Mike Chiesa’s stint on “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 15 could not have had a better ending.
The Spokane, Wash., lightweight endured the loss of his father, who passed away after the season had already begun. Chiesa, who was picked fifth on the show, defied the odds time and again. He defeated Justin Lawrence via third-round technical knockout, earning a $5,000 knockout bonus and a spot in the semifinals. Chiesa then scored another upset by defeating James Vick via second-round knockout.
Coach Urijah Faber’s top pick, Al Iaquinta, came into their matchup at “The Ultimate Fighter 15” Finale on Friday at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas as a heavy favorite, with -275 odds (compared to Chiesa’s +215), according to BetDSI.com. Iaquinta’s experience training with the Serra-Longo Fight Team, his well-rounded skills and his performance on the show cemented his position as a top prospect in the division and a favorite for the bout. Iaquinta scored three decisions en route to the finale, defeating Jon Tuck to earn his spot in the house, edging out Myles Jury by split verdict in the Round of 16 and scoring a hard-fought unanimous decision over Vinc Pichel in the semifinals. Iaquinta was most impressive in the quarters, where he defeated Andy Ogle by knockout.
“Iaquinta looked good. He looked as good as anyone has ever looked on ‘The Ultimate Fighter,’” UFC President Dana White said in a press release.
Although Chiesa looked like a one-dimensional wrestler on paper, oddsmakers cannot make calculations on the heart of a fighter. Perhaps it was Chiesa’s fierce determination to win the show in memory of his father that kept him going strong after absorbing some heavy strikes. He maintained his composure, landed a nice takedown, transitioned to back mount and worked patiently for a rear-naked choke, rendering Iaquinta unconscious in the first round. He walked away with a motorcycle, an eighth consecutive professional win and a cool $40,000 for “Submission of the Night” honors.
Also winning despite the odds was Martin Kampmann, who came in at +150 to Jake Ellenberger’s -180 for the main event. “The Hitman” became the second fighter to defeat Ellenberger during his UFC career and the first to ever finish him via strikes; Ellenberger’s only other UFC loss came when he found himself on the wrong side of a split decision after a bout with Carlos Condit at UFC Fight Night 19 in September 2009.
The outcome of their tussle provides yet another example of why MMA math does not work; although Ellenberger had back-to-back wins over former Strikeforce champion Jake Shields and “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 1 winner Diego Sanchez, men to whom Kampmann has suffered losses, it did not stop the Dane from putting an end to his six-fight winning streak.
Kampmann recovered from heavy strikes, including a left hook thrown with bad intentions in the first round. “The Hitman” took some shots in the beginning of the second round, as well, but responded with a devastating right hook, transitioned to the clinch and ended the fight with a knee.
Ellenberger’s questionable conditioning, coupled with Kampmann’s resilience -- which he showcased recently in his comeback victory against Thiago Alves -- helped bring about the result. The Dane’s last victory by knockout due to a knee came in his second professional MMA fight against Dave Jones under the Xtreme Fighting Championship banner back in November 2003.
The third and final fighter on the card to defy the odds was Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts representative Erik Perez (+170). John Albert was a -185 favorite when he became the victim of a controversial stoppage from referee Kim Winslow, who halted the bout as he tried to work his way out of an armbar.
Albert worked for a triangle choke in the first round and transitioned to an armbar, and the two bantamweights traded hammerfists before Perez locked in a fully extended armbar of his own. As many fighters have learned the hard way, any sound made can be deemed a verbal tapout, leading to a technical submission loss. White considered the stoppage a poor one, and reported on Twitter that he had awarded Albert his full win bonus.