Canadian bantamweight Brad Katona faced Timur Valiev on the latest episode of The Ultimate Fighter 31 — and became the first fighter to switch teams in the process.
The semifinals have arrived (they kicked off last week), and with Conor McGregor going 1-7 as a coach this year, there was a real question as to what was going to happen with the surplus of talent on rival Michael Chandler’s team. Fighters were given the chance to switch teams, and Katona — a teammate of McGregor under John Kavanagh at SBG Ireland — is the only one to make the jump.
We’re recapping each and every episode of The Ultimate Fighter 31 this season — if you’re trying to avoid spoilers, turn back now until you’re caught up!
Chandler has no hard feelings about the switch, admitting that Katona will probably perform better under his longtime coach. McGregor, meanwhile, focuses on balance in training.
“Pound for pound, Timur is easily the strongest guy in this competition,” Chandler proclaims. Valiev was definitely one of the favorites heading into the season.
No issues at the weigh-ins, and no surprise there given both fighters are UFC veterans.
Katona presses forward early in the fight itself, getting his hands going. Valiev stays on the outside, using his movement and flashing a few feints and kicks. A minute in, Katona takes the fight to the fence and lands a takedown, but he’s also cut bad, leaking blood. Valiev, meanwhile, is very mobile off his back and manages to scramble up. Katona goes right back on the attack, finding some success with his left hand. Valiev’s kicks continue to be money.
Luckily for Katona, the cut is on the side/under the eye, so while it’s a gory scene, the blood doesn’t appear to impede his vision any. Later in the round, however, Valiev catches a kick, dumping Katona on his back. He looks to throw up a submission, and soon scrambles out. Valiev ends the frame with a mat return in what turned out to be a very spirited round from both fighters.
The general consensus from both corners between rounds is that Valiev took it, though his own team adds “not by much.” McGregor wants Katona to add in a backhand. Round two sees Katona find a home for his left hand again early. Valiev’s kicks? Just as nasty as they were in the first. He goes low then high with a kick and follows up with a left hand of his own. Neither man shows any sign of slowing. Katona doubles up on a left, and fights off a takedown after Valiev closes the distance and looks to change levels.
In another closely contested round, it’s Katona looking to finish strong. He closes the distance with about a minute to go, pinning Valiev on the fence. A positional battle ensues; Katona fires some knees, and Valiev fights hands. But coming off the fence, it’s Valiev landing a throw just ahead of the buzzer! That one was anybody’s round.
“Let’s go, let’s take this!” hollers McGregor ahead of round three. Valiev opens with lots of kicks, while Katona bullies him up to the fence. He can’t keep Valiev there, however. Valiev is just ripping Katona’s lead leg at this point, connecting to the outside. Two minutes in, Valiev shoots, landing a takedown. Not opportune timing for Katona, but he makes it back up, albeit with Valiev leaning on him. Valiev doesn’t do a ton from there, and draws a warning to keep working from the ref. Moments later, Katona peels Valiev off him anyway, and goes back on the attack.
Katona presses forward, hitting the body and firing a combo. Valiev is still whipping kicks, and Katona’s leg is showing it. Katona catches a kick, and backs Valiev to the fence, trapping the leg and an arm and peppering Valiev with shots to the head. After some more grappling back-and-forth, Katona rips the body a few times.
“Great fight,” UFC President Dana White says after three rounds. “In my mind, this fight is absolutely a toss up,” he later adds. He’s not wrong.
The judges have it a split decision — and it goes to Team McGregor’s Brad Katona, who is going to the final with a chance to become a two-time Ultimate Fighter winner.