The last time Danny Castillo got this close to the set of "The Ultimate Fighter," a producer told him he'd fallen just short of being a competitor on the show.
Now, Castillo is back in Las Vegas, and he frequently spends time on the set of "TUF: Live" while helping the aspiring lightweights as part of Team Urijah Faber. He doesn't technically work there because, he laments, he doesn't get paid.
But he gets compensated in other ways.
"My rent's free," he told MMAjunkie.com Radio (www.mmajunkie.com/radio). "I'm doing a camp out here."
Faber, who also heads Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, Calif., is surrounded by his teammates from back home as he prepares to meet opposing coach Dominick Cruz at UFC 148.
At the same time, Castillo (13-4 MMA, 3-1 UFC) is putting in work for his fight with fellow lightweight John Cholish (8-1 MMA, 1-0 UFC) at UFC on FOX 3, which takes place Saturday at IZOD Center in East Rutherford, N.J. The bout airs as part of an FX-televised preliminary-card leading into the event's FOX-televised main card.
Castillo said he's found a groove in the bustle of Sin City. He bounces from the famed Cobra Kai academy to the mats of jiu-jitsu ace Sergio Penha to the squared circle of boxing trainer Jeff Mayweather. In between all that, he squeezes in sessions at the UFC Training Center, where the reality show is filmed.
"Las Vegas is like the Disneyland for fighters," he said.
And distracting in all the same ways for many. Castillo, however, said he'd rather be in Las Vegas than see a stack of bills at home.
While he's here, he might be able to make a difference in the life of a fighter on the verge of success. Once admittedly in the sport because it beat office work and got him paid, he enjoys the process of becoming a better fighter.
"I'm here to help these guys, and it's good because I have eight brand new sparring partners, and they're at my weight," Castillo said.
He's not there for the rivalry, that's for sure. While he admits to disliking opposing coach Cruz after his training partner, Joseph Benavidez, lost a bout to the current bantamweight champ, recent interactions with Cruz have changed his tune.
"After he beat Benavidez a second time, you can't really hate the guy," Castillo said. "You can't hate a guy that's defending a belt that many times. He's one of the best in the world, and I respect that."
Toiling in Las Vegas, Castillo hopes all his work will one day put him in the company of Cruz and Faber. So far, he's been happy with the life he's built in Sin City. He might live there, if not for a girlfriend back in Sacramento.
Being a boyfriend, after all, has its perks.
"When I'm in camp, she does all the cooking," Castillo said. "I don't really have to worry about anything."