MMA Review: #375: UFC: Ultimate Fighter XV Finale

-Overall, I guess you’d have to call Season 15 of the Ultimate Fighter – AKA Team Cruz vs. Team Faber AKA TUF Live a bit of a failure. After all, moving the series to FX and making the fights live each week rather than taped was supposed to freshen up the show; and in the process, the feud between coaches Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber was supposed to be built into a massive PPV draw. Neither one really happened. While Cruz and Faber’s rivalry was somewhat furthered by the series, an ACL tear to Cruz meant that their planned fight never ended up taking place, and while the live format did sort-of make the fights a little fresher, it also meant that the ‘edit monster’ wasn’t able to focus on the fighters they knew were going to make the finals and so the whole thing became a little wishy-washy instead. It pretty much felt like a mini-documentary each week on two fighters who casual fans didn’t care all that much about, and of course, that was never going to draw ratings on FX. On the plus side, there were some solid prospects on the show – a much better line-up than TUF 12 or 13 for instance – and the addition of some more decent fighters to the UFC roster is always a good thing.

UFC: Ultimate Fighter XV Finale

Las Vegas, Nevada

-Your hosts are Jon Anik and Kenny Florian.

Bantamweight Fight: Erik Perez vs John Albert

This was the only non-TUF fight on the prelim card, with TUF 14’s Albert – who was coming off an exciting loss to veteran Ivan Menjivar – taking on newcomer Perez, a Greg Jackson student on a five-fight winning streak. UFC experience lead me to take Albert but it wasn’t an easy one to pick.

Fight begins and they exchange strikes right away with both men landing some clipping blows. Albert rushes forward into the clinch and muscles Perez into the cage, looking for the takedown. They trade knees and Perez reverses before breaking free. Good combo from Perez in a quick trade and he follows with a body kick. They exchange pretty wildly and both men get tagged before Albert drops for a single leg. Perez works to defend it, but Albert manages to drag him down and then quickly takes the back with one hook as Perez stands. He slips though and winds up on his back, but right away goes for a triangle. Perez avoids and settles into the full guard, but Albert goes for a triangle again and this time it looks locked up. He pulls down on the head in an attempt to finish, as Perez stands up in the hold and tries to work himself free. He lands some solid hammer fists while stuck in the triangle, but how Albert hasn’t finished this yet I don’t know as it looks fully locked in. Good shots from Perez and it has to be said, Ken-Flo’s commentary is AWESOME here as he explains why Albert hasn’t gotten the tap – his hips are a little too high off the ground, apparently. More shots land for Perez and they seem to be doing some damage now, and finally Albert decides to switch to an armbar attempt but doesn’t get it and suddenly Perez counters with his own armbar attempt! Whoa. Mounted inverted triangle now from Perez and he pounds at the body before locking up the armbar, and referee Kim Winslow calls the fight there, angering Albert who apparently didn’t tap. Urgh.

Post-fight the replay confirms Albert indeed didn’t tap, and was in the middle of attempting to step over for an escape when Winslow stopped the fight. Bad call from Winslow in my opinion as for me you have to wait for a tap or at least a verbal tap before stopping it, and shit, if the guy refuses to tap, then call the fight when the arm snaps as it’s their own fault at that point. This was an excellent, exciting opener ruined by a bad refereeing gaffe, but eh, human error happens I guess.

Lightweight Fight: Joe Proctor vs Jeremy Larsen

On previous TUF finales Zuffa had always tended to match the guys with a lot of potential with the others who didn’t necessarily have so much, and this was definitely the case here, as Joe Lauzon student Proctor had shown some promise on the show before losing in the quarter-finals to James Vick, while Larsen hadn’t really impressed in a largely one-sided loss to Michael Chiesa. Smart money was firmly on Proctor.

