What you need to know about The Return of The Ultimate Fighter: Team Volkanovski vs. Team Ortega

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The Ultimate Fighter was an instrumental force during the UFC’s explosion of popularity in the early 2000s, shining a spotlight on fighters like Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock, who coached a variety of MMA hopefuls in a season-long competition in which all of the participants were housed in one place.

Over the course of 28 seasons — all of which can currently be enjoyed on ESPN+ — the emergence of fighters like Forrest Griffin, Nate Diaz, Tony Ferguson and Kelvin Gastelum, among many others, and the tension between coaches building up to a big fight of their own played out on a week to week basis as fans got to see it all play out behind the scenes.

The Ultimate Fighter returns for its 29th season (and first since 2018) with UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski and upcoming title challenger Brian Ortega serving as coaches. The show, which debuts June 1 (following an Ultimate Fighter Launch Party to set the stage Tuesday) and runs for 12 weeks with a new episode dropping on ESPN+ every Tuesday, will feature eight fighters each in the bantamweight and middleweight divisions.

The coaches

Alexander Volkanovski

22-1 (9-0 in the UFC)
Windang, New South Wales, Australia
32 years old

Alexander Volkanovski and Brian Ortega coach a dynamic cast of 16 ascending athletes who have put everything else in their lives aside for the chance to pursue their UFC dreams. Season premieres Tuesday, June 1. Watch on ESPN+

Volkanovski debuted in the UFC in 2016, winning his first four fights close to home (three in Australia, one in New Zealand). After wins over Chad Mendes and Jose Aldo, Volkanovski got a shot at Max Holloway’s UFC featherweight championship in December 2019 in Las Vegas, and won the title via unanimous decision at UFC 245. In his first title defense, against Holloway at UFC 251, Volkanovski won a significantly tighter split decision over Holloway in July 2020 on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi.

His second scheduled title defense, against Ortega, was initially scheduled for UFC 260 on March 27, but Volkanovski was forced to drop out of the fight after a COVID-19 diagnosis, for which he was hospitalized. The delay set the stage for Volkanovski and Ortega to fight after the culmination of this Ultimate Fighter season.

Brian Ortega is coming off of a victory over Chan Sung Jung in October 2020. Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Brian Ortega

15-1, 1 NC (7-1, 1 NC in the UFC)
Torrance, California
30 years old

Ortega debuted in the UFC in 2014, but still has the same number of fights in the promotion as Volkanovski. Injuries and delays derailed Ortega’s momentum multiple times, with layoffs of 11 months (between July 2014 and June 2015) and 13 months (between June 2016 and July 2017) slowing Ortega down. Despite the stop and start nature of his career, Ortega picked up four straight finish victories, over Clay Guida (KO), Renato Moicano (guillotine choke submission), Cub Swanson (guillotine choke submission) and Frankie Edgar (KO) to set up his own title challenge against Max Holloway, a year and a week prior to Volkanovski’s shot.

Inside of Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena, Ortega suffered the first defeat of his pro MMA career when the doctor stopped the fight at the end of Round 4 due to the damage to Ortega’s face. Ortega was scheduled to face Chan Sung Jung in December 2019, but he was forced to pull out of the fight a couple weeks prior to its scheduled date due to a knee injury. After Ortega’s longest career layoff to date stretched to 22 months, Ortega finally returned to the Octagon and defeated Jung by unanimous decision on Fight Island in October 2020.

The fighters

Bantamweight

Al Powers / ESPN Images

Danny Argueta | 27 | 5-0

Nickname: The Determined

Birthplace: Chicago

Fights out of: Albuquerque, New Mexico

Gym(s): Jackson Wink Academy and Gracie Barra

Trainer/coaches: Greg Jackson, Mike Winkeljohn and Cub Swanson

Fighting history: Illinois high school state medalist in wrestling, NCAA Div. II wrestler (University of Wisconsin – Parkside) and team captain.

