Season 31 of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) was back on the air earlier tonight (Tues., July 25, 2023) on ESPN for Ep. 9 of the long-running combat sports reality show, featuring head coaches Conor McGregor and Michael Chandler leading respective squads of lightweight and bantamweight contestants. Remember, immediate replays of TUF 31 are available on ESPN+ (sign up here) following each episode, or you can save yourself an hour and just read our complete recap below.
Missed last week’s episode? No problem! Get full results and recap videos right here.
We kick things off at the TUF house with both teams returning from a day of training at the nearby APEX facility. Just inside the door is a poster displaying all the semifinal matchups for the next four episodes.
Here’s the lineup:
155 lbs.: Austin Hubbard (No. 2) vs. Roosevelt Roberts (No. 3)
155 lbs.: Kurt Holobaugh (No. 4) vs. Jason Knight (No. 1)
135 lbs.: Brad Katona (No. 2) vs. Timur Valiev (No. 3)
135 lbs.: Rico DiSciullo (No. 4) vs. Cody Gibson (No. 4)
This is where things get interesting.
Team McGregor lost six of seven quarterfinal matchups so it would be unfair to ask Coach Chandler to train two fighters against one another after spending eight weeks under his tutelage. Therefore Brad Katona, Kurt Holobaugh, and Austin Hubbard have the option to join Rico DiSciullo over at Team McGregor for coaching and instruction during the semifinal fights. It won’t be an issue for Katona, who already trains with “Notorious” at SBG Ireland.
As for Holobaugh and Hubbard ... they want no part of Team McGregor so Chandler bows out, then splits his assistant coaching staff to keep both combatants on his squad (and stress free) ahead of the biggest fights of their respective careers. As a reward for winning their quarterfinal bouts, UFC President Dana White allows the winners to call home and talk to their families.
Coach Conor comes to the house with his new Stout beer and helps the resident chef create an Irish stew. It’s basically product placement for McGregor, which I’m sure was part of the deal when he signed on to coach. Jason Knight doesn’t like the taste of Mac’s beer, but he’s also from the backwoods of Mississippi, so he’s probably a Keystone Light kinda guy.
Time for the weigh ins and Roosevelt Roberts is overweight. Instead of jumping back into the sauna, Roberts goes to the locker room and cuts off his long hair. It’s enough to get him back down to 156. But will it result in the Samson effect and rob him of his mojo? We’ll find out shortly! Unlike the two-round quarterfinals, semifinal matches will be contested across three rounds.
Let’s get to it:
155 lbs.: Austin Hubbard (No. 2) vs. Roosevelt Roberts (No. 3)
Round 1: Quick touch of gloves and Roberts gets warned for exposed fingers three seconds into the fight. Lots of juking and jiving from both sides. Another finger warning for Roberts. Hubbard lands a jab ... kind of. Roberts just kind of bouncing up and down not doing anything. Hubbard lands an inside leg kick. Roberts paws the jab. Another finger warning. So far the referee doing more work than either fighter. Hard leg kick by Hubbard. He follows it up with ... nothing. Roberts still stuck in neutral. Roberts lands a jab. Hubbard with an inside low kick. Roberts throws a real punch and slips but gets back to his feet. Jumping knee for Roberts gets blocked but Hubbard creams the corn on the rebound. Roberts collapses while holding his junk. Brief delay and they’re back at it. And by “it” I mean shadowboxing. Roberts finally uncorks a kick and it thuds against Hubbard’s side. Roberts backs him up with a fadeaway combo. Low kick by Roberts. Time expires. Referee warns Roberts for a fifth time about exposed fingers. I have no idea how to score that boring round because nothing happened. Coach McGregor calls it “a bit of a spar” and heckles them for their inaction. 10-10?
Round 2: They tap gloves and let the hands go. Hubbard appears to be more earnest in his attack. Another warning for exposed fingers. Take a point or shut up about it. Hubbard pushes Roberts into the cage, rattles off some offense, then backs away. Roberts lands a low kick in return. Hubbard takes a shot and scores, dragging the taller Roberts to the floor. He’s in side control and tries to roll. Roberts threatens with an armbar, then a triangle. Hubbard defends. Roberts wiggles into full guard. Soft hammerfists from Hubbard do zero damage. Roberts warned not to kick Hubbard because he’s grounded. Another triangle attempt from Roberts. Hubbard positions himself but loses control and Roberts scurries to his feet. Roberts lets his hands go and hits nothing. Hubbard rushes in with hard punches and Roberts ties him up. Referee warns them for inaction. Back to the center of the cage and Hubbard is the busier of the two, though he doesn’t really land anything. Roberts suddenly remembers he’s in a fight and lands a jab. Then another. Round ends with Roberts getting warned about his exposed fingers. I have it 10-9 Hubbard on the takedown.
Round 3: Both fighters come out with a bit of urgency and fists start flying. They don’t hit much but at least they’re in motion. Hubbard shoots and Roberts goes down but only briefly. Hubbard now has him pressed against the cage. They trade knees. Roberts spins out and looks for a takedown of his own. Hubbard defends. Roberts with a knee to the keister. Roberts drops low and Hubbard kinda falls onto his butt. Roberts muscles his way into guard. Roberts tries to posture but gets tangled in Hubbard’s legs. Back into guard. Referee warns them for inactivity. Hubbard looking for a triangle but they’re both too sweaty. Roberts loses position and Hubbard gets back to his feet. McGregor chimes in. 60 seconds left in the round and the benches finally come alive. Roberts shoots for a takedown and Hubbard stalls him against the cage. Referee wants action. Knees from Roberts. Hubbard breaks out and the fight ends. Referee tells them to stay ready for a possible sudden victory round. It doesn’t come. I scored this round 10-9 Roberts on the takedown.
Final result: Hubbard def. Roberts by split decision
After the fight, UFC President Dana White expresses his disappointment over the performances from both fighters and admits he was expecting more from two combatants who are trying to battle their way back into the promotion. Sounds like Hubbard will need to dazzle White and Co. in the live finale to secure his fighting future. Coach Chandler tries to say a few positive things about the contest and the best he can do is admit, “I honestly have no idea who won this fight.” Hubbard says he’s going to the live finale and “feels great.” Roberts blames his friendship with Hubbard for his inability to pull the trigger and vows to “push forward and keep going.”
Stay tuned next week for the bantamweight semifinal between Brad Katona (Team McGregor) and Timur Valiev (Team Chandler), along with a special guest appearance from UFC lightweight champion Islam Makhachev.
See you in seven!