The Ultimate Fighter 31: A Haircut, Forged Irish Stout Stew, and a Different Sort of Fight

Austin Hubbard UFC
Austin Hubbard Credit: Jay Anderson/Cageside Press

The quarterfinals are complete, and it was on to the semifinal round on The Ultimate Fighter 31 this week.

We’re recapping each and every episode of The Ultimate Fighter 31 this season; if you’re wary of spoilers, turn back now.

The team situation comes to a head at the start of episode nine. No one wants to switch to Team McGregor, save for Brad Katona, who trains at SBG Ireland alongside Conor McGregor. Problem is, McGregor’s team went 1-7 in the quarterfinals. Since neither Roosevelt Roberts nor Austin Hubbard wants to switch teams, however, UFC President Dana White is allowing them to stick with Michael Chandler.

Now, Chandler has to figure out the cornering situation. His solution? “We’re going to stay out of this as much as possible.” Chandler and his coaches will make sure the fighter has water, and someone will walk out with them. Outside of that, it’s going to be “may the best man win.”

McGregor and his crew show up at the TUF house and cook up an Irish stew with the fighter’s own brew, Forged Irish Stout. This is basically an ad spot for McGregor’s beer, but it goes over well enough.

The semifinalists get a video call with family this week, after being essentially isolated through the first part of the show. Then it’s on to weigh-ins, and you’d better believe Conor McGregor isn’t there, since he doesn’t coach either fighter in action for this episode. Roberts has to weigh in with a barrier — and is heavy. The athletic commission gives him another hour to make weight.

That’s our first complication at the scale this season. Michael Chandler tells Roberts to cut his hair, given he’s carrying around a whole lot of it, heavy dreads. The haircut does it — Roberts comes in at 156 on the nose. No additional weight cut required.

The first lightweight semifinal on TUF 31 turned out to be a different sort of fight given the absence of active corners. If you thought normal UFC Apex shows were quiet, this is like fighting in dead silence. The only person doing any sort of coaching, in fact, is Conor McGregor, who is cageside for the bout. “Let your back hand go,” he calls out at one point, despite not being the coach for either fighter.

There’s not a lot of action through the first half of the opening round of Roosevelt Roberts vs. Austin Hubbard, and that may be in part due to the fighters adjusting to the environment. Later in the round, Hubbard finds some success with his leg kicks. Roberts fires a jump knee as Hubbard comes in with about a minute remaining, but just after, Hubbard lands low, and Roberts immediately reacts. The ref gives Roberts five minutes to recover; he takes about five seconds. Back underway, the pair trade kicks and get into a couple of quick exchanges, before Roberts lands a solid kick to the body. Hubbard holds center, Roberts chops at his lead leg, and that pretty much takes us to round two.

It took a while for the first semifinal to get going. McGregor notes that it’s close coming out of the opening round. “It’s not a spar lads, it’s a fight” he calls out before round two kicks off. In the opening seconds of the frame, Hubbard lands a low kick. Roberts gets warned for his fingers being outstretched — as he had been in the first round, and between rounds as well. Hopefully not a harbinger of things to come. Hubbard then ducks under and lands the first takedown of the fight, but has to defend as Roberts looks for an arm-bar. McGregor, again, becomes the only person actually coaching, telling Roberts to push off Hubbard’s shoulder with his leg.

Roberts actually appears to listen later when McGregor tells him to push away with his feet, as he scrambles out and back up. Hubbard stays on his opponent, walking him down; they come together in a clinch after what may have been the hardest exchange of the fight. The no coaching/dead silence (outside of McGregor occasionally getting involved) continues to be odd, and it starts to feel like one of these fighters would have been better served to have switched teams.

Turns out a round three is required in this one. Roberts manages to reverse along the fence after a clinch; Hubbard turns out to be the fighter going down. It takes a fair bit of work, but Roberts gets the job done and adds in a few right hands at McGregor’s suggestion. Hubbard gets to his knees, but Roberts reclaims top position, with a minute and a half left in the fight. Hubbard goes back to his knees, posts up and gets back in control. But he’s got all of a minute left in a round he’s almost certainly down in. “Keep them busy, ref” hollers McGregor, and Herb Dean immediately implores the pair to work. Hubbard gets a few shots to land, as he did earlier in the round. But will it be enough, or did the takedown seal it for Roberts?

“No one lost, no one won in my opinion,” McGregor says when it’s all over. “There was absolutely no sense of urgency whatsoever,” adds Dana White. The UFC’s production team really had to dig to find round-by-round highlights. “Regardless of who the judges have winning this fight, I was not impressed,” says White. “Whoever wins this, I just hope they look better in the finale.”

On paper, of course, someone won the fight, and it turns out to be Austin Hubbard by split decision. Hubbard, who recently lost his brother, says that he was at his lowest point before the show — and now he’s headed to the finale.