UFC lightweight Justin Gaethje has claimed that this year’s season of The Ultimate Fighter could have come together very differently.
It appears that a different pairing almost donned the coaching hats for The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) this year.
The 31st season of the UFC’s reality show was filmed this month, with the first episode set to premiere on May 30. While some have suggested the novelty of TUF has worn off in recent times, Conor McGregor and Michael Chandler have promised to revitalize it.
The former two-division UFC champion and the former three-time Bellator titleholder battled as the show’s two mentors ahead of a collision of their own inside the cage later this year.
With McGregor’s stardom and the talk surrounding his long-awaited Octagon comeback, the 2023 iteration of TUF looks set to attract a significant number of eyeballs.
As it turns out, though, the Irishman wasn’t the first fighter they approached for the season.
Justin Gaethje: ‘I Said Yes, They Said No’
During a recent interview with ESPN MMA’s Brett Okamoto, former interim UFC lightweight champion Justin Gaethje revealed he was originally targeted for another coaching stint on the show.
“The Highlight” recalled being offered the role prior to his fight against Rafael Fiziev at UFC 286 officially coming together. But while the #3-ranked lightweight approved the proposed pairing, Gaethje claimed that his planned opponent turned it down.
“Before that happened (McGregor vs. Chandler), they asked me to do it,” Gaethje said. “I’m not gonna say against who, but it takes two to tango. I said yes and the other party said no. It was while I was waiting for my contract for Fiziev, I get a call and they’re like, ‘Hey, you wanna do this?’ And I was like, ‘Absolutely.’ Then a couple days later it was like, ‘Nah, it’s off.’ Then I just signed that Fiziev contract.”
While Gaethje refused to name the other party, he did note his understanding at their decision to reject the TUF role.
“If I was in the position this person was in, I wouldn’t take it either,” Justin Gaethje stated. “You don’t wanna leave your family for six weeks for not that much money.”
Like it has for McGregor, appearing on the show would have marked Gaethje’s second swim in the TUF waters.
The Arizona native previously coached on the 26th season, going head-to-head with Eddie Alvarez, whom Gaethje was ultimately knocked out by in their subsequent fight.
Many will perhaps be feeling grateful for Gaethje’s planned TUF return falling through. That’s given the war he brought to the cage against Fiziev in London earlier this month.