at 170 [pounds], so I didn’t really have to cut too much.”

On Oct. 18, Dober defeated Tony Sims for the Prize Fighting Championship’s lightweight title, so fighting at welterweight only six weeks later will be a breeze, and that’s a good thing, considering he will need all the strength he can to take on a very game Spencer, who has fought as high as 185 pounds in recent years.

As for the match-up, both men have extensive experience in striking arts, but Spencer takes most of his opponents the distance, whereas Dober finishes almost everyone he faces, most by submission.

“I think it’s a great match-up,” said Dober. “I was always under the notion that being a new competitor in the UFC, they were going to be throwing me to the wolves, but they gave me a very winnable fight. Sean Spencer’s a tough opponent, but I think, stylistically, it’s going to make for a great fight that I can win.

“I think he’s an athletic boxer and I’m a talented Muay Thai fighter, so we’re both going to swing for each other, both go for the knockout. It’s either going to be 15 minutes of fantastic fighting or, if I have it my way, a first-round submission or knockout.”

Both men have fought some high-level opponents in the past, but Dober has won more against bigger names. Dober has only been stopped once, by knockout, whereas Spencer has dropped two by submission, which plays right into Dober’s wheelhouse. With a deeper striking arsenal and a better ground game, the Nebraskan surely has the upper hand going into this one. Since they’re both coming in on short notice, the only real advantage for Spencer would probably be the size difference, but Dober’s got some big ol’ Midwestern training partners, so the size may turn out to be a non-issue.

As for the rest of his team at Mid-America Martial Arts in Omaha, Dober has a pretty solid stable of coaches, too.

“My head coach is Aaron Cerrone, Anthony Carlson is my jiu-jitsu coach, I have Bret Carter as my strength and conditioning coach, and Zac Dominguez as my wrestling coach,” Dober elaborated. “I know a lot of people have not heard of Mid-America, but it’s hard to find coaches who really care about your well-being, your goals and your aspirations, and these guys sacrifice a lot just [to] get me prepared for these fights. I stick with the people that brought me to the UFC, and that’s going to win me a title. These are the guys I’m sticking with, and Mid-America is the gym I’m taking it home to.”

Even though Dober’s background is in Muay Thai, Carlson currently competes in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and holds brown belts in BJJ and judo, and Zac Dominguez is a very highly decorated and highly involved wrestling coach, three-time All-American college wrestler, three-time high school state champ and former resident of the U.S. Olympic Training Center. Needless to say that with coaches like that, this Muay Thai practitioner has one hell of a ground game for a reason.

Coming into tonight’s match-up, Dober is confident, ready and focused on the task at hand, but as he has already learned in his fighting career, he always needs to be on his toes and ready to go, regardless of the outcome. At the same time, there always has to be that balance between work life and personal life, and he has a pretty good game plan for incorporating work with pleasure.

“I just want to watch my P’s and Q’s as far as training, because I don’t know when the UFC is going to give me a call for another fight,” Dober stated. “I always want to be prepared, I always want to be ready. So, as far as the month of December, spending some time with my family, obviously—I had to sacrifice Thanksgiving, so I need to make that up—and my mother’s birthday is Dec. 12.

“I also want to do some traveling and do some cross-training at some of the local gyms in Kansas City, Denver and St. Louis. I’ve got a bunch of different friends out in different cities who I’d love to go train with, and since I’m not in fight camp, I would like to go pick their brains and train with them and bring their skills—my newly acquired skills—back to my gym in Omaha, Neb.”

As for the Thanksgiving sacrifice, it’s not all about missing out on turkey and stuffing. As Dober stated, he usually stays in really good shape. The biggest sacrifice for him may seem an unlikely one: missing out on the biggest shopping day of the year.

“I’m usually spending time with my girlfriend, playing video games, reading books. I’m a huge nerd,” explained the 25-year-old pro. “You’ll always catch me at Barnes & Noble or the local malls, looking for new games. It’s unfortunate that I was out here and unable to purchase the Xbox One or one of the Playstation 4’s on Black Friday.”

Well, there will always be time for that later. And, who knows, a nice big bonus check from an exciting finish might just make up for missing out on those Black Friday deals, and he won’t get arrested for punching somebody, as many nut-job shoppers did yesterday morning. In fact, the result of punching somebody in the Octagon is earned respect, admiration and cheers from MMA fans, and, as this business goes, Dober is sure to deliver.

“Oh, man. This is going to be an exciting fight. I’m going in hoping to win, and I’m going to go for the win. Maybe not the early win, but the fight’s going to be exciting. I never, ever, have boring fights, and I refuse to have boring fights. Not only am I a martial artist, but I’m a fighter, and I’m an entertainer. I go out there to please the audience and to please the UFC.”

Dober would like to thank all of his coaches and training partners at Mid-America Martial Arts and Omaha Barbell. He would also like to thank his sponsors Max Muscle, Seven Fightgear, and Animal Instinct. Follow Drew on Twitter: @DrewDober

Photo: Drew Dober (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)