Round One and they exchange some early strikes and quickly break a brief clinch after Proctor lands some knees. Couple of lunging punches miss for Proctor and Larsen throws a double jab. Leg kick lands for Proctor. Good body shot into a right hook from Larsen. Nice right hand answers for Proctor. Couple of combinations land for Larsen but Proctor catches him coming forward with the plum clinch and drops him with a BIG KNEE. Few shots on the ground finish things and Larsen immediately gets to his feet, but then shows it was a just stoppage by stumbling back to the ground.

Well, no surprise with the result although I expected Proctor to win with his grappling rather than his striking. I doubt he ever becomes a title contender but Proctor is a solid enough addition to the 155lbs division in the UFC.

Lightweight Fight: Sam Sicilia vs Cristiano Marcello

This was probably the best prelim fight on paper, with Chute Boxe veteran Marcello’s great BJJ game against the ridiculous striking power of Sicilia – who’d knocked his opponent out in eight seconds to get into the TUF house. My pick was Sicilia based on Marcello’s striking defense not looking great in his loss to Justin Lawrence, but to see Marcello get a submission wouldn’t have surprised me.

Round One and both men show a lot of movement early, with Sicilia blatantly looking to set up a big shot. Couple of kicks miss for Marcello and it looks like Sicilia has no respect for the Brazilian’s stand-up at all as he’s walking forward with his hands down. Takedown attempt is stuffed by Sicilia and he comes forward swinging heavy leather and clocks Marcello with a right hand in an exchange. Marcello tries to swing right back, but Sicilia is clearly landing the heavier shots and forces the Brazilian to retreat. Good front kick to the body from Marcello to prevent a bumrush from Sicilia, but Sicilia comes back with a good left hook. Big combo from Sicilia, right hook into a head kick, forces Marcello onto the retreat. Sicilia is swinging for the fences here. Two minutes to go and Sicilia catches a kick and shoves Marcello down, but he refuses to go into the guard and forces the Brazilian back to his feet. More wild swings from Sicilia and Marcello decides to pull guard, but Sicilia refuses to engage again and stands back up. Good combo from Marcello as Sicilia pushes forward again. Less than a minute to go and Sicilia continues to wing wild shots at the Brazilian who’s doing just enough to avoid them. He’s going straight backwards though which is a bit worrying. He tries to pull guard again but Sicilia again avoids, and the round ends on the feet. 10-9 Sicilia I guess.

Round Two and Sicilia again comes out swinging wildly. Right hand seems to clip Marcello and he goes down, but it looked more like he was trying to entice Sicilia into the guard and when he refuses the Brazilian has to stand again. Good body kick into a combo from Marcello puts Sicilia on the run himself. Marcello charges forward, but a big counter left from Sicilia puts him down. He dives on a leg, but takes a lot of hammer fists and elbows and Sicilia escapes. Sicilia pushes forward swinging again and lands a big right hand that looks to have Marcello wobbled. Marcello fires right back with some wild hooks of his own, but it isn’t a good idea for him to be brawling with Sicilia and sure enough, even though the Brazilian tags Sicilia with punches, Sam swings right back and it’s looking like a matter of time now before someone gets KOd. BRUTAL left hook lands for Sicilia and he follows with a big knee and some more wild hooks that drop Marcello. Sicilia drops down to pound him and that’s all she wrote.

Writing was on the wall for Marcello basically as soon as he started to trade bombs with Sicilia in the second, as it just isn’t a smart thing to do when you consider Sicilia has vicious power and appears to have a very good chin, too. You could understand a Muay Thai specialist risking it but Marcello’s a BJJ guy so it wasn’t the smartest plan. Exciting fight, though, and it seems to have been enough to earn Marcello a long-term contract with the UFC, surprisingly enough. Sicilia’s since dropped to 145lbs and while I doubt he contends for the title there, he’ll give provide some exciting fights, that’s for sure!

