After a near-clean sweep of the quarterfinals of “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 31, the remaining members of Michael Chandler’s team were offered a chance to train with Conor McGregor’s team ahead of their semifinal matchups. Brad Katona, who trains at SBG Ireland with McGregor and Lee Hammond, was the only one who accepted the offer.
Team Chandler teammates Roosevelt Roberts and Austin Hubbard fought in the first bout of the second round. Hubbard earned a split decision win over Roberts to claim the first spot in the lightweight finale. He last fought in the UFC in August 2021 but is now one step closer to earning a spot on the roster once again.
Let’s look at the biggest moments from Episode 9 and what’s ahead next week.
Lightweight: Roosevelt Roberts, Team Chandler vs. Austin Hubbard, Team Chandler
Hubbard beat Roberts by split decision
Roberts and Hubbard got off to a slow start, staying at range and feeling each other out for most of Round 1. The second round started much like the first until Hubbard scored a takedown, which likely was enough for him to steal the round. Both fighters traded shots in the third round before Roberts scored a takedown of his own, but it wasn’t enough to sway the judges as Hubbard won the round on the cards via split decision.
Hubbard, a UFC veteran, was on the roster from 2019 to 2021. He went 3-4 under the promotion.
UFC president Dana White said he wasn’t impressed with the performance of either fighter during the bout. “There was absolutely no urgency, whatsoever,” White said after the fight.
We’ll see if Hubbard can impress his former boss in the finale later this year.
Storylines to watch
If it ain’t broke …
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) July 26, 2023
Following the run of success in the first round of fights, most of Team Chandler’s fighters had no interest in jumping ship to train with Team McGregor. And it’s hard to blame them.
Often in MMA, when teammates or training partners are matched up against each other, one of the two decides it’s best to train elsewhere ahead of the fight. And that would make even more sense in the case of TUF, as these teams last only for the duration of the show. But there seems to be a real synergy between Chandler and his team.
So instead of taking the opportunity, the majority of the team members expressed their interest in remaining with Team Chandler. Katona was the only fighter to swap teams.
“I’m not a fan of Conor McGregor, and I’m not a fan of the way that they’ve been training,” semifinalist Kurt Holobaugh said. And, in a conversation between Katona and Trevor Wells on the episode, Wells said Jason Knight said that he would “rather go home than train with Team McGregor.”
Will the loyalty of the veteran fighters pay off? Chandler and his staff acknowledged the problems that coaching/fighting against teammates can present.
“It’s a bit of a conflict because you want to be a good coach and you want to exploit your opponent’s weaknesses,” Team Chandler assistant coach Robert Drysdale said. “We are a victim of our own success, I suppose. It’s a good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless.”
Next week’s matchup
Bantamweight: Timur Valiev, Team Chandler vs. Brad Katona, Team McGregor
Here’s everything we know about these two fighters:
UFC record: 2-1, 1 NC
Fighting out of: Dagestan, Russia
Last TUF fight: Valiev def. Trevor Well by unanimous decision
UFC record: 2-2
Fighting out of: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Last TUF fight: Katona def. Carlos Vera by unanimous decision