Since being selected as two of 32 fighters to compete on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter on FX, Urijah Faber-coached teammates Mike Chiesa and Al Iaquinta have won four straight fights and earned spots in the finals of the lightweight tournament.
While living in The Ultimate Fighter house, Chiesa learned of the passing of his father. Despite the tragic loss, Chiesa opted to continue competing and is now just one win away from making worthwhile the hardship he had to endure by being away from his family during their time of grieving.
Though it's probable both fighters will get another chance inside the Octagon after Friday night, let's take a look at whether Chiesa or Iaquinta has a better chance of winning a guaranteed contract with the world's premier MMA organization.
Before taking his opponents to the ground, Mike Chiesa had some difficulty putting his striking together on The Ultimate Fighter.
Against Justin Lawrence and James Vick, Chiesa appeared on his way to losses before turning things around in the later rounds.
Against a heavy hitter like Iaquinta—who blasted Andy Ogle with an elbow for a knockout in the quarterfinals—Chiesa will need to avoid exchanges and tie up his opponent whenever possible to try and take this fight to the ground.
Though Ianquinta still has a long way to go before he can stand toe-to-toe with the world's best lightweights, his training with Ray Longo has made him one of the more dangerous strikers in this competition—certainly good enough in the stand-up to best Chiesa.
Mike Chiesa doesn't have the most technical takedowns, but he is deadly once he is able to drag opponents to the canvas. Even off of his back, Chiesa is an excellent grappler and doesn't allow his opponents to inflict much damage.
However, Ianquinta possesses some solid wrestling of his own and won't be easy to take down.
Developing a reputation as a slow starter, Chiesa may need to hope Iaquinta is also looking to take this fight to the ground, but that is highly unlikely.
Excluding his appearances on The Ultimate Fighter, Chiesa has picked up five of his seven victories by submission.
Prior to competing on the reality series, Chiesa trained with solid grapplers Lyle Beerbohm and Cody McKenzie, so he has the ability to finish this fight on the ground if he is able to find a way to get it there.
Meanwhile, Iaquinta's only loss as a professional was via submission, though that loss came against a former UFC fighter in Pat Audinwood.
Training under Matt Serra, Iaquinta is skilled on the ground and capable of evading Chiesa's submissions, but that doesn't mean he'll want to risk going to the mat in this matchup.
Al Iaquinta is just as talented as Mike Chiesa, if not more, in terms of athleticism.
However, Chiesa has far more motivation heading into this bout than Iaquinta could possibly have.
In the wake of his father's death, Chiesa made a sacrifice to continue competing on The Ultimate Fighter in hopes of winning the tournament. Since defeating James Vick in the semifinals, Chiesa has likely reconnected with his family and regained motivation to win the competition in his dad's honor.
While these emotions could just as easily have an adverse effect on his performance, Chiesa has shown that he can harness his feelings inside the cage and use them in a positive manner.
Chiesa is a man on a mission right now, but that alone won't be enough to defeat Iaquinta.
In his past couple fights, Mike Chiesa has started slow and barely survived the opening round.
If Chiesa fails to take this fight to the ground early, though, Al Iaquinta has the power to finish the contest and avoid allowing Chiesa to rally back in the later rounds.
Chiesa has never been knocked out before, but there's a first time for everything. Andy Ogle hadn't been kncoked out as a professional prior to meeting Iaquinta either, but that didn't stop the Ray Longo-trained fighter from dropping the Ogle with a brutal elbow.
Once Chiesa improves his stand-up game, expect big things from him in the future.
However, right now, Iaquinta is the more well-rounded fighter and will win this lightweight tournament with his takedown defense and striking.
Iaquinta defeats Chiesa by technical knockout in the first round.