The Ultimate Fighter: Team McGregor vs. Team Faber airs on Wednesdays at 10pm ET on FOX Sports 1.
A ton of stories surfaced after the latest season of The Ultimate Fighter finished filming, many of them regarding Conor McGregor and his rather unique approach to coaching his team of eight European athletes.
Fellow coach Urijah Faber has taken shots at McGregor for not being a hands-on coach who was deeply embedded in every, single practice with his team, but if the second episode was any indication, the interim featherweight champion might just introduce an entirely new way of thinking when it comes to how fighters approach a season on the reality series.
As soon as the elimination round fights were finished, instead of allowing his team to go check into their new house, get some food and get some rest, McGregor quickly gathered up the eight Europeans and laid down the law for how things were going to work with him this season. McGregor was as brutally honest as possible when reminding them that no matter how much everyone will preach team unity, this is ultimately an individual competition, so the key is staying ready and not worrying about what the guy next to you is doing because he might be your opponent one or two fights from now.
"Forget Team Europe and forget Team USA. There is no friends in this business. You are either here to win or you’re simply a filler," McGregor said. "They will be next door touching gloves and pretending to be friends and not one of them will truly give a (expletive) about the other."
Harsh words, but maybe it was the reality check some of the fighters needed when realizing that while they are training together today, a few short weeks from now they could be facing each other as opponents and that supposed team spirit goes flying out the window in a hurry.
McGregor carries over his sui generis approach to coaching to the training room as well during the first session with his team while explaining the way he works and how it made him a world champion. McGregor believes more damage than good can be done with heavy sparring while throwing punches and kicks with gloves and shin pads on versus actually technically breaking down the motion of a strike and learning through repetition how pinpoint accuracy means just as much as throwing hard.
McGregor is certainly unconventional in his training methods, but it didn't take long for the guys on the European team to buy into what he was selling, and based on the first workout, he's a big hit with his guys.
"I love the way Conor trains. I love the principles he's trying to give us," Sascha Sharma said about his coach. "Now I start to understand why he's such a special fighter."
McGregor lays things out for his team the same way his coach John Kavanagh tells him after a great training session — "that's upgrading your software without damaging your hardware".
Following the first day of training, UFC President Dana White shows up at the gym to make a huge announcement and an unprecedented change to The Ultimate Fighter this season. Instead of eight quarterfinal matchups, Faber and McGregor have been given the option to bring back one losing fighter from the initial bouts to get into the house and they will be re-inserted into the competition. White states that the nine fights will then take place, but one winning fighter will actually be eliminated from the competition based on his choice.
"It's not just about winning. It's about performing. I'm looking for guys who want to fight. I'm looking for guys who want to perform. I'm looking for guys who want to be world champions," White said.
For his choice, McGregor wasted no time bringing back his teammate Artem Lobov, who lost a razor close fight to get into the house in a matchup most believed deserved a third round, despite not actually receiving one. Faber went with Johnny Nunez, who only lasted a few seconds into the first round with Ryan Hall after being submitted with a nasty heel hook, and “The California Kid” felt like he didn't get to show his best, so this would be his second opportunity.
Speaking of Hall, after White's big announcement, Faber and McGregor went back into the gym to make the first fight official for the season and it was the leg lock specialist from the American side getting the call while Frantz Slioa got the nod from the Europeans. Faber knew that Hall's background in Brazilian jiu-jitsu was a huge weapon for his team, but even better was throwing him out there early in the competition so McGregor's fighter wouldn't have nearly as much time to prepare for what he'd be facing on the ground.
Watching Hall in his debut fight, Faber dubbed the ground specialist “The Wizard” because of the way he makes submissions appear out of nowhere. Hall is actually a well-known competitor in the grappling world, where he holds dozens of titles while operating under his own jiu-jitsu system he calls “50/50.”
Despite being a student on the show, Hall was actually teaching his coaches a thing or two during the episode to help them improve their own ground games. Hall may need to learn a lot more about his striking arsenal, but when it comes to his submissions, he's by far the best person on the entire show - better even than the people chosen to instruct him.
A confident Hall gave his prediction before facing Slioa in the opening bout of the tournament and it was a rather ominous warning for everybody in the competition.
"None of these people know how to stop me. I'm going to break them one by one," Hall stated.
McGregor worked with Slioa going into the fight, telling him to use his long range and good reach to keep Hall away from him to ensure they stayed standing, but just seconds into the first round, the plan flew out the window as the jiu-jitsu specialist was able to drag his opponent down to the ground and, before long he was already fishing for submissions.
Slioa did a good job of avoiding a few different heel hook attempts from Hall as he scrambled and twisted away from the hold several times. Unfortunately, Slioa just couldn't get his legs free and Hall was not going to let him go until he wrapped up the heel hook and put him away. Once they got trapped against the cage and there was nowhere left to turn, Hall applied the heel hook again and as Slioa's knee started to torque in a very unnatural direction he was forced to tap out.
Hall's first fight against Slioa looked painfully similar to his bout to get into the house and now just about everybody on Team McGregor needs to start working on leg locks or risk becoming another victim to this submission wizard.
Following the win by Hall, Faber immediately got ready to pick the next fight in the competition as he selected Chris Gruetzemacher to take on Sascha Sharma from Team McGregor. Gruetzemacher is one of the most experienced fighters on the show and Faber felt like Sharma looked like a deer in headlights after the first few days so it seemed like a perfect matchup.
Will Gruetzemacher keep the momentum going for Team Faber or will Sharma prove the American coach wrong and put a win in the column of Team McGregor? Tune into The Ultimate Fighter: Team McGregor vs. Team Faber next week to find out.