Another season of The Ultimate Fighter came to an end, the welterweight contender field got reduced by one, and plenty of young up-and-comers got a chance to show us what they’ve got.
So what did we learn at Friday night’s Ultimate Fighter: Live Finale? To answer that, we sort through the biggest winners, losers, and everything in between.
Biggest Winner: Martin Kampmann
That’s two in a row where the "Hitman" was losing pretty clearly right up until he won. He was nearly knocked cold in the first round, and had some valuable facial features smashed in the second, but all it took was one short hook to the crown of Ellenberger’s head to start the turnaround. A couple knee strikes later, the comeback was complete. Maybe that’s the big difference between Kampmann and the people who very nearly beat Kampmann before losing to him: when he has someone on the run, he keeps them there. Now Kampmann’s name gets added to the welterweight sweepstakes, which seems only fitting. If he doesn’t get an eventual title shot out of the deal, at least he’ll guarantee that whoever beats him for it is as good at finishing strong as he is at starting that way.
Biggest Loser: Jake Ellenberger
Sure, he can blame the stoppage. He can wonder aloud why Kampmann was given a chance to recover after getting pasted with that left hand in the first round, and yet he was given no such opportunity after eating a couple knees in the second. He has an argument there, not that it will do him much good now. It won’t change the L on his record to a W. It won’t get him back into the title shot conversation. All it will do is salve his wounds with self-pity, while ignoring the role that he played in his own misfortunes. The fact remains that he had Kampmann hurt in the first round, had him on his back and staring up at the lights. Instead of keeping the pressure on, Ellenberger let him recover. Bad idea. It’s easy to go back after the fight and say who should have done what and when. It’s a lot tougher to actually do it, especially in the few brief moments when the opportunity is there. But weeks or months from now, when Ellenberger looks back on his best chance to date to put himself in the mix for a shot at the welterweight title, my guess is he’ll keep coming back to that first round, and how just a few more punches and little more urgency could have made all the difference.
Best Feel-Good Story: Michael Chiesa
Reality TV loves an inspirational, triumph-over-adversity tale. Chiesa completed the narrative by fighting through his grief to win the Ultimate Fighter: Live title after his father died while Chiesa was locked up in a Vegas mansion with a bunch of strangers. He showed the same brand of determination in his bout with Iaquinta at Friday’s finale. Chiesa clearly isn’t the most technical all-around fighter, and he’s got some holes in his game that he’ll need to close in a hurry if he wants to stick around in the UFC. The good news is, he’s already got a lot of the necessary attributes that nobody can teach. He doesn’t quit, and he isn’t easily discouraged. From what we’ve seen of past TUF winners, a little resiliency often goes a long way. It doesn’t hurt to have one or two good submissions in your bag of tricks, either.
Best TUF-related Cautionary Tale: Jonathan Brookins
Lest we buy into all the hype that comes along with the cut-glass trophy and big money promises, let’s remind ourselves that Brookins was once where Chiesa is now. He won TUF season 12 just under two years ago, and his career seemed to be just beginning. Three fights later, he’s 1-2 in the UFC after getting outpointed by Erik Koch and absolutely outclassed by Charles Oliveira. The best thing you can say about his performance against "Do Bronx" on Friday night was that he made it to the second round and gave back at least a portion of what he got in the striking exchanges, though he still found himself on the wrong end of a guillotine choke in the end. Now we’ll find out what all that TUF hype is worth once the series has moved on and showered its affections on fresh new talent. Yesterday’s winners might find that they’re more disposable than they were led to believe when they were standing in the Octagon, hoisting that trophy over their heads.
Best Prospect: Max Holloway
The 20-year-old featherweight showed off some impressive skills while battering Pat Schilling to the brink of near total collapse. He couldn’t finish it, even though Schilling seemed to be begging him to at times, but considering his youth and inexperience, you still can’t help but be encouraged by the big paws on this puppy. If he keeps developing and adds a little more killer instinct to his attack, he might very well turn into something. Next up, let’s see if he can look as good against an opponent who really matters.
Best Highlight Reel Fodder: Justin Lawrence
His head kick knockout of John Cofer had shades of Rashad Evans-Sean Salmon. One difference is, his came in the third round of a close, exciting fight, during which both men proved that they could take it and dish it out. Lawrence might not have won the reality show, but history tells us that that’s not a kiss of death any more than winning it is a guarantee of future success. He obviously has skills worth cultivating, and now he has a little hype of his own to carry him into the next one. Once you kick a man’s jaw into the balcony of the Pearl at the Palms, people tend to remember you.