There’s a fighter who is quietly, yet violently working his way up the ladder, and few have been able to get in his way. He’s a guy who gained his first exposure to the mainstream MMA fan base on The Ultimate Fighter 7 as a young 25-year-old standout, but he fell off the radar of the average UFC fan due to an unfortunate night out in Las Vegas. However, while “off the radar,” this guy has been tearing fools up and clawing his way back into the spotlight.

Jesse “JT Money” Taylor entered the TUF house in 2008 and dominated his competition en route to a finals appearance. Prior to his fight to win the coveted title, though, one crazy night screwed up his chances, getting him bounced from the event and, eventually, the organization.

Taylor (rear) (Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog)

Taylor (rear) (Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog)

Taylor was a very talented wrestler throughout high school and college, eventually becoming a two-time junior college All-American and earning a NCAA Division I spot at Cal State Fullerton. After college, he began training with Dan Henderson at Team Quest in Temecula, Calif., which led to his TUF appearance. While his eventual UFC release was not what he wanted, it was the start of an amazing career in MMA.

After his release, the California native went on a seven-fight tear in which he stopped six opponents, including Drew Fickett and Dong Sik Yoon, and took a decision win over current UFC fighter Chris Camozzi to win the King of Champions middleweight title. This run earned Taylor a spot on the Strikeforce roster, which ended after a welterweight loss to former UFC fighter Jay Hieron and a submission loss to eventual Strikeforce middleweight champ and current UFC standout Luke Rockhold.

Following his Strikeforce fights, Taylor has gone 14-4 in professional fights all over the world. He has fought on four continents, racked up five middleweight titles and holds notable wins over guys like Tom “Kong” Watson, Kendall Grove, Dylan Andrews, Murilo Bustamante, Denis Kang and Camozzi. Currently on the second seven-fight winning streak of his career, the decorated wrestler-turned-MMA badass is coming off his most recent win, a three-round decision over Elvis Mutapcic in the semifinals of the World Series of Fighting’s middleweight tournament last December at WSOF 7.

“I was pretty happy with the fight,” Taylor told The MMA Corner. “I wanted to finish him, but he’s a tough dude to finish. I don’t think, in all of his losses, he’s ever been finished. I thought I was going to finish him. I had a real tight guillotine on him. If I would have thrown some little tweaks in there, he could’ve passed out. I didn’t get the finish, but I was excited to dominate him. I always want to get the finish, though. That’s what I’m here for.”

In Taylor’s 27 wins as a pro fighter, he has finished 19 of his opponents, but he was right in saying that Mutapcic has never been stopped. So, that feat was a tall order, even for Taylor.

The fight with Mutapcic was supposed to take place at WSOF 5 last September. That was the first night of the four-man middleweight tournament, which included a fight between David Branch and Danillo Villefort. Taylor was going to fight that night, but instead became a spectator after Mutapcic got bounced when he was seen taking an unknown substance. Taylor looked on as Branch outpointed Villefort in a three-round battle to secure his spot opposite Taylor in the tourney finals.

“I knew I was going to fight him back in September, because it’s a tournament, and it was me, Branch, Villefort and Elvis,” explained Taylor. “That first one was a weird thing, because my first fight got canceled, so I had the luxury of sitting there and watching Branch fight Villefort. So, I’ve seen a lot of Branch. Since he won, I knew I was going to fight him if I beat Elvis, and I beat Elvis. It’s been since September, so I’ve had a long time to study this guy, man. He’s tough, and I’m ready for him, man. I’m definitely ready.”

Taylor has submitted his opponents in four of his last seven fights, whereas Branch’s last seven wins netted the fellow Californian only one finish. Branch, a longtime student of Renzo Gracie, is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and a much more patient fighter. Taylor is an aggressive wrestler with great submission skills, but both men are proficient in all areas of fighting.

“He’s very well rounded, from what I saw,” Taylor admitted. “He’s not horribly good at one thing. I guess his main thing is jiu-jitsu, but he’s very well rounded. He’s a wrestler, he’s a kickboxer, and he excels in jiu-jitsu.”

Branch may have experience in all of these areas, but his patient tactics could come around to bite him. Everybody who knows Taylor knows that he is a bulldog. He comes out aggressive and applies pressure for as long as it takes to grind out a win. Branch is exactly the type of fight he wants to earn that strap.

“He plays a more technical game, but if he comes at me aggressive, awesome,” Taylor said. “That’s what I want. If he does what he usually does, he will be more tactical. He moves a lot. He throws that jab a lot. He kicks and looks for the takedown, but I’m not going to let that happen.

“If I do get hit, I’m going to eat that jab and hit him harder. I’m looking to finish him, and I’m looking to put the pressure on him from beginning to end. If it gets past the first round, I’m wanting him to not want to go another round with me. If it’s a five-round fight, it’s going to be a long night for him.”

Taylor (top) (Chris Dela Cruz/Sherdog)

Taylor (top) (Chris Dela Cruz/Sherdog)

The Team Quest prospect is not overlooking Branch, by any means. However, he knows who else is out there and what a decisive win would mean for his future.

“First thing is Branch,” Taylor elaborated. “[The WSOF] also [has] [Yushin] Okami in there. That’s a fight I want, too, because that could put me right in the top 10. I know in my heart I’m top 10. I mean, I think I’m even top three—I’m getting up there. I can beat anyone in the world, I truly feel.

“It’s going to start with Branch, then it’s Okami, then I got one more fight on my contract. I’ll beat whoever that is, and I’ll have to see what my options are. Maybe I’ll stay at WSOF, or I’ll go to UFC, because they have a lot of the good guys. Before that, I’ve got to focus on what’s on my plate right now, and that’s Dave Branch.”

Taylor has come a long way since his TUF days, where many folks had him picked to win over Amir Sadollah in the finals. He has done more to earn a shot at a title than any other man who has gotten bounced from the promotion, and a win over Branch will get him that much closer to getting back into the UFC. For now, the WSOF gets to reap the benefits of having a top middleweight on its roster and, if Taylor has anything to say about it, holding the promotion’s middleweight strap. Fortunately for all, Taylor is never one to mince words.

“I’m the best in the world. I want fans to know I’m the best in the world.”

This Saturday night, the World Series of Fighting returns to conclude its middleweight tournament at WSOF 10, which takes place at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, the town that put Taylor on the map and ripped him right back off. After getting his life together, racking up an amazing 27-9 record and moving up the ladder over the last six years, he will finally get his shot at a title on one of the biggest stages in the sport. With that shot comes the opportunity to prove that he truly is among the world’s best.

Taylor would like to thank his family, his kids, his friends, his fans and all of his coaches and training partners at Team Quest. He would also like to thank his sponsors: @triumphunited, @devotiionvodka, @ink_spot_tattoo_familia, @inlandrovers_, @sicariusmma, @3lyttlebyrds, @vapage, @toughprintstagram and Mission Treatment. Follow Jesse on Twitter: @JTMoneyMMA