Only in the semifinals as an injury replacement, Jay Cucciniello fought like a man who had nothing to lose.
It turned out to be the perfect formula for victory.
Cucciniello pulled off the upset of the season, finishing coach Daniel Cormier’s No. 1 pick Tyler Diamond with strikes in the third round to earn a spot in the finals of The Ultimate Fighter 27 featherweight tournament. He will fight Brad Katona at the finale on Friday in Las Vegas, with the winner earning a six-figure UFC contract and the title of TUF champion.
Early on, the bout looked like it would play out exactly as expected, with an aggressive Diamond clobbering Cucciniello with a pair of right hands that put him on the mat. Cucciniello survived and wasn’t deterred by the opening knockdown, staying in the pocket and trading with Diamond. A late takedown by Diamond appeared to seal the deal for him after an action-packed round.
In round two, Cucciniello started to rip at Diamond’s mid-section with body shots. Though he was still taking damage, on more than one occasion the Team Miocic fighter put a halt to Diamond’s offense with a solid counter punch. Cucciniello’s output had Diamond on the backfoot for much of the second period and the fight looked to be even on the scorecards heading into the third.
Cucciniello started to pull ahead in the striking, looking like the fresher man as Diamond was reduced to head hunting and desperation takedowns. The body kicks from Cucciniello landed cleanly and noticeably caused Diamond to slow down. Cucciniello punctuated his performance with a short elbow that caused Diamond’s body to collapse like jello and though he seemed to regain his senses, it wasn’t in time to stop the referee from calling the stoppage.
Making the outcome even more surprising was the fact that Cucciniello had actually lost in the quarter-finals and he was receiving a second chance due to Team Cormier fighter Ricky Steele having to bow out of the competition with an injury.
Fortunately for Diamond, his perfect 9-0 record will remain intact due to TUF bouts being classified as exhibitions. The theme of the season was “Undefeated” and all 16 of the tournament’s competitors entered as such.
The Ultimate Fighter finals matchups are as follows:
Brad Katona vs. Jay Cucciniello
Here are the semifinal results:
Mike Trizano def. John Gunther via unanimous decision
Brad Katona def. Bryce Mitchell via submission (rear-naked choke) in Round 3
Joe Giannetti def. Allan Zuniga via submission (guillotine choke) in Round 1
Jay Cucciniello def. Tyler Diamond via TKO (elbow) in Round 3
Here are results from the first round:
Joe Giannetti def. John Gunther via technical submission (guillotine choke) in Round 1
Brad Katona def. Kyler Phillips via majority decision
Luis Pena def. Jose Martinez via unanimous decision
Bryce Mitchell def. Jay Cucciniello via unanimous decision
Mike Trizano def. Thai Clark via TKO (ground and pound) in Round 2
Ricky Steele def. Suman Mokhtarian via unanimous decision
Allan Zuniga def. Richie Smullen via disqualification (injury)
Tyler Diamond def. Dulani Perry via submission (guillotine choke) in Round 2
Season 27 of The Ultimate Fighter was coached by UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier and UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic. Cormier challenges Miocic for the heavyweight title in the main event of UFC 226 on July 7 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Here is the TUF 27 roster divided by team:
Advancing to the finals: Trizano, Katona, Giannetti, Cucciniello
Advancing to Round 2: Giannetti, Katona, Pena (forced to withdraw due to injury), Mitchell, Trizano, Steele (forced to withdraw due to concussion symptoms), Zuniga, Diamond
Eliminated: Gunther (later selected to replace an injured Pena), Phillips, Martinez, Cucciniello (later selected to replace an injured Steele), Clark, Mokhtarian, Smullen, Perry