After last week's Justin Lawrence vs. Cristiano Marcello episode of UFC's Ultimate Fighter Live, I had some worries about the season. With pranks and personalities both spotlighted, it seemed we were heading further down that reality TV show slide that caused me to lose interest in TUF years ago. This week, we got back to basics with a focus on fighting and training in an episode that showcased what can make this show great.
Al Iaquinta vs. Myles Jury was a very even match-up, and while it didn't have me quite as pumped as Lawrence vs. Marcello, I was on the fence on who would win, and very interested to see more of each fighter. And for the vast majority of this episode, the focus remained on those two. We saw both men train, heard some strategy from each... essentially, the show delivered on exactly what I always want it to be, an up close look inside the training camps of two fighters preparing to do battle. I love that aspect of the show, and it was on full display here.
One of my concerns heading into the fight was that Urijah Faber would not provide Iaquinta with as winning a strategy as Dominick Cruz would for Jury. And after watching, I have to wonder if that was on Iaquinta's mind as well. The scene where he approached Faber and explained that he wasn't interested in just working defense, but on being offensive instead was very telling. That's the exact mistake they made with Marcello, and it cost them. Nice to see Iaquinta learn from it.
And a quick aside, how classy did Marcello come across this week? No complaining, just saying Lawrence was the better man, and now he's here to help train. That's a pro right there.
As for the fight itself - I have to say it played out much as I expected. Jury was able to win the striking battle at first, primarily through a nice counterstriking game, but the deeper the fight went, the more comfortable Iaquinta became. I thought he clearly took round 3 and showed a lot of grit and determination in there.
Post-fight, Faber used an awful lot of unnecessary words to make the fight pick, but I loved his mind games against Larsen. Telling him that his own coach doubts his skills against a fighter like Chiesa? That's kind of mean, but also awesome. I'm sure Faber will never own up to using a nasty move like that, but I loved it.
Other quick thoughts:
- Dana White was clearly annoyed at the lag between rounds 2 and 3, but I feel like that is inevitable when you need to check judges' scores first. I wonder if it was much longer than it had been in previous seasons.
- Mike Rio injured himself and managed to keep that a secret. But of course, that secret only lasted a week, because now that the episode has aired, everyone knows. Another unplanned impact of the new format.
- Andy Ogle emerged as an interesting character. I am intrigued by his sort of gruff philosopher persona, and want to see more.
- Chris Tickle only did one thing this week, yet still managed to be annoying.
Al Iaquinta vs. Myles Jury:
- Iaquinta impressed me here, more for his focus and ability to get through tough spots than anything else. He stayed in there, and improved as the fight progressed. He had good defensive movement at times, but also let his hands drop too much for my liking. Also not sure why he repeatedly backed Jury up against the cage, then let him circle out. You've got him trapped, attack. Overall, a solid showing that gives me high hopes for Iaquinta in this competition.
- As I said in the preview, Jury just hasn't faced a hard enough level of competition that has really pushed him yet, and it showed. But I liked a lot of his striking here. I think he has a very bright future ahead of him, and this is one of those fights that will really help him. In the long run, I'll predict right now that he has a more successful UFC career than Iaquinta.
- Though it slowed in round 3, this was one hell of a fight. Round 2 in particular was terrific.
Mike Chiesa vs. Jeremy Larsen:
- Though they haven't focused on it in the past two weeks Chiesa is one of the big stories this season due to the sad passing of his father. For that alone, he's made a mark, whereas Larsen is one of those guys who I don't really recall anything about at this point. I've been looking forward to seeing Chiesa back in there, as his first fight was good. Off the top of my head, I think he takes this. Check back later in the week for a more in-depth preview.