Lightweight Fight: Myles Jury vs Chris Saunders

Jury – who’d dropped out of TUF 13 with an injury – arguably had the most hype around him coming into the show but was then beaten in a close fight with Al Iaquinta. Opponent Saunders meanwhile seemed like one of the lesser fighters on the cast, but then managed to upset Sam Sicilia in the second round fights. I was taking Jury based on his reputation prior to TUF but it wasn’t an easy pick to be honest.

Fight gets started and Jury opens by keeping his distance with some kicks, particularly the front kick to the chest. One minute in though and really neither man has landed anything significant. Glancing head kick connects for Jury but Saunders seems fine and he fires back with a decent left hand. Another glancing high kick from Jury. Saunders throws a body kick but Jury catches it and counters with a nice right hand. Saunders is doing a good job of blocking the high kicks from Jury so far. Referee Kim Winslow calls time as Jury apparently got poked in the eye, and the replay confirms it was totally unintentional. No points taken or anything and they restart, and Jury continues to use his range with kicks and some long punches. Good combo connects for Jury. Right hand over the top lands hard and Saunders is being firmly outlanded now. Takedown attempt from Saunders off a flying knee attempt, but Jury locks up a guillotine on the way down and pulls half-guard. Saunders looks like he might be able to get his head free, but Jury sits up into it and really squeezes down, and Saunders ends up tapping out there.

Very nice finish for Jury who was all over Saunders throughout the fight really, never letting him get comfortable due to his striking range, and once the fight hit the mat he quickly got the submission. Dude could be a solid prospect at 155lbs and it should be interesting to see how far he can go.

Lightweight Fight: Daron Cruickshank vs Chris Tickle

This was the lone fight booked due to an in-house beef of a kind, as known prankster Cruickshank randomly snapped at Tickle on the final episode after Tickle threw a water bottle at him while he was sleeping. To be fair, they made up right after and it was hardly Junie Browning-esque, but even so! My pick was Cruickshank as I thought he’d shown more potential than Tickle during the show.

Round One begins and Tickle wades in swinging early, but Cruickshank lands a couple of counters and then goes for a takedown. Tickle grabs a guillotine and pulls to guard to look for the finish, but Cruickshank looks calm and works his head free. Action slows down as Tickle does a good job of tying Cruickshank up inside the guard, limiting him to landing the odd short elbow. Tickle manages to escape to his feet, but a quick flurry from Cruickshank sets up a nice inside trip and Tickle gets put on his back again. He manages to get full guard once more but this time Cruickshank hits a couple of nice elbows. Upkick from Tickle connects with the face, but as Cruickshank was on his knees it’s illegal and The Mazz calls time and deducts a point. Such a shitty rule, although it isn’t the Mazz’s fault. They restart and now Tickle comes in with a flurry that sets up a single leg, but Cruickshank defends and looks for a possible guillotine. They end up clinched and Cruickshank hits a nice trip to land on top in the guard for a third time. Nice short elbows land for Cruickshank and he keeps top position for the remainder of the round. 10-8 for Cruickshank I guess due to the point deduction.

Round Two and Cruickshank opens with a spinning kick that misses. Tickle fires back with a couple of combos and a missed head kick, but Cruickshank connects with a hard leg kick. Tickle comes in swinging and drops for an anaconda choke variant off a scramble, but Cruickshank escapes and ends up on top in half-guard. Some more elbows land for Cruickshank, but Tickle attempts a reversal and almost takes the back. Cruickshank shows some good awareness though and manages to retain top position, ending up this time in Tickle’s full guard. The Mazz decides to call a stand-up and Cruickshank connects with a nice kick to the face, but leaps right into a big right hand from Tickle that drops him! Tickle drops into the guard to look to follow up, but Cruickshank manages to tie him up to prevent any further damage. Some solid ground-and-pound lands for Tickle but nothing overly damaging as Cruickshank uses the butterfly guard to disrupt his base. Cruickshank looks for a reversal, but that allows Tickle to look to set up for a D’Arce choke. He can’t quite get it, but remains in control by dropping some short elbows to the head. Seconds to go and Tickle ends the round on top. 10-9 Tickle.

