A quality battle of top Lightweights looking to break into the title mix will headline UFC Fight Night 112, as dominating grapplers Michael Chiesa and Kevin Lee will square off later tonight (Sun. June 25, 2017) from inside Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahama. This is the first main event of each man’s career, and there’s also a good deal of bad blood following a miniature press conference brawl.
There’s no two ways about it: these men are grapplers. Both men walk into the cage with the end goal of muscling their foe to the mat and strangling him, which hopefully means we’ll have an entertaining bout filled with scrambles and submission attempts rather than a mediocre kickboxing match. Either way, only one fighter can escape as a relevant Lightweight contender, so take a look at my recommended strategies for each fighter, as well as a prediction regarding the ultimate result.
1. Pressure, pressure, pressure...
Chiesa is not a gorgeous striker. He doesn’t put together pretty combinations or impress with some fancy footwork. What Chiesa does have is durability and aggressiveness; watch him walk through Beneil Dariush’s powerful overhands to deliver his own straight punches and kicks.
In that bout — the biggest win of his career — Chiesa was outmatched at range and facing a more credentialed grappler. He took some abuse early, but he nevertheless kept pushing forward, kept driving for takedowns, and above all else kept working.
Eventually, his opponent’s defenses cracked, and Chiesa found the finish.
For his athletic ability, Kevin Lee is not a dynamic finisher. Chiesa can afford to eat some shots early on, particularly if it means he can land his own or wear Lee out. Either way, Chiesa just needs to continue being offensive.
This is not a wrestler vs. jiu-jitsu match up, as both men are pretty damn good at both. However, Chiesa tends to lean more on the jiu-jitsu spectrum of grappler in that he packs a wider array of submissions, and he’ll use them offensively off his back.
While the ultimate path to victory for Chiesa is to find Lee’s back at some point and choke him out, it’s not likely to be easy. Lee will undoubtedly be hunting for takedowns of his own, and when that happens, it’s up to Chiesa to threaten/reverse with his submission prowess. If he can land a sweep or force Lee to his back with a guillotine, he can avoid the difficult process of having to take the talented wrestler down in the first place.
1. Reactive takedowns...
Chiesa is not an easy man to take down. He’s big and skilled, which is generally a tough combo to deal with in any regard. Nevertheless, his aggression and lack of polish on the feet means that it’s not a hugely difficult task to get in on his hips when shooting for reactive takedowns.
Whenever Chiesa rushes forward with a series of jabs and crosses, Lee would be wise to drop down and drive through a shot. That’s one of his greatest abilities; “MoTown Phenom” can absolutely run through fighters when he shoots. Putting Chiesa on his back like this will score Lee plenty of points, and it will also force Chiesa to be more patient on his feet, which benefits Lee, the more technical kickboxer.
2. Wear Chiesa down...
Neither man has a history of fatiguing badly, but this is also the first five round bout of their careers. The man who is better prepared heading into the cage will definitely have an advantage, but a smart fighter can cause even the most conditioned foe to fatigue.
In Lee’s case, he would be wise to punish Chiesa after landing the takedown. Holding Chiesa down may be difficult, but it’s not all that tiring or tough to land a series of punches, knees, or a kick to the body on an opponent who is desperately trying to scramble to his feet. After landing those significant shots, Lee can reset for a moment, catch his breath, and look for another takedown when Chiesa charges in.
Rinse and repeat.
Prediction: Michael Chiesa via second-round submission
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 101 fight card below, starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. ET, and then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 7 p.m. ET, before the main card start time at 9 p.m. ET, also on FOX Sports 1.