Season 31 of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) was supposed to be a landmark television event, powered by the return of the biggest star not only in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), but perhaps all of mixed martial arts (MMA) history.
Unfortunately for UFC and its broadcast partner ESPN, scoring former two-division champion Conor McGregor as head coach for the combat sports reality show failed to move the needle, finishing No. 11 on cable for its premiere episode.
Is fellow coach Michael Chandler to blame?
“I could see them skipping Chandler,” former bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo told The Schmo (transcribed by Farah Hannoun). “I could see Conor just saying, ‘Hey, I’m gonna want this guy.’ Chandler’s entertaining, but he’s not a big name. There’s no UFC belt around him. He’s not a legend in the UFC. He’s an entertainer of the UFC, but he hasn’t got there yet.”
When promotion president Dana White first announced the return of TUF, it was believed McGregor and Chandler would fight at the conclusion of Season 31, at or around August 2023. Then the delays started piling up and McGregor showed little urgency in getting back into the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) testing pool.
Perhaps McGregor, like Cejudo, doesn’t see Chandler as a viable threat.
“I feel like Chandler, if he had the right tactics, he could potentially beat anybody in the world because he has power and he has wrestling,” Cejudo continued. “But I don’t think he’s really kind of put those two things together that’s really helped him to become a little more well-rounded in the tactical sense.”
The longer UFC waits, the harder it will be to “reel these guys in.”