Round Three and Tickle comes out swinging, but Cruickshank lands with a hard leg kick. Both men show some aggression before Tickle looks for a takedown and gets it, putting Cruickshank on his back in side mount. Couple of good shots land for Tickle from there, but Cruickshank looks to push his legs off the fence to hit a reversal. He gives his back, but Tickle slips off and now Cruickshank takes top position in guard. Short hammer fists from Cruickshank, probably impressing Matt Serra if he’s watching somewhere. Good elbows from Cruickshank but Tickle looks to post up the fence to escape. Two minutes to go and Tickle explodes to his feet, but Cruickshank hits a trip again and this time lands directly in full mount. Good shots connect for Cruickshank but he can’t open up as much as you’d expect and Tickle manages to work back to half-guard and then manages to reverse to take top position. Cruickshank looks to be setting up for a possible guillotine, but Tickle slips his head out and finds himself in side mount. Cruickshank gives his back, but from there he manages to reverse and gets top position to end the fight. 10-9 Cruickshank so 29-27 for him overall.

Judges all have it 29-27 for Daron Cruickshank. Pretty exciting little fight actually as they seemed evenly matched and both men had their moments, but the difference was largely Cruickshank’s ability to find top position when they got into grappling exchanges. Nice to see the point deduction not really making a difference to the result too, as it would’ve been unfortunate to see Tickle lose for basically breaking a ridiculous, antiquated rule.

Lightweight Fight: Justin Lawrence vs John Cofer

After he’d knocked out James Krause and Cristiano Marcello in highlight reel fashion, there was a lot of hype around young striker Lawrence, and despite his loss to Michael Chiesa (in a contender for the best TUF fight ever) I still thought he had the potential to do well in the UFC. Here he was faced with Team Faber’s Cofer, a guy who had somewhat disappointed in his fight on the show with Vinc Pichel. I was picking Lawrence to earn another highlight reel finish in this one.

Fight begins and Lawrence tries a side kick, but Cofer catches it and gets a takedown to guard. Lawrence immediately looks to get his back to the cage but Cofer prevents it, only for Lawrence to kick him away and then get a takedown of his own with a few strikes from the top. He decides to stand back up and let Cofer join him, and they trade strikes with Cofer surprisingly stunning Lawrence with a left! He looks okay though and lands a couple of solid counters as Cofer rushes in. Left hand lands for Lawrence nicely. They continue to exchange before clinching, but Lawrence quickly separates and lands with a right hand. Couple of good combinations land for both men. Nice right hand coming forward for Cofer but Lawrence is beginning to counter on him nicely. Push kick to the body from Lawrence and he lands a left hook and a body kick too. Another good left hook from Lawrence and Cofer looks to be in a bit of trouble. Takedown attempt from Cofer is stuffed and Lawrence lands some more sharp counters. Leg kick lands for Cofer. Flurry follows but Lawrence dodges most of it and lands with a glancing knee to close out the round. Close round but even though Cofer had his moments I’d give it to Lawrence for the better counters I think.

Into the 2nd and Cofer opens with a good body kick. Couple of lunging right hands connect for Lawrence. Cofer misses with some wild shots and Lawrence glances with a combo. Cofer’s right eye is looking a bit swollen now, probably from the left hooks. Big head kick narrowly misses for Lawrence. Good right-left combo follows. Cofer is swinging back but you can tell he isn’t quite as comfortable in the striking realm. Couple of beautiful counter combos land for Lawrence as Cofer rushes in. More of the same follows as Lawrence continues to tag the Team Faber fighter. Two minutes to go and Cofer really needs the takedown here. Trio of sharp left hands land for Lawrence to counter a combo from Cofer. Good leg kick from Cofer though. Trade off sees Cofer land a hard knee. Spin kick misses for Lawrence and it allows Cofer to get the back, and he suplexes Lawrence down and gets both hooks in! It looks like he may be a little too high on the back though and sure enough Lawrence slips free and stands over him before diving into the guard with a right. Round ends with Lawrence on top and goes to him on my scorecard, but that mistake almost cost him dearly.

