The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): Season 31 returned this week for the eighth time this season for an episode with historical ramifications. Head Coach Conor McGregor will have one more chance for one of his fighters to get him on the scoreboard when Rico DiSciullo fights UFC and Dana White’s Contender Series veteran Hunter Azure. If DiSciullo is unsuccessful, McGregor will become the first coach to be swept in the 31-season history of the show.
Last week’s episode lacked the drama of Episode 6, but Jason Knight nevertheless overcame a cut in training to take out past training partner Landon Quinones. If Azure can do the same, it will likewise put Head Coach Michael Chandler in rarified air amongst TUF coaches.
It’s also worth noting that Azure is Chandler’s top-seeded bantamweight, while DiSciullo is McGregor’s fourth-seeded 135’er.
Those with a subscription to ESPN+ can stream TUF 31 on demand.
TUF 31 Episode 8 Recap
This week’s episode begins shortly after the moment last week’s ended. Quinones is catching up with Knight, his opponent and friendly rival after the fight, and ultimately thanks him for handing him the loss because of how he believes it will drive him to improve. Knight responds in kind by giving Quinones some advice for how to move forward in his career.
Of course, the focus is squarely on DiSciullo, a man who sportsbooks would likely cast as an underdog against a tested, well-rounded opponent like Azure. UFC President Dana White isn’t doubting the pressure on DiSciullo to keep his coach from the wrong side of history. As things transition into DiSciullo’s fight prep, McGregor is showing the utmost confidence in his fighter. Whether his confidence is out of necessity as much as he actually believes in DiSciullo remains to be seen.
DiSciullo is a member of the New England regional scene, having competed in CES, the top promotion in the region, as well as Bellator. However, He never sniffed the CES title, instead opting for an appearance on DWCS against Montel Jackson, a legitimate prospect in the UFC bantamweight division. Jackson finished DiSciullo in the third round, which White makes mention of. DiSciullo says he knows next to nothing about Azure, even though he too is a DWCS alumni and went on to fight tough bantamweights like Jack Shore and Brian Kelleher. Nevertheless, he believes he can not only defeat Azure, but run the table and win the whole tournament.
As far as DiSciullo’s training is concerned, the audience is primarily shown clips of him drilling striking with McGregor and Mando Gutierrez. McGregor is placing a heavy emphasis on drilling power shot technique. Azure, for the record, did suffer a sudden knockout defeat at the hands of Kelleher, and with DiSciullo having three knockouts on his record, there may be a path to victory on the feet.
Back in the TUF House, Azure is holding court with teammates while showing them pictures of his family. He has a wife and two sons back in Scottsdale, Ariz. However, Azure actually grew up on an Indian reservation in Poplar, Mt. and is of Native American descent. He trains locally in the Scottsdale area at Fight Ready MMA under Santino DeFranco and Eddie Cha.
— danawhite (@danawhite) July 18, 2023
Chandler talks up Azure’s wrestling background and how it goes hand-in-hand with his work ethic. Azure, meanwhile, is not running away from his defeats and is intently focused on making the most of his second chance after the UFC opted not to renew his initial deal. In training, Chandler is hammering home the importance of him being the one to dictate the terms of the fight. Azure, interestingly calls DiSciullo “the worst stylistic matchup for him,” but is confident nevertheless.
A conversation back in the TUF House between DiSciullo and Quinones comparing and contrasting life in Boston vs. South Florida sets up another spotlight on DiSciullo outside the Octagon. The Sityodong Boston product trains under Mark DellaGrotte at a gym that used to be a constant on UFC cards going back 10-15 years ago. He also trains at Broadway BJJ and trains boxing under Eddie Alvarez (no, not THAT Eddie Alvarez) at Alvarez Family Boxing, so he is definitely a fighter who takes to the old school approach to cross training at multiple gyms. He has one son, Dominic, and has a close relationship with both his mother and girlfriend.
A quick aside before the weigh-ins begin: This has been a pretty paint-by-numbers episode thus far. The problem with TUF is that it’s not as easy to manufacture conflict between people in 2023 as it was even five years ago, and that difficulty is compounded by the lack of alcohol in the house. I am not advocating for alcohol to be re-introduced, but what the viewers are left with are these family montages and manufactured emotional moments, when the reality is many fighters will leave their family for longer periods of time to go do a training camp. To rinse and repeat these talking points every episode makes for a redundant format, which is perhaps why I’d be in favor of a second season of Dana White’s Contender Series or some sort of alternative format over another season of TUF.
It is now time for the two bantamweight fighters to weigh in. Azure weighs in at 135 pounds, while DiSciullo uses the extra pound allowance to weigh in at 136. White, who is in attendance for the weigh-ins, reiterates the high stakes for the matchup. Without the possibility of McGregor falling to 0-8, this fight probably has less heat on it than any of the seven bouts preceding it, so it may be a blessing in disguise that things have played out in the fashion they have.
