Tonight, FX airs the main card of the UFC Ultimate Fighter Live Finale. Featuring five fights, the main card is headlined by Jake Ellenberger vs. Martin Kampmann. Other non-TUF fights include Charles Oliveira vs. Jonathan Brookins and Max Holloway vs. Pat Schilling, plus TUF contestants Justin Lawrence and John Cofer opening the show. But the real reason we're here is to determine the season winner of TUF Live, as Al Iaquinta takes on Michael Chiesa. The FX show begins at 9:00 p.m. ET / 6:00 p.m. ET, with a prelim show airing on Fuel TV 2 hours earlier.
Read on for a preview of the Iaquinta vs. Chiesa finale, and be sure to check out all our other TUF Live Finale previews and dissections.
Al Iaquinta (5-1-1) vs. Michael Chiesa (7-0)
After 13 weeks, the inaugural season of TUF Live comes to a head tonight. And despite the Team Cruz vs. Team Faber set-up of the show, this is an all Faber final, as two of Urijah Faber's picks battle for the season title. It's a definite underdog story with Faber #1 pick Iaquinta taking on Chiesa, who has seemed to be outmatched throughout the show, but has overcome the odds and personal tragedy to make it to the end. Clearly, Chiesa winning is the feel good story, but will that be how it plays out?
Michael "Maverick" Chiesa (24 years old, 6'1", 76" reach) has become, in many ways, the central figure of the season. That's partly due to his fights, and partly due to his unfortunate personal circumstances. Less than a week into the show, Chiesa's father passed away after a long illness. Faced with the choice of continuing in the show or dropping out to be with his family, Chiesa chose to stay in the house, deciding to fight in his father's memory. That's a heavy burden to carry, and the weight could have easily crushed Chiesa. Instead, he's used it to motivate himself, finding ways to get out of bad situations in his last two fights and become an unlikely finalist.
Chiesa is most decidedly a wrestler. He has solid takedowns, and is very good at using his long limbs to control his opponents once the fight is on the mat. One of the things that makes him exciting is that, while he is very good at controlling the fight on the ground, he's not content to ride that control to a decision win. He's quite active on the ground, working towards the stoppage, and has finished 3 of his 4 TUF fights by either ground and pound or submission on the ground. Overall, his ground and wrestling games are quite good.
On the feet is another story, as Chiesa has a real weakness in striking. During the show, he's added good movement on the outside, and is able to survive when fighting at a longer range. But once he gets inside, he really struggles. He keeps his hands wide open and gets hit quite a bit, while also having troubles effectively firing back. On those fast-paced shoot-outs inside, Chiesa loses any sense of technique, and begins both covering up and swinging somewhat wildly, though he doesn't have the power to make that a usable strategy.
Against James Vick in the semi-finals, Chiesa became too comfortable on the feet and was definitively losing the fight until he scored a takedown. And yet, he did get that takedown, which shows his best attribute - heart. Like I said, he's fighting with passion, and that's allowing him to find a way to win, even when he's down.
Continued in the full entry.
Al Iaquinta (25 years old, 5'9", 68.5" reach) was Faber's #1 pick. At the time, that was a bit surprising, as he didn't particularly stand out in the qualifying round. But obviously Faber was correct in this choice, as Iaquinta has run through the competition up to this point, looking increasingly strong against Myles Jury, Andy Ogle, and Vinc Pichel. Iaquinta trains regularly at the well regarded Serra Longo camp, working with former UFC Welterweight champion Matt Serra and Ray Longo.
As you expect from Serra Longo fighters, he has strong wrestling and submissions, and particularly good hands. In the stand-up, he likes to use his hands in more of a boxing style. He's very good at using footwork to avoid shots, as well as head movement to slip punches. Offensively, he puts together nice combos, often sneaking in a tight uppercut that lands well. And he does have power in those hands, knocking out Andy Ogle in the quarter-finals.
One interesting aspect of this fight is the changes from TUF going to the Live format. In seasons past, the winners have returned home and had some time before the finals. Here, each man has had just 1 week with their home camp, while Iaquinta will be fighting for the 3rd time in 3 weeks, Chiesa for the 3rd time in 4 weeks. It will be interesting to see how that accumulated damage plays into the fight, particularly for Chiesa, who has taken a lot of punishment in his past 2 fights.
Picking this fight is, on paper, easy. Iaquinta has good enough wrestling and ground game to avoid Chiesa's takedowns and survive on the mat. Meanwhile, he is significantly superior on the feet, with defense that will likely befuddle Chiesa, and clean enough hands that he should be able to tag Chiesa with regularity. Chiesa does have good takedowns, as well as a significant reach advantage. But against Vick, he showed too much willingness to keep the fight standing, which does not play to his strengths, especially since he has not yet figured out how to best use that reach offensively. He has the heart and the will to win, and I can't help but cheer for him, but heart can only take you so far. Against Iaquinta, he's just in over his head. Expect Iaquinta to control this fight standing, hit Chiesa hard and often, and put him away in the 2nd. But be warned that I picked Chiesa to lose to Lawrence, I picked Chiesa to lose to Vick. Am I about to be fooled for the 3rd time?
My Prediction: Al Iaquinta by KO, round 2