Third and final round and they trade briefly before Lawrence fakes a front kick into a left hand and then KILLS COFER DEAD WITH A RIGHT HEAD KICK!~! HOLY SHIT. Lawrence doesn’t even need to follow up as you could stick a fork in Cofer because he’s DONE.

Absolutely ridiculous knockout. One of the best of 2012 in fact. Replay shows it caught Cofer clean in the face as he had his hands down and put him to sleep instantly, even though it connected with the foot rather than the shin. Awesome way to debut in the UFC proper for Justin Lawrence and he’s since dropped to 145lbs where I predict he’ll become a STAR. Exciting fight with a sick finish – what’s not to love?

Featherweight Fight: Max Holloway vs Pat Schilling

I was a little confused as to how this made it onto the main card, especially as both men had been quickly submitted in their respective UFC debuts, but I guess Zuffa saw potential in one of them. That was most likely Holloway, who had received a spot on Bloody Elbow’s awesome Prospect Search, while Schilling was said by many people ‘in the know’ to be a can crusher prior to making it to the UFC.

Round One and Holloway circles on the outside as Schilling takes the center, and it must be said that Holloway looks a whole weight class bigger than Schilling. Dude is a huge FW. Schilling clinches and forces him back into the fence, looking for a single leg, but Holloway does a good job of avoiding a possible slam. Schilling switches to a double leg, but Holloway defends that and then pops up from a single leg. Schilling stays on his back but the Hawaiian is having none of that and he forces him to his feet. Body kick connects for Holloway but a head kick misses. Nice right hand lands for Holloway. Big uppercut misses and Schilling dives for a takedown and then goes for a kneebar when Holloway stuffs it, but it doesn’t work and the ref forces him to his feet. Hopping kick misses for Holloway. Bum rush misses for Schilling but a spinning backfist glances. He tries another rush but this time Holloway catches him clean coming in with a right hand. Big left body kick follows. Holloway is looking great so far here. Beautiful combo ending in a left to the liver from Holloway and he narrowly misses a follow-up flying knee. Another combo lands for Holloway ending in a right hand. Nice leg kick from Holloway and he follows with the same combo that Justin Lawrence finished the previous fight with, albeit not to the same impact! One minute to go and Holloway cracks Schilling with some more punches, hurting him with a body shot. Schilling drops for the takedown but Holloway stuffs it nicely. Seconds to go and Holloway lands another combo before stuffing a takedown attempt, and on the buzzer Schilling rolls for a kneebar but can’t quite get it. 10-9 round for Max Holloway, comfortably.

Round Two and Holloway stays on him right away, attacking with some punches and a spinning attack that doesn’t quite come off. Schilling takes the opportunity to look for the takedown, but Holloway stuffs it again and they end up clinched for a moment before Holloway breaks. Beautiful combination lands for Holloway and forces Schilling to cover up. Brutal overhand right connects for Holloway. Three-punch combination follows, right-left-right, and Schilling looks badly hurt and pretty much drops forward looking for a leg. Holloway easily avoids and decides to let him back to his feet. Another combo lands for Holloway and this time he throws in some knees for good measure, as Schilling is swiftly becoming little more than a punching bag here. Takedown attempt from Schilling is easily avoided and Holloway nails him with another combo, digging brutally with the left hook to the body that clearly has Schilling hurt. You could probably make a case for stopping this in fact as Schilling is just dropping down in pain and barely even attempting a takedown now. Another left to the body forces Schilling to drop to the ground in agony but Holloway calls him back up. More punishment follows before Schilling almost catches a leg, and he clings onto it before Holloway pulls out. Dude has heart at least. One minute to go and Holloway has him covering up again, landing more brutal shots to the head and particularly the body. Schilling dives for another takedown but Holloway avoids, and with seconds to go the young Hawaiian continues to tee off before Schilling glances with a spinning backfist. Holloway comes back with a big knee that drops him, but he can’t quite finish before the buzzer. 10-8 Holloway and Schilling was clearly saved by the buzzer there.

