TUF Season 31 Episode 5 Recap

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The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): Season 31 returned this week for the fifth episode of the season. Team McGregor is, again, in search of their first win of the season, but this time will have to do it against an old friend of their head coach’s in BRAVE CF bantamweight champion and longtime John Kavanaugh pupil Brad Katona.

Team McGregor’s Carlos Vera will fight Katona at the end of the episode with a spot in the bantamweight semifinals up for grabs. A victory for Team Chandler will guarantee them a majority of the wins in the opening round of the season and keep them on pace for a season sweep.

Those with a subscription to ESPN+ can stream TUF 31 on demand.

TUF 31 Episode 5 Recap

This episode seems like it will revolve around Katona and his loyalty to Head Coach Michael Chandler, but it actually starts out on a more light-hearted note. Team McGregor doesn’t seem to be sweating the 4-0 hole, as Head Coach Conor McGregor is putting his team through some McGregor FAST exercises. McGregor FAST, by the way, is a scientifically based 12-week high performance training program designed to improve stamina, endurance, and cardiovascular fitness levels. It is not known how involved McGregor was in the development of the program, but the program’s website does say, “approved by Conor.”

McGregor challenged his team to a 500-meter time trial contest on the row machine. Of his fighters, Aaron McKenzie headed up the field with a time of 1:38. McGregor got in on the fun himself, which the rest of the team seemed to respond pretty well to.

As for the fitness program itself, “Silver” access will run users $20 per month, whlie the “Gold” tier costs $95 per month.

From here, the focus moves to Katona, at least for a little while. Chandler is putting together a practice plan for his team along with assistant coach Robert Drysdale, and vents about his frustration with Katona’s pickiness when it comes to how he structures his training sessions. It is worth noting that Katona holds the distinction of having competed in this type of format before, and while there is a “team” aspect to TUF, it is ultimately an individual competition. The awkwardness between Katona is Chandler is amplified by the fact that Katona trains under Team McGregor coach Kavanaugh at SBG Ireland and has done so for several years.

During the ensuing training session, Katona met with Chandler to discuss the way he wants his training sessions laid out. Katona’s loyalty to Kavanaugh isn’t the only thing causing a rift between he and Chandler, however. Katona’s analytical, almost mechanical approach to fighting does not seem to be meshing with Chandler’s more paleolithic, wrestling-oriented approach to training. What Katona believes works best for him doesn’t always mesh with Chandler’s plans for the rest of the team, and now the two are starting to butt heads. Katona asks his coach whether or not they have time set aside for film study, and Chandler doesn’t seem to be having it. He points out the coaching staff has been watching film on their own time and that it is their job to coach the fighter.

Credit to Katona, though, for noticing Chandler’s agitation with him. He explains in a confessional that it is nothing personal between him and his coaches, but that having competed in the format before, it is in his best interest to look out for himself first before helping the rest of his teammates. He’s more than just a former competitor, however. Katona won his season of The Ultimate Fighter back in 2018, knocking off ranked fighters such as Kyler Phillips and Bryce Mitchell en route to the the championship.

Katona’s chummy relationship with the coaches on the other team is not helping matters. One day, as the team bus is waiting to depart, Katona holds things up by chatting with Kavanaugh and some other Team McGregor coaches. Several of his teammates question his loyalty and allegiance to the team, and given what we’ve seen so far, that is a totally fair assessment.

Back in the TUF House, the time has come for Team McGregor’s Vera to be profiled ahead of the big fight. Vera, 35, emigrated from Ecuador to the United States with his family at the age of four. He picked up martial arts as a gateway to getting better acquainted with the English language, and as a result fell into training taekwondo and capoeira, then picking up grappling in his 20s, before completing the transition to mixed martial arts. He is currently residing in Falls Church, Va. where he trains MMA under grappling wizard Ryan Hall.

Vera’s fighting style is that of a true mixed martial artist. This much is evident in his background. He succeeds in a big way at mixing things up, and has thus far ridden his skills to a 12-3 professional record. He expressed a desire to follow in the footsteps of stars like Marlon Vera and represent his home country on the biggest stage possible.

The training situation is in equal parts awkward for Katona as it is for Vera, whose coaches conversely coach Katona every day back in Ireland. This could be a blessing or a curse, but for what it’s worth, Kavanaugh compared having to coach against Katona to having “a bad dream.” McGregor agrees that seeing Katona on the other side is a “bit of weird vibe” but that he doesn’t see any issues with the arrangement.

According to Vera, Kavanaugh apparently told the bantamweights on Team McGregor that while he personally would be unavailable to help any of the fighters prepare to fight Katona, the rest of the staff would be available. Vera credits striking coach Owen Roddy for helping him diversify his striking game. McGregor, himself, has been pushing Vera to incorporate more of what makes him unique into his standup style, such as his background in capoeira.

As Katona prepares for the fight on the other side of the gym, he refers to himself as a “cerebral” fighter, not shying away from making potentially major adjustments to his game from fight to fight. He believes himself to be the stronger fighter in all aspect of the game, including cardio, and Chandler puts over Katona’s exceptional Fight IQ and consistency in the gym.

