A six figure contract is on the line tomorrow night (June 1, 2012) as lightweights Al Iaquinta and Mike Chiesa will square off to determine the reality show victor on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) Live Finale in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Al Iaquinta entered this season as one of the favorites due to his background training at the Serra-Longo Academy as well as his experience in Ring of Combat. He lived up to the hype, defeating several tough opponents along the way, primarily with his stand-up skills.
Mike Chiesa was the perennial underdog, losing his father after getting into the house and picking himself up enough to win four fights on the show and advance to the finale. He had perhaps the biggest upset of the season when he stopped show-favorite Justin Lawrence and he'll be trying to finish the other number-one pick tomorrow night.
Will Iaquinta live up to his top-picked billing and be the next Ultimate Fighter? Can Chiesa play spoiler one last time on the big stage? What's the key to victory for both young men tomorrow night?
Let's find out:
Record: 5-1-1 overall, 0-0 in the UFC
How he got here: Training under Renzo Gracie, Al Iaquinta is yet another talented up-and-coming fighter who spent his entire career in the Ring of Combat promotion. The New York-native went unbeaten in his first six fights before a misstep in his last bout against UFC veteran Pat Audinwood, losing via first round armbar.
Undeterred, Iaquinta tried out for this season of The Ultimate Fighter and he made a splash, defeated Jon Tuck via decision in the first round and then becoming Urijah Faber's number one pick when teams were selected.
His round of 16 fight against Myles Jury was one of the closest fights of the season, but Iaquinta turned up the aggression in the decisive third round, winning another decision. He made a statement in the quarterfinals against Andy Ogle, knocking the Brit out violently at the end of the first round and he punched his ticket to the finale by defeating Team Cruz's Vinc Pichel to advance to the finals.
Now he's got a big shot on the big stage.
How he gets it done: Iaquinta's biggest strength is his well-roundedness. He's comfortable standing, where he's got some surprising power, having rocked Jury and knocked Ogle completely out on the feet and he's pretty capable on the ground as well.
I think the key for Iaquinta is to keep this fight standing, as Chiesa is not very strong on the feet, having been hurt there on multiple occasions this season before winning fights on the ground. Iaquinta needs to keep his space and utilize his footwork to pepper his bearded foe with punches.
If he hurts Chiesa, for god's sake, finish him off! Chiesa has been let off the hook repeatedly and then come back to win in his last two fights. He can't afford to give him an extra shot this time around.
Record: 7-0 overall, 0-0 in the UFC
How he got here: Mike Chiesa is a true underdog story from this past season. Training out of Spokane, Washington, he entered The Ultimate Fighter with a 7-0 record, having won five fights via submission.
The grappler submitted his opponent to get into the house and was selected to be a part of Team Faber, but would be involved in one of the most emotional episodes of the season after finding out his father had died.
After returning from the funeral, Chiesa won a unanimous decision against Jeremy Larson, but it would be his next fight that turned heads. After being battered by the consensus favorite to win the entire thing, Justin Lawrence, in the quarterfinals and even dropped with a body shot, Chiesa swept him, advanced to mount and then pounded him out for a shocking TKO victory.
A similar situation occurred in the semifinals against James Vick, as Chiesa was beat up in the first round but again scored a knockout in the second to come back and win. Now, "Maverick" is one upset victory away from being crowned the show's king.
How he gets it done: There is nothing more simple than Chiesa's gameplan, which is to take the fight to the ground. While Iaquinta has some pretty nice all-around skills, his biggest weakness is definitely on the ground.
Myles Jury took Iaquinta's back plus Iaquinta was tapped out by Pat Audinwood on the ground in his last professional fight. Chiesa's primary avenue of attack is on the ground whether he's wrestling, ground and pounding or working for submissions.
You can also never count out Chiesa's heart. He can take a beating and keep plowing forward, never giving up, which can be very frustrating for his opponents who thought they had him dead to rights. If he can drag this fight into the second or third round, he could win on pure heart alone.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight has to be the time frame. Poor Al Iaquinta will be fighting for the third time in three weeks while Chiesa will be fighting for his third time in four weeks. Both men have to be coming into the bout with nagging injuries from a lengthy season on TUF as well as not getting any time to really rest up and recover.
Chiesa is a very big lightweight as well, so he's had to do a tough weight cut three times now in four weeks. That could be a factor on top of everything else. Whoever is the least injured and least mentally exhausted could end up coming out on top tomorrow night.
Bottom Line: Both fighters put on some pretty entertaining fights this season. Iaquinta is the likely favorite, but you can never count out Chiesa. Even if Iaquinta dominates early, there's a strong likelihood that Chiesa could take over if he fades. I'm absolutely not counting the Washington native out unless he is completely unconscious or the final horn has sounded. That being said, if Iaquinta keeps it standing, he should have a huge advantage and I don't think Chiesa will have much for him there. The same goes for if Chiesa can secure top position on the ground. There's a strong likelihood that this fight could be a blowout for either party.
Who will come out on top at The Ultimate Fighter Live Finale? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!