Al Powers / ESPN Images

Brady Hiestand | 21 | 4-1

Nickname: Bam Bam

Birthplace: Spokane, Washington

Fights out of: Spokane, Washington

Gym: Sik-Jitsu

Trainer/coach: Rick Little

Fighting history: Brown belt BJJ, black belt karate

Al Powers / ESPN Images

Dustin Lampros | 26 | 5-0

Nickname: Scrappy

Birthplace: Freeburg, Illinois

Fights out of: Freeburg, Illinois

Gym: Sanford MMA

Trainer/coach: Henri Hooft

Al Powers / ESPN Images

Vince Murdock | 30 | 11-6

Birthplace: Oakland County, Michigan

Fights out of: Sacramento, California

Gym: Team Alpha Male

Trainer/coaches: Joey Rodriguez, Mike Malott, Danny Castillo, Chris Holdsworth, Urijah Faber

Al Powers / ESPN Images

Mitch Raposo | 22 | 5-0

Birthplace: Fall River, Massachusetts

Fights out of: Fall River, Massachusetts

Gym: Regiment Training Center

Trainer/coaches: Brian Raposo, Tommy Teixeira

Fighting history: Undefeated pro & amateur MMA record, Cage Titans champion (amateur)

Photo by Al Powers / ESPN Images

Josh Rettinghouse | 31 | 16-5

Birthplace: Spokane, Washington

Fights out of: Spokane, Washington

Gym: Warrior Camp MMA

Trainer/coach: Pablo Alfonso

Fighting history: BJJ Brown Belt

Al Powers / ESPN Images

Liudvik Sholinian | 30 | 9-1

Nickname: Palmeyros

Birthplace: Alaverdi, Armenia

Fights out of: Kiev, Ukraine

Gyms: Aurum (Kiev), KDMMA (Los Angeles)

Trainer/coaches: Alexandr Pudochkin, Karen Darabedyan

Fighting history: Ukrainian national wrestling champion, Ukrainian national MMA champion (amateur)

Al Powers / ESPN Images

Ricky Turcios | 27 | 10-2

Nickname: Ricky Hadouken

Birthplace: Houston

Fights out of: Houston

Gyms: Gracie Barra The Woodlands (Texas) and Team Alpha Male

Trainer/coaches: Alex Morono, Urijah Faber, Danny Castillo, Matt Wald, Joey Rodriguez, Chris Holdsworth

Fighting history: Black belt in Taekwondo, brown belt in BJJ


Middleweight

Al Powers / ESPN Images

Aaron Phillips | 29 | 5-1

Birthplace: Kotzebue, Alaska

Fights out of: Kotzebue, Alaska

Fighting history: Alaska wrestling state champion

Al Powers / ESPN Images

Andre Petroski | 29 | 5-1

Birthplace: Chester, Pennsylvania

Fights out of: Philadelphia

Gym: Renzo Gracie Philly

Trainer/coaches: Daniel Gracie, John Marquez

Fighting history: Purple belt BJJ

Al Powers / ESPN Images

Bryan Battle | 26 | 4-1

Nickname: Pooh Bear

Birthplace: Springfield, Maryland

Fights out of: Charlotte, North Carolina

Gym: Hayastan MMA

Trainer/coaches: Tom Ziegler, Kevin Forant

Al Powers / ESPN Images

Ryder Newman | 25 | 3-1

Nickname: Rhino

Birthplace: Las Vegas

Fights out of: Las Vegas

Gym: Xtreme Couture

Trainer/coach: Eric Nicksick

Fighting history: TUFF-N-UFF welterweight champion (amateur)

Al Powers / ESPN Images

Tresean Gore | 26 | 3-0

Nickname: Mr. Vicious

Birthplace: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Fights out of: Decatur, Georgia

Gym: American Top Team

Trainer/coach: Dhiego Lima

Fighting history: High level purple belt in BJJ

Al Powers / ESPN Images

Miles Hunsinger | 30 | 7-0

Nickname: Gun Slinger

Birthplace: Nampa, Idaho

Fights out of: Las Vegas

Gym: Xtreme Couture

Trainer/coach: Amir Sadollah

Fighting history: Second in state Idaho wrestling (amateur)

Al Powers / ESPN Images

Kemran Lachinov | 30 | 10-3

Nickname: Killa Kam

Birthplace: Uzbekistan

Fights out of: West Springfield, Massachusetts

Gym: Team Link

Trainer/coaches: Marco Alvan, Jason Franklin, Daniel Fagan

Fighting history: Purple Belt in BJJ; 5-1 record in Bellator, including five-fight winning streak

Al Powers / ESPN Images

Gilbert Urbina | 25 | 6-1

Nickname: The RGV Badboy

Birthplace: Ripon, Wisconsin

Fights out of: Rio Grande Valley, Texas

Gym(s): Team Urbina MMA, Jackson Wink

Trainer/coaches: Greg Jackson, Mike Winkeljohn



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