Round Three and Schilling comes out swinging, but Holloway easily counters him with some stiff jabs and a hard body kick. Good right hand answers for Schilling, but it doesn’t have much effect and Holloway goes right back to landing the better shots. Announcers mention Schilling told his corner he’s injured his shoulder, so damn you have to admire this guy’s heart for continuing. Holloway is just eating him up with jabs now. Spinning backfist misses for Schilling and Holloway jabs some more before landing a right hand for good measure. Another combo ends with the left to the body and doubles Schilling over for a split-second. Brutal one-two drops Schilling and Holloway looks to finish, but then he decides to let Schilling back up. One minute to go and Schilling dives for a single leg, but Holloway stuffs it again and continues to tee off. Jumping kick puts Schilling down again after a missed Showtime kick attempt (!), but Schilling comes up and takes some more shots, narrowly avoiding a crescent kick as the fight ends. 10-9 Holloway and 30-26 for him overall on my card.

Judges score it 30-27 all round for Max Holloway. Can’t believe he didn’t get a 10-8 in the 2nd round but whatever, this was an awesome performance from him – incredible that he’s only 20, as he made Schilling look completely amateur, totally outmatching him from start to finish. Beautiful combinations, vicious body shots, basically he did everything but get a finish. Watching this it’s obvious why Bloody Elbow had him as a top prospect at 145lbs and shit, I’m definitely on the bandwagon now.

Featherweight Fight: Charles Oliveira vs Jonathan Brookins

This was a really intriguing fight on paper, as Oliveira had made an impressive Featherweight debut in January, submitting Eric Wisely with the ultra-rare calf slicer, while Brookins had bounced back from a close loss to Erik Koch by knocking out Vagner Rocha in brutal fashion. My pick here was two-fold – if it went to a decision I figured Brookins would win, and if there were a finish, it’d be Oliveira with his hand raised.

Round One and Oliveira opens with a leg kick. Brookins pushes forward but both men look a little tentative. Another leg kick follows for Oliveira. Brookins looks to clinch and lands a decent right hand, but Oliveira backs out. Punches from Brookins but his chin is waaaay up in the air which is worrying. They clinch though and exchange some knees to the body, and then Oliveira breaks off and delivers a body kick. Right hand follows and lands cleanly. Beautiful combo from Oliveira and Brookins is looking stiff on his feet. Flying knee misses though and it allows Brookins to hit a takedown into guard. Oliveira immediately looks for an armbar and switches it to an oma plata, but Brookins pulls out and stands. Upkick glances for Oliveira and Brookins looks a little unsure what to do. He lets Oliveira stand back up, but the Brazilian continues to beat him to the punch and it looks like Brookins is bleeding from the mouth. Big right hand rocks Brookins and forces him to clinch, but he only takes some knees there too. They break off and Oliveira continues to do a great job of avoiding Brookins’ shots and landing harder ones of his own. Another combo has Brookins stunned but evidently he has a good chin as he swings right back. Couple of left hands connect for him but Oliveira continues to stalk and he lands a hard outside leg kick. Seconds to go in the round and Oliveira rushes in with a superman punch into a knee. Uppercut answers for Brookins but Oliveira catches him with a flying knee. Brookins tries the takedown off it but it doesn’t work and the round ends shortly after. 10-9 Oliveira.

