Dana White’s “Contender Series” may be gone for another 12 months, but that doesn’t mean your Tuesday nights have to be boring.
Nearly three years after its most recent incarnation, The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) makes its ESPN+ debut at 9 p.m. ET tonight (Tues., June 1, 2021) with two elite fighters coaching a fresh batch of Octagon hopefuls.
Eight bantamweights and eight middleweights compete for glory under the tutelage of UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski and top 145-pound contender Brian Ortega, who were previously slated to duke it out before “The Great” came down with COVID.
The pair have no shortage of antipathy for one another, which should produce the sort of volatile chemistry that is the show’s trademark.
Stop by tonight at 9 p.m. ET and follow along with us in the comments section below as we provide live coverage. As always, we’ll also have complete results and a full recap after the show concludes.
After a nostalgically overwrought intro and assorted soundbites from the 16 hopefuls, The Ultimate Fighter is officially back in business. Dana White strides authoritatively through the halls of the APEX to meet the fighters and give them the standard spiel about how this will be the “hardest f*cking thing” they’ll do in their lives. Them comes the coaches’ highlight packages, after which they break for evaluations.
Besides one fighter being labeled “uncoachable” and a “****” by Volkanovski and his crew, those happen without a hitch.
Volkanovski wins the coin toss and elects to pick the first fighter. Your teams:
Bantamweights: Mitch Raposo (first overall), Dustin Lapros, Ricky Turcios, Brady Hiestand
Middleweights: Aaron Phillips, Gilbert Urbina, Ryder Newman, Bryan Battle
Bantamweights: Dan Argueta, Josh Rettinghouse, Vince Murdock, Liudvik Sholinian
Middleweights: Andre Pretoski, Miles Hunsinger, Tresean Gore, Kemran Lachinov
Kemran Lachinov, the last pick overall, gets a soundbyte while Dana reminds him that Kelvin Gastelum also got picked last.
Ortega, who has control of the matchups, elects to kick off the season with Andre Pretoski vs. Aaron Phillips. Pretoski hypes up his own wrestling as a key weapon.
Now it’s off to the house, where the fighters appreciate the various amenities, pick their rooms, and do a spot of bonding. Rettinghouse and Hiestano, who were friends beforehand, elect to bunk together. Ryder Newman hangs out with longtime Xtreme Couture teammate Miles Hunsinger despite being on opposite teams.
Team Volkanovski gets first billing on the inaugural training day. Philips admits that he learned most of his fundamentals from YouTube, which bodes a bit ill for his upcoming fight, while a smiling Bryan Battle reveals that everyone on the team struggled.
Brian Ortega calls himself “one of the best coaches in the world,” citing his own teachers like Rener Gracie. He describes his methodology with a pizza metaphor, which feels weirdly in-character.
Back to the house, where Team Ortega shares family photos. They seems to be meshing pretty well so far, at least according to Vince Murdock, and their happy chat about their kids supports that hypothesis.
Time for Petroski’s (5-1) home video and profile, which focuses heavily on his wife and daughter. The Renzo Gracie Philadelphia product boasts an impressive D1 wrestling pedigree and quick finishes in all five of his professional victories.
Phillips’ (5-2) turn. Volkanovski talks up his charge’s right hand while running him through Petroski’s bad habits. Phillips claims he’ll finish things with a step-back right hand, citing his own wrestling background as the means to shut down Petroski’s wrestling-heavy onslaught. His team fully back him to take out Ortega’s first Middleweight pick.
A brief interlude on Petroski’s side, where Ortega says that the former will finish Phillips on the ground, then the home video. The Native Alaskan shows off the insane cold he has to deal with and offers some of his professional highlights.
No issues on the scales. Some final comments on both sides, then it’s time to scrap. Still plenty of time left in the episode, so I’m guessing decision.
Middleweight Quarterfinal: Aaron Philips (Team Volkanovski) vs. Andre Petroski (Team Ortega)
Round one: Tentative start with lots of feints from both sides. One minute in. Glancing overland left from Petroski. Not exactly setting the world on fire here. Petroski trying to jab two minutes in. He appears to catch Phillips leaning with a head kick. Two minutes to go.
Petroski scores a takedown, quickly moving to side control. Already looking to set up the arm triangle. One minute to go. Looking to switch it to a guillotine. He steps into mount with it and there’s the tap. Guess I was wrong.
Final result: Petroski def. Phillips by submission (guillotine choke)
Petroski’s more than happy with his performance, of course. Volkanovski tells Phillips to stay healthy just in case someone gets injured, and Phillips vows to help the rest of his team improve.
Team Ortega gets a second fight selection because Volkanovski picked the first Bantamweight and Middleweight. “T-City” elects to send Bantamweight Liudvik Sholinian at first overall pick Mitch Raposo.
Some highlights of the remainder of the season ensue, which include a car getting all its tires jacked, a python being released in the house, and a good old-fashion brawl.
See you next week!