Andy Main fought his way into the TUF House for the twelfth season of the Ultimate Fighter employing the jiu-jitsu skills he’d honed rising up the Northeast fight scene. But the Team Koscheck member lost his semifinal bout against Kyle Watson, and that was the end of that. Since then, the 23-year-old New Jersey native has struggled with health issues that have kept him from the cage.

Main got his start in pro MMA after finding some success as an amateur – he was adapt at submissions and, though somewhat lanky, packed a knockout punch. To facilitate the transition, he linked up with Mike Constantino of the AMA Fight Club.

“He invited me to start training with Jimmy [Miller], Danny [Miller] and Charlie [Brenneman] and all those guys,” says Main. “At the time, the room was even better than it is now. At the time, we had Frankie [Edgar] and the whole Ricardo Almeida team sparring. You either got good real fast or you got brushed aside. That was kind of how I got introduced to actually fighting.”

Main racked up wins in the regional promotion Ring of Combat, which put him on the radar of the folks at SpikeTV.

“The experience on the Ultimate Fighter, it was a lot of fun,” he says. “Just doing things like that – living in the House, training with the guys, the exposure – was a lot of fun while I was there. But ultimately I don’t think I was ready for it. I don’t think my head was in the right place. All of a sudden all the cameras were in my face, and I was doing two or three interviews a day after I got out of the show. I was feeling like a big shot when I wasn’t even a big shot. I mean, I didn’t win the show, I didn’t even make it to the semifinals. But everyone still wants to talk to you. I don’t want to say it got to my head, but it derailed me from where I was trying to go. In that sense, I don’t think it was a positive thing.”

He does, however, acknowledge the silver linings behind the experience. “The positives that came out of it were the connections, the people I got to know… now I can go into any gym in the world and they’ll welcome me in and want me to spar with their guys. That kind of stuff, you can’t get that anywhere else.”

What has Main been up to since TUF? “I got picked up by the Ultimate Fighter, went on the show, I went 1-1 while I was on the show. After that, I’ve fought twice. I fought in a show in Indiana, and I won that fight. Then I headlined a show in Morristown, N.J. against now-UFC fighter Felipe Arantes – a fight that I think I was winning until he hit me with an illegal strike and the doctor called it. But I’ve been having the worst couple years in terms of health, so I have not been able to get back into the cage. I came down with mononucleosis, which really screwed up my immune system. From that, I came down with shingles, and I’ve broken out with shingles eight times since that. So that’s the end of 2011 and all throughout 2012. Every time I trained hard, I would break out with shingles and have to pull out of my fights. I was supposed to fight at Ring of Combat, I actually made it to the weigh-ins, but I had some remnants of a breakout of shingles and the doctor called it. He said it wasn’t healed enough. That was devastating, and I considered retiring. Even at 23, I considered retiring. I had literally trained for six fight camps over the past year and a half, and had not fought one time out of all those. I was like, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ Training for a fight is hard enough as it is, but training for a fight and never fighting, it’s the worst thing in the world. It feels like you’re just wasting your time.”

In the meantime, Main started his own school – Pure MMA – which occupied him while he nursed his health. Yet competition beckoned. “I decided to give it another go, so here I am, fighting on Saturday and – knock on wood – hopefully nothing happens between now and then and I make it to the fight, and see where my career goes from there.”

“I don’t think the UFC has heard the last from me, if I can stay healthy. I think I’m one of the best 145ers in the world. Literally, we have people come into our gym all the time who are some of the best fighters around, and they’re trying to get some sparring in. And there’s not a 155er that’s walked through the door that I’ve felt who’s been on another level. I know where I’m at. I train with Jim Miller all the time, and he’s one of the top lightweights in the world. I’ve trained with Ben Henderson. I know where I stand with one of the best 155ers in the world – and that’s a weight class up. That’s kind of what kept me going when I wasn’t healthy.”

On Saturday night, Main plans on seeing action at the Cage Fury Fighting Championships in Atlantic City. Hopefully nothing gets in the way of that.