First Round Match-Ups Revealed as The Ultimate Fighter 31: Team McGregor vs. Team Chandler Debuts

Roosevelt Roberts and Ignacio Bahamondes, UFC Vegas 34
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - AUGUST 21: (L-R) Roosevelt Roberts punches Ignacio Bahamondes of Chile in a lightweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on August 21, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

The Ultimate Fighter 31 debuted Saturday night, ushering in the return of Conor McGregor in his second stint as TUF coach.

Paired up against Michael Chandler, the expectation is that the coaches will throw down in late 2023 — though nothing has been officially announced. In the interim, fight fans got a chance to see a bit of McGregor training alongside his TUF 31 team, made up entirely of newcomers pitted opposite Chandler’s team of veterans.

Bantamweights and lightweights are in play this season, which had McGregor saying early in the debut episode, airing Tuesday, that the plan was to “immerse myself, be surrounded by this.” Chandler, meanwhile, referred to his would-be opponent as the “biggest icon in mixed martial arts history.” But the former Bellator champ and UFC title challenger also believes that he’s a tough match-up for the Irish star, who has been on the shelf the past two years.

“I think I’m a scary fight for Conor. I’d probably be the last guy that I’d come back and say ‘yes’ to, but he did.”

The coin toss for the first pick goes to McGregor, who selects the 155lb prospects. It’s a different format this season; coaches aren’t picking fighter by fighter, but by block. McGregor getting the lightweight prospects means Chandler gets the 155lb veterans, and that gives Chandler the next pick — with “Iron” Mike picking the 135lb veterans. That means we’ve got a true vets versus prospects split between the coaches.

Chandler brings in Ryan Bader, Robert Drysdale, as well as his own striking coach to help mentor his cast of vets. He believes that there’s a “humility” in veterans that resonates with him. But among his pupils are SBG Ireland’s Brad Katona, a teammate of McGregor and former Ultimate Fighter winner who went 2-2 in the UFC, and has won four straight under the Brave CF banner since. When it comes to his loyalty, however, Katona says that “in all honesty my allegience lies with Brad Katona.”

McGreogr gets his fighters going in sparring right off the bat, and puts the gloves on himself, taking part and leading by example. It should come as no surprise that McGregor has John Kavanagh and Owen Roddy with him for his second TUF coaching stint.

After the first training session, it’s time for the coaches to pick the first round of fights. The fighters have been ranked by their coaches, something viewers don’t get any insight into, unfortunately, as it happens off camera. Regardless, it’s Roosevelt Roberts from Team Chandler against Nate Jennerman from Team McGregor up first at lightweight.

#3 Roosevelt Roberts vs. #2 Nate Jennerman — lightweight
#2 Trevor Wells vs. #3 Timur Valiev — bantamweight
#3 Aaron McKenzie vs. #2 Austin Hubbard — lightweight
#1 Mando Gutierrez vs. #4 Cody Gibson — bantamweight
#3 Carlos Vera vs. #2 Brad Katona — bantamweight
#1 Lee Hammond vs. #4 Kurt Holobaugh — lightweight
#4 Landon Quinones vs. #1 Jason Knight — lightweight
#4 Rico DiSicullo vs. #1 Hunter Azure — bantamweight

Ahead of the fight, Jennerman says the hardest thing about the show is not having his family with him. Roberts, meanwhile, says he’ll be moving back home after the show and hopes to train with coach Michael Chandler full time.

The first weigh-in for The Ultimate Fighter 31 saw both Roberts and Jennerman make weight, with the only aspect of note being McGregor’s absence — immediately commented on by Chandler. That wasn’t a concern once the fight rolled around, with McGregor there encouraging Jennerman to get his right hand going early.

He did not. Roosevelt Roberts dropped Jennerman with a right hand almost immediately off the opening bell, with a few follow-up strikes sealing the deal. About as stunning and anti-climatic as could be, and a total triumph for Roberts.

“One of the fastest knockouts in TUF history,” UFC President Dana White noted. McGregor and his team, meanwhile, rallied around a visibly upset Jennerman.

Well vs. Valiev goes down next week at bantamweight.


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