I've been looking forward to this week of UFC The Ultimate Fighter Live for some time now. As the opening round drew to a close, the promise of the upcoming quarter-final round was enticing. As it turns out, I was right to be excited.
This week's episode was a fantastic piece of television, with the focus firmly where it should be - the fights. And how about those fights? Two fights, two huge upsets, two of the heavy favorites gone, two Cinderella stories at play for Michael Chiesa and James Vick.
When you look at the two upsets side by side you see a lot in common. In both fights, you had a heavy favorite who found himself struggling against the underdog. And in the cases of both Joe Proctor and Justin Lawrence, that struggle defeated them mentally. For Lawrence in particular, that mental defeat was very clear.
Right from the opening, Lawrence fought a terrible fight from a strategic standpoint. His decision to start the fight with a lazy sidekick was very ill-conceived. You're facing a strong wrestler who is significantly worse than you at stand-up - why throw an easy to catch kick and give up the takedown? He did that numerous times in the fight, and Chiesa wisely capitalized every time. Also, once on the mat, Lawrence had the chance to escape at times, but did not, choosing to fight Chiesa's fight. But his biggest gaff came at the end of round 2. After dropping Chiesa with a nice body shot, Lawrence again jumped into the guard, giving Chiesa a chance to recover and once again playing to his opponent's strengths. That decision literally cost him the competition, as Chiesa could have been finished there. At the start of round 3, it was clear that Lawrence was mentally defeated. Chiesa wanted it more, and he took the win.
Heading into Proctor vs. Vick, I asked if Proctor failed to get the submission, how would he respond? We got that answer, and it was not great. Proctor implemented his strategy, but when Vick survived the choke, Proctor, like Lawrence, wilted, allowing Vick to come through with the upset.On James Vick:
- Dominick Cruz says Vick will make the finals, and now, I am sort of inclined to believe him. Vick is a great student of the game, who is really willing to give his all and learn from experiences. That's a great attribute.
- Vick had a great moment here that I loved. At one point, he threw a headkick. Proctor brought his hand way up to block. Vick, seeing that block, threw another kick, but this time to the body. When Proctor raised his hand to block what he presumed to be a headkick, Vick's body kick snuck through the defensive gap. Smart use of striking there.
On Michael Chiesa:
- I'll give Chiesa this - he's got heart. But the stand-up remains a serious issue. I still don't see him winning his next fight (though that may change once his opponent is announced), but you have to love the story of his continued move through the competition.
- With experience, Lawrence can still have a solid career. He's young, and needs to learn the mental game. I hope he takes something positive from this loss, as he has a lot to offer overall. Same with Proctor, though I don't think his upside is quite as great.
- Next week it's Al Iaquinta vs. Andy Ogle and Vinc Pichel vs. Chris Saunders. Like this week, there are obvious picks here in Iaquinta and Pichel, but as we learned, just because the picks are obvious doesn't mean they'll be right.
- Seriously, this was an awesome episode.