It’s worth noting that DiSciullo holds a five-inch reach advantage and while he is classified as the prospect, he and Azure are comparable in pro experience with Azure having faced the tougher level of competition.
Herb Dean is the referee.
Azure looks to change levels early, but is unsuccessful as both men begin to feel each other out. An anxious McGregor seems to willing to let it all hang out from cageside. Azure is finally able to secure the back of DiSciullo and take him to the ground, operating in half guard while busting his opponent open. DiSciullo is able to get back to a standing position, but still can’t seem to shake Azure.
Azure takes the fight back to the ground and is looking to advance position to do some more damage. DiSciullo uses the cage in an unorthodox manner to get back to his feet temporarily before being taken down for a third time. This time, Azure looks to be trying to secure the neck. Azure continues to beat DiSciullo up from half guard until the round comes to a close. It sounds like one of the fighters, presumably Azure accidentally tries to “hawk” something up, to which referee Dean says, “It’s okay, it’s okay.”
A clear first round for Azure as time is running out on McGregor being able to secure victory. Upon closer examination, Azure is actually the fighter who is cut, and looks to have sustained the gash on one of DiSciullo’s angled elbows when defending the first takedown.
DiSciullo is trying to goad Azure into a firefight, and the strategy seems to be working so far with Azure yet to attempt a takedown. It’s also possible that Azure’s wrestling pace has been all used up. Just over a minute into the round, DiSciullo connects with a beautiful right hand on Azure, dropping him to the mat instantaneously. Sensing victory, DiSciullo decides to follow up with a double axe handle (you read that right) that connects on the jaw of Azure and puts him out cold as Herb Dean waves the fight off.
Coach McGregor is on the board!
Rico DiSciullo def. Hunter Azure via TKO (Right Hand and Double Axe Handle) at 1:06 of Round 2
McGregor cannot contain his excitement and is running around the outside of the Octagon screaming, running and dancing seemingly all at the same time.
Conor got into it with Team Chandler after his team secured their first win on #TUF31 👀
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— The Ultimate Fighter (@UltimateFighter) July 19, 2023
White believes fought the second round like a man with his back against the wall, while Chandler believes his fighter’s hesitancy ultimate cost him. He called it surreal to see his fighter lose after “weeks” of domination. McGregor says he knew DiSciullo would “do well” in the competition. Now McGregor has directed his anger toward the seven other Team Chandler fighters watching from the Crow’s Nest. He is screaming about fighters choosing to wrestle, as well as “unfinished fights,” which might be the MMA version of “stop the count.”
McGregor then holds court in the locker room with his teammates, treating them to a round of shots of Proper Twelve Irish Whiskey. Over in the other locker room, Azure laments the loss on the verge of tears. Chandler believes his fighter deserved to win, but also thinks to loss will make him better in the long run.
For the final minutes of the episode, we are now treated to some “semifinal deliberations” where White speaks to both coaches as well as the fighters to make the best possible semifinal matchups he can.
Gave him the keys like it was nothing 😂
— The Ultimate Fighter (@UltimateFighter) July 19, 2023
White meets with DiSciullo first, then Cody Gibson of Team Chandler. DiSciullo says a fight between him and Timur Valiev could be exciting, while Gibson believes Valiev is the toughest fighter remaining. Gibson also says that with his knee injury, he would prefer to fight DiSciullo with him being the only one who isn’t privy to it. Remember, he only needs one more win to secure a spot in the finale, where he would have some time to let his knee heal, though he and DiSciullo are, in my eyes, the third and fourth seeded fighters while Valiev and Brad Katona are more like the one and two. Both Valiev and Katona believe DiSciullo is the easiest fight available.
For the lightweights, Austin Hubbard says Kurt Holobaugh is the weakest remaining 155’er, and suggests he and Roosevelt Roberts would make for a great finale. Holobaugh and Roberts, meanwhile, want Jason Knight next. Lightweight is probably the more open-ended draw from a matchups standpoint, as while Hubbard and Roberts should probably be kept apart from one another, both men could feasibly fight either Knight or Holobaugh.
It is now time for White to meet with the coaches, who both walk in with tiny t-shirts, with McGregor’s pink polo possibly being in the size of a youth large. White firsts asks McGregor who he believes the easiest path for his lone fighter, DiSciullo, would be, the asks about the toughest. McGregor replies, “I know we’re asking for Timur.” Chandler agrees that Valiev would be the toughest bantamweight in the remaining field, and believes the strongest lightweight fighter is “50-50” between Hubbard and Roberts.
McGregor and Chandler walk leave the room together, chatting about who they believe White might go with for the matchups. By the sound of it, Valiev vs. DiSciullo feels like a near certainty. McGregor then gives DiSciullo the keys to his Lamborghini, and the two head off for a victory ride.
Stay tuned for next week’s episode where the semifinals matchups will be revealed. Much to my surprise, however, next week’s fight will be a fun one, as Austin Hubbard takes on Roosevelt Roberts in a battle of two of Team Chandler’s top fighters.