Season 31 of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) was back on the air earlier tonight (Tues., Aug. 1, 2023) on ESPN for Ep. 10 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 APEX facility and Brad Katona is saying goodbye to Team Chandler, leaving to be coached by Team McGregor for his semifinal bout against Timur Valiev. Katona, who won TUF 27 back in summer 2018 (and claims he was “wrongfully released”), trains with the “Notorious” team at SBG Ireland so he’s back with his regular coaches. Nobody on Team Chandler seems to be saddened by his departure, particularly Valiev, who doesn’t have many flattering things to say about his “boring” semifinal opponent. In addition, coach Chandler insists Valiev is the strongest fighter on the entire TUF 31 roster.
Out of nowhere, UFC lightweight champion Islam Makhachev strolls into the gym to hype up his fellow Dagestani warrior. They exchange pleasantries in Russian and Valiev calls it “a good day.”
Katona doesn’t have any visitors but he gets to FaceTime his girlfriend and he reads to her from his journal. It’s a sweet moment. A little corny, but sweet. Good for you, Brad. Elsewhere in the gym, Coach Connie is showing the rest of his squad how to stretch and be flexible. They look like a bunch of confused toddlers trying to play Twister.
Both fighters make weight without incident. UFC President Dana White calls it the most important fight of their respective careers. Remember, Valiev was not re-signed after putting together a 2-1 record with one “No Contest” in UFC so he’s looking for his own redemption on Season 31. In addition, Katona has a chance to make history by becoming the first UFC fighter to win two seasons of TUF. They both stand 5’6” but Valiev has a 2.5” reach advantage for their three-round banger (with a draw sending them to a fourth frame). The fight is getting started early in the show, which suggests this contest will go to a decision.
Let’s find out:
135 lbs.: Brad Katona (Team McGregor) vs. Timur Valiev (Team Chandler)
Round 1: No touch of gloves and both fighters look to establish their range. Katona tags him with a jab. Valiev playing defense. Katona backs him up with a combo. Valiev with a thudding leg kick. Then another. Katona charges for a takedown and they go to the fence. They jockey for position and Katona gets him down. A brief scramble and Katona gets his back. Valiev shucks him off and jumps to his feet. Back in the center of the cage and Katona is a bloody mess. Not sure how that happened but the right side of his head is a crime scene. Valiev sees the damage and keeps trying to kick it. Valiev is bloody too and now I can’t tell which fighter is the source. Katona pressing the offense and tags Valiev. Then again. Katona seems to be beating him to the punch. Katona walks Valiev down and blasts him against the cage. They clinch and Katona punches his way out. Spinning back fist misses for Valiev. Leg kick does not. Katona tries to return the favor but Valiev catches the foot and turns it into a takedown. Katona slaps on an armbar that looks troublesome but Valiev powers out and jumps on his back. Katona stands and defends. Valiev with intermittent punches. Valiev picks him up and slams him down. Katona gets back to his feet but Valiev drills him with a knee. Time expires. I have it 10-9 Katona.
Round 2: Stinging jab by Valiev. Katona rushes in with jabs of his own then lands to the body. Valiev consistent with leg kicks. Both corners scream, clap, and celebrate on every blow no matter how insignificant. It’s annoying. Valiev with a right hand straight down the middle followed by a low kick. They both duck forward and bonk heads. Valiev shoots for a takedown but Katona stuffs it. Valiev slams him with a leg kick. Katona bleeding from the right side of his head again. Coach Connie screaming for “the back hand.” Referee warns both fighters to “watch the heads.” UFC President Dana White wants to know why Katona isn’t throwing the right hand. Valiev tags him with a right and Katona shoots. They go to the fence and fight for position. Time ticking away. Knees to the thigh from Katona. Wicked judo throw from Valiev and Katona goes for a ride. Time expires and I have it 10-9 Valiev.
Round 3: Katona comes out aggressive. Valiev welcomes him with a leg kick. Katona opens up his hands and lands a combination. Valiev with a trio of brutal leg kicks. Somebody yells out “Edson Barboza” which I guess is a code for some type of offense they want. Maybe a head kick? Meanwhile Katona and Valiev and just unloading on each other in the center of the cage. Punches for Katona and leg kicks for Valiev. Both fighters covered in plasma. Valiev shoots and scores and Katona is on his ass against the fence. Valiev can’t keep him there and now it’s a battle for position against the cage. The action slows to a crawl and the referee calls for them to work. Katona blasts his way free and they go back to the center of the Octagon to throw hands. Solid left hand by Katona. Failed shot by Valiev. Now somebody is yelling “Fedor.” Katona eats a crushing hook. Valiev kicks and Katona catches it. Valiev hops on one leg to the fence to stabilize himself. Katona fires off punches then tries to finish the takedown. He can’t get it. Valiev back out swinging. Round ends and it was a close one. I had it 10-10 but judges disagree.
Final result: Katona def. Valiev by split decision
Here’s where we stand after Ep. 10:
TUF 31 Semifinals:
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)
TUF 31 Finals:
155 lbs.: Austin Hubbard (No. 2) vs. TBA
155 lbs.: TBA vs. TBA
135 lbs.: Brad Katona (No. 2) vs. TBA
135 lbs.: TBA vs. TBA
After the fight, Valiev blames himself for letting it go to the judges. It was an exciting, action-packed contest and I have a feeling White and Co. are going to call “Lucky” back for the live finale.
Stay tuned next week for the coach’s challenge, as well as the lightweight semifinal between Kurt Holobaugh and Jason Knight. Who will move on to fight Austin Hubbard for a shot at the glass trophy?
Find out in seven days!