Conor McGregor's competition level and love for the sport can never be questioned. His emotions during, and following, the Brad Katona vs. Carlos Vera fight are big reasons why. Despite Katona training at SBG Ireland and living in Dublin, McGregor only saw red. He was extremely vocal about the decision and, once again, hoped for a third round.
If McGregor was all about supporting Vera against his teammate Katona, what should be expected from him for Lee Hammond?
Hammond is another SBG Ireland fighter who has made his way through the European ranks. While the whole SBG Ireland on TUF has some controversy of its own, McGregor and Hammond should be pumped for their upcoming bout against Kurt Holobaugh.
Holobaugh has already competed in the UFC with two different stints during his MMA career. He was a short notice fighter against Steven Siler for UFC 159, which he lost, and then again in in 2018-19 where he went 0-3. Even with the 0-4 UFC record, Holobaugh is 19-7 and brings an exciting fighting style, something the UFC continues to hunt for in their prospective fighters.
Lee Hammond vs. Kurt Holobaugh has the potential for fireworks
Of all the TUF 31 fights, there may not be a more pressure-filled matchup. On the one hand, Hammond will be representing SBG Ireland while fighting for Team McGregor. Talk about a dream come true for the Irishman. He had 20 amateur fights with a record of 15-5, four of which were split-decision losses. He entered TUF house with a 5-0 professional record, finishing 4 of them in the first round.
Holobaugh, on the other hand, is fighting for his third stint with the UFC, and it won't be easy. He comes into TUF house with a lot to prove, after being suspended for improper IV use after his Dana White Contender Series win in 2017. He was given a chance a year later but went 0-3 against tough competition. Even if he wins his first fight, he will take on teammate Roosevelt Roberts, the winner of the first fight and the fighter with the most time to recover. For both fighters, the pressure is real.
Hammond is durable, but so is Holobaugh. That's what makes this one of the most interesting matchups of the season. Let alone the storyline, both guys have so much experience. While Hammond is working behind an extensive amateur MMA career, Holobaugh has experience against fighters like Raoni Barcelos, Shane Burgos, and Thiago Moises.
In terms of paths to victory, Holobaugh needs to put on a striking clinic with the anticipation that this could go three rounds. Even if he's confident in his ground game, it makes sense for him to keep it standing and at range. Two of his seven losses are finishes. There's no reason to get caught in a submission or give up a late finish.
Hammond needs to weather the early storm and start to mix in some level changes, especially if there are signs of fatigue. Both fighters are likely confident in all areas of the fight, but this seems far too close to be taking any chances. Hammond has shown slick grappling so far in his career and could find a late finish if he grinds this fight out.
There is strong potential for some standing and banging, which makes this even more exciting. However, it would be better to see a tactical approach from both fighters. The sneaky amateur career coupled with the need for a win for Team McGregor could make for an SBG Ireland celebration. Hammond can take a beating and keep coming, which could be the biggest factor in him winning this fight. The same can be said for Holobaugh, but getting caught in an armbar against Burgos and being finished in a brawl against Barcelos are not good signs.
Is Hammond on the same level? Maybe not, but Team McGregor is going to do everything they can to pull off this win. On paper, it's close, so the edge goes to the TUF 31 rookie.
Prediction: Lee Hammond via unanimous decision.
The Ultimate Fighter 31 airs exclusively on Tuesdays on ESPN+ at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT. Follow along with FanSided MMA for all your live results and highlights.