Season 31 of the The Ultimate Fighter premieres Tuesday, May 30, on ESPN. Boasting Conor McGregor and Michael Chandler as the coaches, the show features a plethora of UFC and Contender Series veterans, as well as some new faces to the organization. Below is a breakdown of the lightweight roster of this season.
The Favorite: Aaron McKenzie
One of the four fighters to have no previous connection to the UFC, Aaron McKenzie looks to be the favorite of this cast. The 34-year-old veteran is a strong jiu-jitsu player who has a track record of taking tough fights. He’s the LFA lightweight champion and has notable wins over UFC veteran Joe Giannetti and prospect Lucas Clay. His most recent loss was with Bellator against one of their top prospects in the division in Chris Gonzalez. It was a razor-thin split decision. McKenzie will be tough to outlast here.
The Dark Horse: Austin Hubbard
UFC veteran Austin Hubbard is likely flying under the radar on this cast, because he’s not the biggest name, but he’s a guy that could be a dark-horse contender here. He went 3-4 in the UFC with wins over Dakota Bush, Max Rohskopf and Kyle Prepolec. His losses came at the hands of Vinc Pichel, Joe Solecki, Mark Madsen and Davi Ramos, all of which are tough fighters still currently on the UFC roster, outside of Ramos. Hubbard is very exciting in the cage and scrappy as all hell, and could be a nightmare matchup for most on the lightweight roster.
The Longshot: Lee Hammond
Lee Hammond is a guy that reportedly got on this roster at the urging of Conor McGregor, as he is one of Conor’s teammates. Based on his five fights of experience, and the lack of top-level talent on that resume, Hammond has to be the longshot here. He’s a good prospect, but he’s very young in his career. This is a roster full of high-level, experienced veterans that will all be a big test, no matter who he fights.
The Rest of the Field: Kurt Holobaugh, Nate Jennerman, Jason Knight, Landon Quinones, Roosevelt Roberts
Kurt Holobaugh is a longtime MMA veteran who is one of the few active fighters that can claim they fought for Strikeforce. His first stint in the UFC saw him go 0-1 in the UFC, losing to Steven Siler. He then got back to the UFC through the Contender Series, where he beat Matt Bessette, but that was later overturned to a no-contest due to a positive test for marijuana. He then had a second UFC stint, where he went 0-3 against Thiago Moises, Shane Burgos and Raoni Barcelos. Despite those losses, he did not take any easy fights. He’s experienced, scrappy and going to be a tough out for anybody.
Nate Jennerman is an LFA and PFL veteran that has been around for a while. The scrappy submission wrestler runs with Roufusport, where he has been working on his striking. He is a blue-collar type of fighter and a guy that could also be a threat to contend this season.
Jason Knight is a fighter’s fighter who has taken MMA, bare-knuckle boxing and other types of combat-sport bouts. HE previously went 4-5 in the UFC, which included wins over Chas Skelly, Alex Caceres, Dan Hooker and Jim Alers. His losses came to Jordan Rinaldi, Makwan Amirkhani, Gabriel Benitez, Ricardo Lamas and Tatsuya Kawajiri. He’s a well-rounded, tough fighter who will also be a tough out for anyone.
Landon Quinones is a Titan FC champion who could be a dark horse as well. Most of his wins come by knockout, and his only loss comes to Contender Series vet Muhammadjon Naimov, who lost in his only Contender Series appearance. There are a lot of guys that will be a tough matchup for him, though, as wrestling seems to be a common theme here, something that will put Quinones at a disadvantage.
Roosevelt Roberts came to us from the Contender Series, as he destroyed Garrett Gross to get into the UFC. He was 4-3 in the UFC with wins over Brok Weaver, Alexander Yakovlev, Thomas Gifford and Darrell Horcher. His losses came to Ignacio Bahamondes, Jim Miller and Vinc Pichel, all of which are tough opponents. Roberts is yet another guy that could contend for this season’s title.