Round Two and they exchange a couple of kicks before Brookins takes an accidental eye poke. Oliveira stops right away but Brookins is fine so they restart. Jumping kick misses for Oliveira and Brookins glances on a body kick. Big combo lands for Brookins and Oliveira looks a little hurt before they clinch up. Shoulder butt breaks for Brookins and he continues to swing wild shots, but Oliveira counters nicely and lands a hard combo. Both men look a little bloody now. Big right hand from Oliveira lands and he follows with a combo that has Brookins stunned. Brookins drops for a single leg, but Oliveira avoids and forces him into the fence. Guillotine attempt from Brookins but Oliveira looks calm and picks him up for a slam. Brookins still has the guillotine locked up, and he’s got full guard too, but Oliveira frees his head. Good elbow from Oliveira and as Brookins looks to post up the fence, he grabs a front facelock and then transitions that into an anaconda choke, and rather than roll he pulls guard to force the tapout! Nice!

Awesome performance from Charles Oliveira; I thought if he was going to win it’d be by a finish, but I have to admit I figured it’d be a knockout rather than a submission as Brookins is a hell of a grappler. Evidently though Oliveira’s better and this was another really creative tapout from him – not seen an anaconda variant in the UFC like that before. Another fun fight overall.

-Jon Anik announces the bonus awards for TUF 15, and it’s Joe Proctor who gets submission of the season (over Chris Tickle), Al Iaquinta for best knockout (over Andy Ogle), and then somehow, Iaquinta vs. Myles Jury gets fight of the season which is INSANE that it’d beat Michael Chiesa vs. Justin Lawrence. Seriously, that was one of the best TUF fights ever, period!

Ultimate Fighter XV: Finals: Michael Chiesa vs Al Iaquinta

Interesting to note that in the end, it was two Team Faber fighters that got to the finals despite Team Cruz taking an early lead in the competition! Anyway – Iaquinta was coming in as quite a big favourite, I guess because he beat the tougher competition on the show (Myles Jury, Vinc Pichel) and had a good reputation prior to TUF, but I was actually going with the upset win for Chiesa, as we hadn’t seen Iaquinta against as good a wrestler as ‘Maverick’, and Chiesa had also shown ridiculous toughness in his wins over Justin Lawrence and James Vick. Plus, his story on the show – losing his father on the first episode – was the most emotional and it would’ve made a cool ending for him to win the whole thing.

Round One and Iaquinta comes out swinging, landing a pair of glancing right hands off the bat. Low kick from Chiesa but Iaquinta catches it and backs him into the fence with punches. Single leg attempt from Chiesa and he manages to get him down for a second before Iaquinta pops up. They break off and circle out, and Chiesa pushes forward but takes a solid right hand. Body kick from Chiesa but Iaquinta lands with a superman punch. Good combo from Chiesa but Iaquinta catches a kick and really swings for him. Chiesa avoids and goes for the takedown, and this time he gets a bodylock and transitions into a rear waistlock, dragging Iaquinta down with both hooks in! Iaquinta looks to defend, but Chiesa works and LOCKS UP THE CHOKE!~! Iaquinta tries to pull the arms off, but then passes out and Herb Dean calls the stoppage. Big crowd pop for that one.

Post-fight Chiesa’s mother and sister come into the cage to celebrate with him, and you know, pro-wrestling couldn’t have booked this one better really as the one guy who had the big emotional curve in his story ended up winning the whole thing which NEVER usually happens. It’s a pity this didn’t happen on one of the earlier, more watched TUF series’ or Chiesa is probably a massive star right now. Fight was short and exciting and a big surprise that it finished so quickly to be honest, as I figured Chiesa would either win a decision or get a very late stoppage. Big win for him as Iaquinta had looked super-tough throughout the TUF tournament and to put him away so quickly is really impressive. I’m quite intrigued to see how high Chiesa’s ceiling is actually.

Welterweight Fight: Martin Kampmann vs Jake Ellenberger

Great main event on paper here, as Ellenberger was on his great run, reeling off six straight wins including Jake Shields and Diego Sanchez, while Kampmann had put together two impressive wins of his own, over Rick Story and Thiago Alves, and arguably (though I wouldn’t make the argument personally) should’ve been on a four-fight streak had decisions against Shields and Sanchez gone his way. The winner here would firmly cement themselves as a possible top contender, but I was leaning towards Ellenberger as I didn’t think Kampmann could outgrapple him nor could he survive the Juggernaut’s clubbing punching power.

