The Ultimate Fighter 31: Kurt Holobaugh Mounts Comeback Against SBG’s Lee Hammond

Kurt Holobaugh
Kurt Holobaugh Credit:

Kurt Holobaugh recalls fighting on the final Strikeforce card, which led to his first UFC run, to kick off the latest episode of The Ultimate Fighter.

Holobaugh has been in the promotion not once but twice before. After his first run ended, he turned up on the inaugural season of Dana White’s Contender Series in 2017, winning a UFC contract.

We’re recapping each episode of TUF 31 this season, so as always, if you’re behind or avoiding spoilers, back out now!

“Honestly after I got that call, I never really had hopes of going back to the UFC,” Holobaugh said about being cut a second time, as he kicked off Episode 6 of the current TUF season, representing Team Chandler’s veterans.

Lee Hammond is representing Team McGregor on this episode, and unlike the other prospects, Hammond is actually a teammate of McGregor, who has been with SBG Ireland since he was all of 11 or 12 years old, McGregor notes in a voice over. That shows — while McGregor has always been interested in the fights so far on TUF 31, “The Notorious” appears to be super hyped up in Hammond’s training sessions.

“Lee is very good. He’s got very good skills,” says McGregor, talking up Hammond’s boxing and jiu-jitsu.

We get a look at Kurt Holobaugh’s home life, which includes running two gyms, and cooking up crawfish. At 36, Holobaugh’s window in the sport is quickly closing, especially as a lightweight. But the Louisiana native believes experience is on his side. “The difference is, I’m a veteran. I’ve been around the game a long time now.”

Coach Michael Chandler says it’s important to him to get to know all of the guys on his team, to get inside their heads so he can know how to push them to be their best. When it comes to Holobaugh, “The confidence that I want to give him is the confidence of knowing his opponent is stepping into the cage with a real man,” says Chandler. One with real man problems and experience.

“My body feels great but my mind feels in the right place,” Hammond tells his roommate in the TUF house, Nate Jennerman. Getting a look at his home life, Hammond is training full time alongside the likes of McGregor under John Kavanagh at Straight Blast Gym. He’s a Crumlin native, like Conor, and got his start in BJJ after playing track sports earlier in his life.

Both fighters make weight without issue. “Another Conor no-show at weigh-ins,” Chandler points out, as he’s once again the only coach to show up on weigh-in day. Keep in mind, given how the show is shot, multiple fighters weigh-in per day, and multiple fights are filmed. Conor may have missed a couple of days, but on TV, it looks much worse as the show plays out one fight (and one weigh-in) at a time through the magic of editing.

“If you look at this fight on paper, it looks like Kurt has the edge. But the fight isn’t on paper, so it doesn’t really matter,” Hammond says before the bout. Holobaugh, meanwhile, says he’s fighting for his family, and that being away from them has made him hungry.

Hammond opens the fight against Holobaugh throwing, then dropping down for a takedown. Holobaugh is active off his back, but Lee’s corner gives him the advice he needs, and he settles into guard, postures up, soon threatens to pass to mount. Holobaugh fends that off, but has to contend with a front choke, and some sharp elbows. Holobaugh, however, pulls Hammond’s legs out from under him. Lee gets up, but still has Holobaugh on him.

When he can’t get to the fence, Lee ends up using some smart positional work and balance to land on top when they go down. Hammond ends up in half guard and lands a nasty elbow. Some more jockeying for position, and a solid punch lands. Hammond looks for a choke, then lands another big elbow. Holobaugh scrambles to the fence, but Hammond stays on him, and when he lands, it’s nasty. This is Lee Hammond’s round, and the best round of any McGregor figher all season. Lee finishes the round dropping elbows.

“There’s only five minutes left. Show the world, Lee. Show the world,” coach Kavanagh tells Hammond between rounds. McGregor, not in the corner but watching again from cageside, tells Hammond to pull guard if he needs to, given how dominant he’s been on the mat.

Round two opens with the first real stand-up exchange of the fight, and when they clinch up, Hammond ends up using a guillotine to transition to mount. Slick! Holobaugh does reclaim half-guard, but Lee is now in a dominant position, and already one round up in a ten minute fight, sudden death round not withstanding. Holobaugh, listening to coach Michael Chandler, uses a butterfly guard and for a brief second, it seems like he might scramble out. It’s not to be, not then anyway— but moments later, Holobaugh catches Hammond in a guillotine! They roll, but Holobaugh holds on to the choke, and Hammond taps! McGregor drops to his knees, heartbroken.

“Just when it seems like Lee had this in the bag, Kurt was able to grab that neck and choke him out,” UFC President Dana White observes.

After the fight, McGregor gets into it with Chandler, going toe-to-toe and shoving his would-be opponent. “He’s 0-6, I knew that was coming” says Dana White, who quickly breaks the two teams apart.

Next week, it’s Team Chandler’s Jason Knight versus Team McGregor’s Landon Quinones. McGregor is running out of chances to get a fighter to the next round.