Crossroads. They come along eventually in almost every fighter’s professional life. In fact, sometimes, there can be many crossroads. Sometimes, the crossroad is choosing a promotion. Sometimes, it’s choosing whether or not to hold down a job in lieu of full-time training. A crossroad can involve starting a family, choosing a sponsor or even switching camps. For Adam Stroup, the crossroad was one that has been a big decision for many up-and-coming fighters.

Last July, Stroup found out that The Ultimate Fighter reality show was holding tryouts for its TUF 19 middleweight division, which is the Colorado native’s weight class. He was scheduled for a shot at the local Sparta Combat League’s 185-pound title in September. If he tried out for TUF and was subsequently selected for the elimination rounds, he would have to step out of his SCL fight to temporarily sign with the UFC.

For the first time in his fighting career, the 5-1 fighter, who only had a year and a half of pro experience under his belt, was at a crossroads in his career. He trains full-time, and fighting is his life. It puts food on his table. While the guaranteed money in his SCL fight sounded great, the chance to get UFC exposure was the type of opportunity that only comes along once in a lifetime. Standing at that crossroad, he chose the TUF path.

The Ultimate Fighter is not for everyone, but it is a way to get noticed by the UFC brass and a chance to showcase a fighter’s skills, even if for only one show. After tryouts in Indianapolis, Stroup was eventually chosen to fly out to Las Vegas to fight in the elimination rounds. While some of the competition was stiff, some of the guys were very beatable. However, Stroup got a tough draw in eventual finalist Dhiego Lima.

After two hard-fought rounds, Stroup was eliminated by unanimous decision. While the first round, which featured a lot of back-and-forth action, really could’ve gone either way, he took a hard shot from Lima in the second that seemed to sway the judges enough to end the fight after two. Although things didn’t go the way Stroup wanted, it left a hunger in his belly to get back to the Octagon.

“It was short-lived, but I liked being out in Vegas where the big show happens,” Stroup admitted to The MMA Corner. “I liked seeing the big names and the big referees, so that was cool. But, obviously, I wish I would’ve won that fight so I could’ve stayed longer.”

Lima, whose brother Douglas is the Bellator welterweight champ, has been fighting since he was 21 years old. He entered TUF with a 9-1 record and had already fought in Maximum Fighting Championship five times. Training out of American Top Team in Atlanta, he was a big step up in competition for Stroup, who had yet to fight outside of Colorado. Stroup’s assessment of what happened is very honest, and he knows that time will heal his defeat.

“I mean, he had five more years of fighting than me, not to make any excuses,” Stroup admitted. “I feel like with five more years of growth, I would’ve had a lot better chance of winning that fight. I feel like he was just a little farther down the road than me. And, I’m just going to continue to get better.”

The TUF 19 elimination fights took place last October, but the season didn’t air until April of this year. That’s a long time for all of the eliminated fighters to have to sit on the bench, but contractual guidelines prevented the fighters from revealing any results.

“The UFC kept all of the guys under contract that fought that day, even if they were off [the show],” explained Stroup. “They don’t want you to fight or say anything until the episode airs that shows whether you won or lost. So, I’ve been spending time at the gym trying to get my skills up and just getting ready to go.”

After the episode featuring his bout aired on April 16, the wheels were in motion for Stroup to get back in the cage. Right around the end of May, SCL had secured an opponent for him, and he was back on track to get a shot at that middleweight title he was supposed to fight for in September. So, after not fighting in Colorado since June 2013, Stroup will be back in his hometown fighting for SCL gold against a formidable opponent in Jason “The Dragon” Lee. The two will meet this Friday night at Sparta Combat League: Heat, at the Douglas County Events Center in Castle Rock, Colo.

Lee is riding a two-fight winning streak after a TKO of Vernon Earwood last fall and an April decision win over Jeremy Hart, the guy Stroup beat in his last outing. Lee trains out of Trevor Wittman’s Grudge Training Center on the north side of Denver, and Stroup trains out of Marc Montoya’s Factory X on the south side. This will be a highly anticipated match-up with UFC-caliber coaches in the respective corners.

The pairing makes for an interesting comparison. Both guys are trained by striking-heavy head coaches, but, whereas Lee has claimed three of his seven wins by knockout and one via submission, Stroup has all three of his finishes coming by way of submission. On the other hand, all four of Lee’s losses have come by stoppage, but Stroup has never been stopped, even in his loss to Lima. Lee mostly wins by knockout, but Stroup has yet to be knocked out.

“I think it’s a good match-up for me, because Jason is known to stand up and throw, and that’s what I like to do, too,” Stroup elaborated. “I think I have a good chance of landing some good shots on him on the feet. I think my stand-up is a lot better than his.

“He’s a tough guy. I think he’ll hang in there and throw punches. He’s not going to back down. I think he’ll throw down with me. He’s pretty powerful, and, when somebody wants to throw down, you can get hit. He could propose some challenges that way.”

Stroup may have yet to earn a win by knockout, but there is a ton of knockout power in his large, 6-foot-3 frame. Just ask Todd Meredith’s face.

Meredith checks in as Stroup’s sole official loss. The defeat came via a controversial decision in Stroup’s second pro fight, which took place in May 2012. Stroup looked pretty gassed at the end of round three, but his opponent, Meredith, looked like he got hit by a train. In round one of that fight, Meredith suffered a flash knockout, but the ref gave him just enough time to recover and go on. Stroup likes to joke that he “does jiu-jitsu,” because of his three submission wins, but his training partners and opponents know he’s a beast on his feet. As for the nine-month layoff, he’s not at all worried about getting back in the saddle.

“I don’t think there’s any ring rust for me,” said Stroup. “I would have liked to fight as soon as I came home from the show, if I could have. I’m always training and I’m always getting better, so I don’t think there will be any problem once we get in the cage. I’ll be taking care of business. If anything, I’m just better than I was the last time, you know?”

Lee will be a huge test for Stroup, and that middleweight strap will be a great reward. He knows he needs to perform well if he wants to stay on the UFC’s radar, and his goals fall right in line with his plans for Lee.

“My goal right now is to finish three fights,” stated the Factory X prospect. “I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do that by the end of the year, but I want to finish three fights in a row. This will be my first.”

The decision to enter TUF was a life-changing experience, and, although things didn’t go exactly the way he wanted, Stroup is a better fighter for it. The fire in his belly is burning stronger than ever now. The next step to showing the world where he belongs is this Friday night at Sparta Combat League: Heat against a red-hot Lee. Stroup is not coming to lay and pray. The proud Colorado native is coming to really lay down the heat.

“If you watch my fights, they aren’t jiu-jitsu matches. They aren’t wrestling matches. They are real fights. I come to fight. I’m going to fight hard to the last bell, and, if that’s what it takes—I’m hoping to finish before that—I’m going to bring it, and I’m going all out.”

Stroup would like to thank all of his coaches and training partners at Factory X Muay Thai, especially Marc Montoya. He would also like to thank all of his family and friends, as well as his sponsors: Golden Construction, Ride The West RV, 5280 Armory and Performance MMA. Follow Adam on Twitter: @AdamStroup