As the focus shifts to the house, Katona is asked by his housemates how he, a Canadian, ended up at Kavanaugh’s Irish gym in the first place, providing a decent segue into a little bit of background on “Superman.” Katona and his girlfriend, Katie Saull, took a liking to Kavanaugh personally as they were exploring gyms. He has resided in Dublin for six years to this point, but seems to have embraced the differences between his new way of life and his rural upbringing in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

We then get to see some highlights of Katona’s most recent stint in the UFC. He got off to a 2-0 start, but dropped his next two to Merab Dvalishvili and Hunter Azure, who is ironically a teammates of his on this season of TUF. He admitted he cried the whole way back to Ireland after learning of his release, but remains upbeat and openly question what he’ll be referred to as if he becomes the first person to win The Ultimate Fighter twice.

At the weigh-ins, neither fighter seems to have a problem making weight, with UFC President Dana White chiming in with his two cents on the fight. He credits Katona for the work he put in to get back to this point, and believes he “absolutely” deserves another shot in the UFC. As for Vera, White calls him a dynamic fighter who too has been knocking on the promotion’s door for quite some time.

“When I’m free, I’m dangerous,” Katona said in the final pre-fight confessional. “And I’m going to be free in there when I fight Carlos.”

The Fight

Though Vera is the less experienced fighter of the two, he enters the fight four years his opponent’s senior. However, he also sports a four-inch reach advantage.

Chris Tognoni is the referee.

The fighters enter the fray without exchanging a touch of gloves, both displaying bobbing and weaving movements as they cautiously assess each other. Vera initiates the action by delivering a quick succession of kicks. In an intriguing turn of events, Coach McGregor begins singing in Gaelic, adding an unexpected, and perhaps unwanted element to the atmosphere. He shouldn’t quit his day job.

Katona charges forward, seeking to overpower Vera and pushes him against the cage. The two engage in a grueling battle for control and position. Tognoni issues a warning to Vera for his use of elbows during the exchange.

Katona intensifies his efforts to bring the fight to the ground and eventually succeeds in dragging Vera down. Despite being taken to the mat, Vera demonstrates resilience by quickly rolling and returning to his feet. However, Katona remains persistent, maintaining a dominant position over Vera. Vera continues to fight from the bottom, showcasing his activity, but draws another warning from the referee for striking the back of Katona’s head.

Amidst the action, McGregor barks at the referee with the perceived lack of activity in the fight. Vera manages to skillfully work his way back up, causing Katona to transition to taking his back. In a display of explosive power, Vera escapes the back control and the two fighters engage in a dynamic exchange of leg locks. With only 10 seconds remaining in the round, they disengage from the ground battle and rise to their feet. A close round to be sure, but given the amount of control time accrued, Katona has to be favored on the judges’ scorecards.

Katona kicks off the second round with a authority, pardon the pun, prompting Vera to respond in kind. Katona swiftly follows up with punches and then executes a successful takedown, dragging Vera to the mat. Similar to the end of the first round, Katona takes Vera’s back, securing a tight body triangle to limit his opponent’s movement. Vera fights valiantly to defend his neck and prevent a submission.

However, Vera displays incredible resilience, summoning his inner strength and explosively powering out of Katona’s control. Now on top, Vera momentarily loses his mouthpiece, prompting Tognoni to bring a brief pause to the action. A brief exchange of mild punches occurs before Katona swiftly returns to his wrestling-focused attack. Katona settles into Vera’s guard, utilizing this position to catch his breath and regain composure. Attempting to advance his position, Katona tries to step over Vera’s guard but faces resistance from his opponent.

Though Vera remains busy from the bottom, an increasingly frustrated Coach McGregor passionately implores his fighter to break free, as time is of the essence. However, before Vera can mount a significant offensive, the round concludes, leaving McGregor disappointed and perhaps a little deflated.

The second round appeared to be even more decisive than the first, and if this is the case, a decision victory for Katona could be in the cards without the need for a third round.

Sure enough, the judges have rendered their final tallies, and Katona is able to secure the decision victory as well as a spot in the semifinals.

Brad Katona def. Carlos Vera via Decision


An agitated Coach McGregor is immediately protesting the decision, calling the fight “unfinished” while openly asking his adversary if he’s ever seen the full five rounds in a title fight. Chandler retorts that his team doesn’t need the third round and he’s more than happy with them doing what they need to do.

White, for the record, was unimpressed by the fight, though it is worth noting that Vera put up the toughest fight of any Team McGregor fighter thus far. Not only did this fight go the distance, but Vera even gave Katona fits for moments of the first round. However, “Superman’s” experience proved to be too much to overcome, and given his wrestling-based attack, he seemed more than willing to do whatever it took to get the win.

Team McGregor moves 0-5 in this year’s competition. If he is to break the curse, he will need a victory from one of Rico DiSciullo, Lee Hammond, and Landon Quinones. It is also worth noting that DiSciullo and Quinones are the two lowest seeded fighterson Team McGregor, and Hammond is an SBG Ireland crony of McGregor’s.

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