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Conor McGregor denies interfering with TUF cast, so what if he did?

Won’t somebody please think of the prospects!

Conor McGregor cageside at Bellator 275
Conor McGregor will be starring on TUF this year.
Photo By David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile via Getty Images

The return of Conor McGregor is almost upon us. And the former champion, along with the UFC, have chosen The Ultimate Fighter house as the launchpad for the next chapter in his ‘Notorious’ career.

The 31st season of TUF is due to premiere on May 30 and star McGregor opposite Michael Chandler. The pair will coach teams of fighters before presumably fighting each other at a future event.

Last week it was alleged that McGregor had bounced fighters from the TUF cast so he could parachute in some cronies he trains with on the regular. Manager Daniel Rubenstein named the unlucky former cast-mates as Ken Cross, Mitch Ramirez and Brandon Jenkins.

UFC welterweight Chris Curtis supported that claim. He was met with a response from McGregor, who denied interfering in the casting process.

“Not true,” wrote McGregor. “I only know 1 guy on this show and he put himself forward for it. And he is now, after today, set to fight the no.1 seed! I didn’t ask nor request nothing! And I certainly didn’t have people removed. I’m just tryna get back in the mix myself so fuck off.”

So maybe McGregor didn’t get guys kicked off the show. But so what if he did?

If the UFC wants people to actually watch TUF this spring, let him pick his whole team. Let him pick the other team, too. Hell, why not the referees as well?

McGregor has earned more than enough leverage in the sport, and pop culture, to at least try and call his own shots on a platform such as this. And if you think this show was going to be about a fighter other than him, then I have bad news for you.

McGregor is going to embrace goblin-mode this series, screaming at everyone, destroying whatever isn’t bolted down and generally doing what he can to sell himself as a potent and dangerous force in MMA. He needs to do that in the TUF gym, and online, because it’s been something he’s not been able to do in the Octagon since he beat Eddie Alvarez in 2016.

As the losses have racked up for McGregor, his inflammatory behaviour has only increased, reaching new levels of cringe each time. At first it felt like he was trying to convince us he was still a threat, but lately it feels like he’s been trying to convince himself, which is sad.

And if you’re worried that this kind of McGregor Show treatment ruining TUF then you must think there is something left to ruin.

TUF’s trajectory from must-see-TV to irrelevance rivals The Simpsons, with dozens of seasons of drek outweighing the magic few that were revolutionary. It’s easy to date the decline of Groening’s famous yellow family (I place it at part-way through season nine). Pinning down exactly when TUF went off the rails is more difficult. The live season felt like a particular low point, but that came well after infamous scenes of inseminated sushi and upper deckers.

Since day one the UFC have leaned into the reality TV nature of the show (remember Willa Ford?). With the sporting implications of the series less vital than ever, why not just go overboard?

The Ultimate Fighter hasn’t been a star-making enterprise for a long-time either. The winners of the past five seasons are a collective 13-11 after winning the show. That’s not surprising, given that there are few good reasons for highly-touted fighters to subject themselves to the series anymore. And the UFC has better options for fighters they think are stars in the making, too.

The rise of the Contender Series should make every fighter think twice about agreeing to weight-cut sleepaway camp where they don’t get paid to fight and they’re wins don’t go on their pro records. When a prospect looks at the success of fighters coming off those shows as of late, who are they more likely to want to emulate, too? Sean O’Malley or Mike Trizano?

It seems pretty obvious at this point that the UFC views the Contender Series as a better testing ground for fighters they think have a shot of making it big in the Octagon. The criminally cheap UFC likely enjoys how little investment they need to put into Contender Series talent, too, just a bare bones APEX fight night, a minuscule entry-level contract and then they can put the new meat right into an event the following week, no six month embargo so as not to spoil the results of a pre-taped reality TV competition.

So with how meaningless TUF has become lately, using it as a viral clip generator to promote McGregor vs. Chandler seems like the best strategy from a UFC perspective. That would have been way more effective, and frankly interesting, if McGregor’s interest in the series was heightened by filling his team with SBG up-and-comers and and some characters from his past like Charlie Ward and Cian Cowley. We almost had this the last time McGregor did TUF. Wait, I wonder if he and Lobov could patch things up to give it another go?

About the author: Tim Bissell is a writer, editor and deputy site manager for Bloody Elbow. He has covered combat sports since 2015. Tim covers news and events and has also written longform and investigative pieces. (full bio)

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