Conor McGregor and ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ bring same tired formula in first episode of season 31

It’s been close to two years since Conor McGregor was seen by UFC audiences outside of his more colorful appearances on Twitter. It’s been even longer since the average mixed martial arts fan was looking forward to a season of “The Ultimate Fighter.” What a perfect time for the pair to join forces.

This season, which pairs Conor McGregor against the three-time Bellator champion turned UFC title challenger Michael Chandler is attempting to kill multiple birds with one stone. TUF, which is now in its 31st season, has been in desperate need of an adrenaline boost. 

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McGregor is looking for a warm-up of sorts before entering the cage as a combatant again following the nasty leg injury that prematurely ended his last bout. Meanwhile, Chandler is aiming for the biggest possible fight before setting his sights back on the lightweight championship.

This season the two decorated veterans are overseeing a combination of bantamweight and lightweight fighters that are hoping to reignite lost momentum with a second chance in the Octagon while a group of prospects is seeking their big break. 

Conor McGregor isn’t enough to reinvent a tired Ultimate Fighter formula

For the many that mentally checked out on the long-running reality show only to return for the biggest star of the sport, they’ll be reminded very quickly of what it has to offer. That’s mainly because the end product feels very much like it did in years past.

The usual tropes are there. You can expect to see the time-warped shots of the Las Vegas strip as a transition between the scenes of conversations between teammates. There are the tearjerker moments of family men learning to exist in the stressful environment away from their better halves. There are the black background confessionals of the cast members sharing thoughts about coaches and ambitions to win the tournament. We even got the introductory pep talk and enthusiastic voiceovers of Dana White.

As usual, we get a glimpse into the two men whose fights end the episode. Conor McGregor’s first team representative, Nate Jennerman, wore his heart on his sleeve. The Wisconsin native showed family photos and talked about his busy life working for UPS, training at Roufusport, and teaching jiu-jitsu at his own gym.

Representing Team Chandler was Roosevelt Roberts. The Contender Series vet who was released from the UFC after coming up short in three consecutive outings shared the struggles of a childhood, a strained relationship with his alcoholic father, and his time as a juvenile delinquent.  

In another familiar theme, the personalities of the coaches who are expected to face each other at some point after the season’s conclusion couldn’t be any more opposed. On one hand, Conor McGregor yet again presents himself as the ultimate salesman with tailored suits and ensuring the house is stocked with bottles of his Proper 12 whiskey.

Chandler seems perfectly at home as the ultra-competitive company man that sounds like a PR dream. Their passive-aggressive demeanor towards one another took center stage without the profanity-laden pissing contest many MMA rivalries devolve into.

With just over five minutes left in the 46-minute run time, which includes the promo for the next episode, as Roberts and Jennerman answered the opening bell, it was obvious that the judges weren’t going to be needed and things would end in sudden fashion.

It would only take eight seconds for that abrupt conclusion. Roberts stormed out of his corner and sent Jennerman to the floor with a two-punch combination and follow-up hammer fists to earn a knockout win. Roberts advances to the semifinals.

Ant Walker is a native of the Washington DC area that now lives in Los Angeles. He has been... More about Anthony Walker

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