“The Ultimate Fighter” returned last Tuesday with two of the biggest strikers in the sport, Conor McGregor and Michael Chandler, splitting up this year’s roster of fighters and beginning training. Last week’s fight went by quickly, with a Chandler-coached Roosevelt Roberts getting one step closer to returning to the UFC with an eight-second victory over Nate Jennerman. This week, after a change in a fight due to a medical issue, Cody Gibson (another member of Chandler’s team) scored a first-round knockout of his own over Mando Gutierrez. Gibson, a UFC veteran with four fights (1-3) in the Octagon, moves on to the semifinals with the finish.
Let’s look at the biggest moments from Episode 2 and the fight coming next week.
Editor’s note: The matchups for this season are determined by seeding. This season, the coaches ranked their competitors in each division first through fourth. After the seeding was determined, the matchups were made in a tournament-style bracket.
Bantamweight: (3) Timur Valiev, Team Chandler vs. (2) Trevor Wells, Team McGregor
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) June 7, 2023
Fight postponed due to a Trevor Wells medical issue
On the day of the fight, while both fighters and their teams were in the UFC Apex preparing for the season’s second matchup, the doctor deemed Wells “unable to fight due to medical reasons.”
This situation forced the teams to move on to what was planned to be the third matchup of the season.
Bantamweight: (4) Cody Gibson, Team Chandler vs. (1) Mando Gutierrez, Team McGregor
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) June 7, 2023
Gibson pulls off a big upset with first-round TKO
Well, it wasn’t an eight-second finish, but it was nearly equally impressive. Gibson, who entered the fight as a clear underdog taking on the highest-seeded bantamweight prospect, needed under a round to get a knockout victory over Gutierrez.
“Oh wow, look at his face,” White said after seeing the damage Gibson’s flying knee did to Gutierrez.
Gibson, who fought in Khabib Nurmagomedov’s Eagle FC and Up Next Fighting in 2022, was part of the UFC from 2014 to 2015. Gibson went 1-3 during that stint with losses to current UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling and Douglas Silva de Andrade and a knockout win over Johnny Bedford. Gibson faced some stiff competition in the UFC but appeared to have ironed out some of the issues he may have had earlier in his career.
Before the fight, Gibson credited Chandler and his staff for creating a good team environment, stating that it exceeded his expectations. It’s fair to question what the team environment could be like considering that we could see teammates fighting each other at the end of the season, but it’s clear that Chandler and his team aren’t worried about that. That focus on the present and consistent improvement may be why his team already two wins over Team McGregor.
Storylines to watch
The Ultimate Fighter Excerpt: Conor McGregor gets a haircut from a team member
In this preview excerpt from Episode 2 of The Ultimate Fighter Season 31, Conor McGregor sits in the barber’s chair and gets a haircut from his team member, Mando Gutierrez.
What happens next with Valiev vs. Wells?
With the doctor deciding that Wells could not compete this week due to a cold sore, how will Dana White choose to navigate the situation? As we saw how it played out in the show, this could be more complex than just having the two fight next week.
“It sucks for Trevor and for Timur,” White said. “Both of these guys were ready to fight. So now we have to figure out where we go from here.”
Besides the obvious problem of the fight being pushed back, this situation could also present other issues. As White alluded, there’s a chance that Wells could be ruled unable to fight again. If he cannot fight next week, White initially said Valiev would be granted a bye and move on to the semifinals. But it seems that White may have backed off that stance after discussing the situation with McGregor, Chandler and their respective coaching staffs. And if Wells is cleared to fight, there’s still the question of do they have to cut down to 135 again, if not what will the catchweight be?
“The problem is that these guys have to cut so much weight in between fights, it would suck to make Trevor and Timur do that all over again,” White said. “So we need to find a date and a weight to hold this fight at that is going to be fair to everyone.”
McGregor in familiar territory?
This isn’t McGregor’s first time dropping the first two fights in a season of TUF. In Season 22, when McGregor coached against Urijah Faber in 2015, Team McGregor lost the first two fights as well — just in a less dramatic fashion.
In the first fight, Team McGregor’s fighter Frantz Slioa lost to Ryan Hall (the Season 22 winner) via first-round submission. Then Sascha Sharma lost to Chris Gruetzemacher by unanimous decision the next week. Team McGregor bounced back from those losses with a win in the third fight as Marcin Wrzosek picked up a unanimous decision win over Tom Gallicchio.
While this is not the start that Team McGregor might have imagined entering the season, he and his team may be the only ones in the history of the show that have knowledge of what it’s like to be in this position, which could only help them going forward. Can McGregor repeat history once again and get his team back on track in Episode 3?
Is Team Chandler’s veterans winning becoming a trend?
I’m starting to think the former ufc fighters are gonna do pretty good on the ultimate fighter
— Sodiq Yusuff (@Super_Sodiq) June 7, 2023
Hm. Maybe Sodiq Yusuff is on to something?
Next week’s matchup
Lightweight: (2) Austin Hubbard, Team Chandler vs. (3) Aaron McKenzie, Team McGregor
Team McGregor has fallen to 0-2, but plenty of action remains. Can they get back on track, or will the UFC veterans continue their hot start?
Here’s everything we know about these two lightweight fighters who will enter the Octagon for next Tuesday’s episode.
UFC record: 3-4
Fighting out of: Denver
TUF 31 takeaways: More knockouts for Team Chandler, more problems for Team McGregor in episode two