Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lightweights Michael Chiesa and Mitch Clarke attempt to take another step forward this Saturday (April 4, 2015) at UFC Fight Night 63 on FOX Sports 1 from inside the Patriot Center in Fairfax, Virginia.
After winning The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 15 in impressive fashion, Chiesa has definitely announced himself as a fighter to watch in the lightweight division. Though he's coming off a cut stoppage loss to Joe Lauzon, Chiesa put forth a strong showing before getting split open.
While Clarke lost his first pair of UFC fights, he surprised fans with consecutive upset victories, including a dramatic finish of Al Iaquinta. Now, Clarke will look to build from that momentum with a third straight win.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for both fighters.
Key Wins: Franciso Trinaldo (UFC 173), Al Iaquinta (TUF 15 Finale)
Key Losses: Jorge Masvidal (UFC on FOX 8), Joe Lauzon (UFC Fight Night 50)
Keys to Victory: Chiesa is a smothering top specialist with excellent jiu-jitsu skills, which has resulted in eight submission finishes. In particular, his ability to find the rear naked choke from back mount is excellent.
While Chiesa is undoubtedly a strong submission fighter, grappling with Clarke is a risky proposition nonetheless. Considering the recent improvements to the rest of his game, Chiesa may want to avoid going to the mat for an extended amount of time.
Instead, Chiesa should maintain an aggressive attack on his feet. Chiesa's kickboxing attack on the outside is developing well, and Clarke is an excellent opponent for him continue working on it.
In addition to simply being the more efficient and powerful striker, Chiesa can move into the clinch and work from there. He's the more physical fighter and overwhelm Clarke from that position, while keeping the option to score a takedown open.
If Chiesa does take him down, he just needs to be careful and work into dominant positions. By mixing all his facets of offense together and avoiding his opponent's submissions, Chiesa should be able to get back into the win column in impressive fashion.
Key Wins: Al Iaquinta (UFC 173), John Maguire (UFC 161)
Key Losses: John Cholish (UFC 140), Anton Kuivanen (UFC 149)
Keys to Victory: Clarke is a very slick submission fighter, having secured seven wins via tapout. While his striking game is still a work in progress, Clarke has proven to be dangerous on capitalizing on small openings.
That ability will be a key factor in this fight. While Clarke may have a slight technical jiu-jitsu advantage, Chiesa likely has the advantage in the rest of the areas of mixed martial arts (MMA).
In order to pull off the victory, Clarke very likely needs to find the submission victory. While that's not an easy prospect, Clarke can make things easier on himself by forcing scrambles and grappling exchanges whenever possible.
At the end of the day, Chiesa is a grappler who prefers top positions and is confident in his jiu-jitsu. If Clarke repeatedly looks for takedowns, he'll either get them -- which is obviously the best case scenario -- or wind up on the bottom. Chiesa won't just let Clarke up to his feet repeatedly, it's not his style.
It's up to Clarke to make something happen from there.
Bottom Line: Chiesa is an up-and-coming lightweight with plenty of potential, while Clarke is making a habit of playing spoiler. Either way, this should be a fairly entertaining fight.
This is a fight Chiesa should win. The match up favors him, and he likely has the higher ceiling of the two men. They're both at a similar age and experience level, so it's a fight Chiesa really needs to win. While losses to veterans like Masvidal and Lauzon are understandable, a loss to Clarke would be much harder to excuse.
If Chiesa does return to the win column, it sets him up for another step up in competition.
Clarke has put together a pair of surprising wins in his last two showings, and this is an opportunity to prove that he's a legitimate talent. If Clarke manages to take out the "Maverick," it's time for fight fans to recognize him as a lightweight prospect, rather than overlook him.
On the other hand, a loss would confirm that Clarke is not heading for the top of the division.
At UFC Fight Night 63, Michael Chiesa and Mitch Clarke will go to war. Which fighter will leave the cage with a victory?