“The Ultimate Fighter 15” Lightweight Final
Al Iaquinta (5-1-1, 0-0 UFC) vs. Mike Chiesa (7-0, 0-0 UFC)
The Matchup: In previous years, the fighters who appeared at “The Ultimate Fighter” Finale displayed marked improvement since leaving the reality show. That, of course, was because the show was taped months in advance and the finalists had plenty of time to work with their usual camps after filming concluded. This year’s live format does not allow for the same type of progression. The Chiesa and Iaquinta (Pictured, File Photo) you saw over the course of the past few weeks will be similar to what you see in the Octagon at the finale; that goes for every cast member on the card.
Another factor to consider is wear and tear. Iaquinta will be attempting to win his third bout in as many weeks, while Chiesa is looking for three victories in four weeks. How they push through the inevitable nicks and bruises incurred through such a grueling schedule will be key to giving a solid performance on the biggest stage of their careers.
Chiesa is the type of fighter you simply cannot count out. In notching exhibition triumphs over Johnavan Vistante Jr., Jeremy Larsen, Justin Lawrence and James Vick during his stint on the show, the Washington native not only displayed solid wrestling and grappling but also tremendous resolve when he appeared to be outgunned on his feet. That first surfaced against Lawrence, who appeared to have Chiesa dead to rights after a pair of left hooks to the liver in their quarterfinal encounter. The bearded one survived, however, and eventually stopped Lawrence with strikes from the mount in round three. The Sikjitsu representative appeared to be getting the worst of the striking exchanges with Vick, as well, but once Chiesa was able to slam his foe to the mat, he imposed his will with brutal ground-and-pound.
A seven-time Ring of Combat veteran, Iaquinta has tasted defeat just once in his professional career, falling to former UFC talent Pat Audinwood in November. On the show, the New Yorker has claimed victories over Jon Tuck, Myles Jury, Andy Ogle and Vinc Pichel.
The even-keeled Iaquinta has good footwork and mixes punches and kicks nicely to land combinations on the feet. He favors a technical approach in his standup and is not easily baited into a brawl. In addition to his well-rounded striking, Iaquinta can rely on a solid single-leg takedown for a change of pace.
The Pick: Look for Iaquinta to use leg kicks liberally to limit the threat of a Chiesa takedown before moving forward and aggressively throwing combinations. As long as the fight is upright, Chiesa will be at a decided disadvantage. On the mat, he can sweep from bottom, land offense from above and attempt submissions from just about anywhere. Do not expect another Chiesa comeback, however. Iaquinta will remain composed and avoid spending too much time on the ground with his opponent en route to taking a unanimous decision.
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