Fight begins and both guys look a little tentative early on, neither throwing many strikes in the first thirty seconds. Suddenly they trade though and Ellenberger lands a CRUSHING LEFT HAND that drops Kampmann hard! He pounces looking for the finish, pounding away with hammer fists and punches as the Mazz looks on carefully. Kampmann manages to stay with it though, moving his head on the ground just enough to avoid the big shots and then quickly grabbing a headlock to slow the Juggernaut down. Looks like Ellenberger might’ve had an adrenaline dump trying to finish actually as he’s gone from absolutely postal ground-and-pound to literally doing nothing in the guard now. Kampmann manages to sit up against the fence, but that seems to wake Ellenberger up as he explodes with a short flurry before slowing down again as Kampmann again gets the headlock and looks to lock up a possible guillotine this time. Ellenberger seems fine though and looks to take the opportunity to pass the guard. Crowd are getting a bit restless now as really there’s not much action going on. Seconds to go and Kampmann uses the fence to stand, landing a couple of glancing knees from the clinch. Ellenberger lands a clubbing short left in the clinch so Kampmann drops for a takedown, but Jake stuffs it and the round ends there. 10-9 Ellenberger.

Into the 2nd and Ellenberger lands a low kick and throws a left, but Kampmann cracks him with a counter right hand and it seems to have Jake hurt a little as he backs straight up. Kampmann closes in but Ellenberger fights fire with fire and it’s a WILD TRADE with both men landing clipping shots. Big combo from Ellenberger rocks Kampmann again and sets up a clinch, and a right hand from close range bloodies the nose and has the Dane on rubber legs. Kampmann staggers back now and there’s blood everywhere pouring from Kampmann’s nose. Ellenberger keeps trying for the big shot, but Kampmann’s still in this. Looks like both men are bloody too as Ellenberger’s left eye looks pretty fucked up. Right hand lands for Kampmann and Ellenberger now looks a bit wobbled. Kampmann follows by clinching, and a series of knees suddenly DROPS ELLENBERGER HARD!~! Kampmann dives down to follow up and this time IT’S OVER as the Mazz calls it there! Wow.

Another monster comeback from Martin Kampmann as he was in serious, serious trouble in the first AND the second but in the end somehow he managed to land the better shots to take Ellenberger out. I saw a lot of criticism of the Mazz online for the stoppage here, as people were saying it was a double standard how he let Kampmann continue and yet stopped it as soon as Ellenberger went down, but I disagree – Kampmann was in trouble but he was moving, trying to tie Ellenberger up, and dodging with his head to avoid the big shots on the ground, while Ellenberger went foetal as soon as he went down and was clearly done. So really the Mazz did a tremendous job for once. Massive win for Kampmann when you consider the run Ellenberger had been on – unbeaten since his close 2009 loss to Carlos Condit – and this firmly put Kampmann back into title contention for the first time since his own 2009 loss to Paul Daley. First round of this one got a bit slow but good lord was the second round good – one of the best rounds of 2012 in my opinion in fact. Hell of a main event in the end!

-Show ends there with no highlight reel, strangely enough!

Final Thoughts….

TUF 15 itself might not have been very well received (although looking back I think it was an underrated season in terms of the actual fights…) but as a stand-alone show the Finale is pretty great. I mean everything I expected to deliver the goods – Kampmann/Ellenberger and Oliveira/Brookins – did, and we got major bonuses from the TUF cast in that most of the fights were exciting and finished in an explosive fashion. You can’t ask for much more than that really. So overall it’s a thumbs up from me.

Best Fight: Kampmann vs. Ellenberger
Worst Fight: Cruickshank vs. Tickle

Overall Rating: ****1/4

Until next time…