LAS VEGAS, May 24 – Three former winners of The Ultimate Fighter reality series stepped up to the plate in UFC 173 prelim bouts Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena and all three emerged victorious, with Michael Chiesa, Tony Ferguson, and Chris Holdsworth leaving the Octagon with impressive wins.
In the lead preliminary card bout, TUF 15 winner Michael Chiesa won his second straight, holding off the challenge of Brazilian veteran Francisco Trinaldo en route to a shutout decision win.
The unanimous decision read 30-26 twice and 30-27.
The Octagon could have been in Brazil for this one, that’s how much support “Massaranduba” got from the crowd, but there was little action in the opening 90 seconds until Chiesa looked for a takedown that came up short. Trinaldo tossed off another takedown attempt before Chiesa hit on the third, and “Maverick” went right to work, getting into the mount position and firing off strikes with both hands. Referee Herb Dean seemed perilously close to stopping the fight at one point, but Trinaldo was able to stay in the fight and make it out of the round.
Trinaldo (14-4) ran out of his corner to begin the second round, eager to get back in the fight, and as Chiesa (11-1) looked for a takedown, Trinaldo locked in a guillotine choke and pulled guard. Chiesa was able to escape though, and he went right back on the offensive. And while the action was more competitive in the middle five minutes, Chiesa still was the one in control.
A low knee by Trinaldo slowed Chiesa down briefly in the final round, and though it didn’t change the complexion of the fight, as the Spokane product continued to dominate, a late armbar attempt by Trinaldo did make things interesting for a spell until Chiesa broke free and stayed the course to pick up the win.
FERGUSON vs. KIKUNO
If lightweight up and comer Tony Ferguson was looking for a Performance of the Night bonus, he made a strong and early case for it on the prelim portion of the card, knocking out Japan’s Katsunori Kikuno in the first round.
What was shaping up to be an exciting back-and-forth striking battle quickly turned into a blowout victory for the Ultimate Fighter 13 winner, as he tagged Kikuno with power shot after power shot, and once he got him to the mat, he went to work on a submission, with an armbar and D’arce choke coming up short but also allowing the fight to return to the feet. There, a crushing right hand by Ferguson dropped Kikuno to the mat hard, with referee Yves Lavigne halting the bout at 4:06 of the opening frame.
Ferguson improves to 16-3 with the win; Kikuno falls to 22-6-2.
> Watch: Tony Ferguson's Octagon Interview
HOLDSWORTH vs. CAMUS
Even though he was forced to go the distance for the first time in his career, The Ultimate Fighter season 18 winner Chris Holdsworth got his post-TUF career off to a quality start, winning a dominant unanimous decision over Chico Camus.
Scores in the bantamweight matchup read 30-27 across the board.
Holdsworth did his best to use his height and reach advantage to its fullest extent, but it was a short hook at close range in the second minute that served him the best, as he rocked Camus briefly. After locking up with Camus in the second half of the round, Holdsworth got a takedown and moved into the mount position. Camus got out of immediate trouble, yet not enough to allow him to get off his back, as Holdsworth dominated.
Nearly getting an arm triangle choke in the second, Holdsworth was intent on closing the show, and with a minute to go in the round he nearly got his wish when he took Camus’ back, but the gutsy Milwaukee product found a way to survive again.
With the fans chanting his name, Camus went for broke with his strikes before Holdsworth got the takedown, and again, the Californian tried anything possible to get the finish. A tight arm triangle looked to be the ticket, but again Camus survived, impressing with his resilience, even if it was Holdsworth with the clear victory.
With the win, Holdsworth improves to 7-0; Camus falls to 13-5 with 1 NC.
> Watch: Chris Holdsworth's Octagon Interview
CLARKE vs. IAQUINTA
Edmonton’s Mitch Clarke delivered a patient and victorious effort against Al Iaquinta in their lightweight bout, submitting the New Yorker in the second round.
Taking advantage of a caught kick, Iaquinta used a right hand to stagger Clarke and get him to the canvas. Clarke stayed busy from the bottom, but Iaquinta’s work rate from the top was even more effective as he landed hard shots and pushed his foe to the fence. The resilient Clarke worked his way upright in the final minute, yet by the end of the round, Iaquinta had grounded him again, adding an exclamation mark with his ground strikes.
Clarke jarred Iaquinta briefly as the second opened, but as the Canadian rushed in, Iaquinta took him to the mat. That was just what Clarke needed though, as he sunk in a tight D'Arce choke that put the Long Islander out at :57 of the second round.
With the win, Clarke ups his record to 11-2; Iaquinta falls to 8-3-1.
PICHEL vs. NJOKUANI
Ultimate Fighter alum Vinc Pichel picked up the biggest win of his career thus far, taking a well-deserved unanimous decision over Anthony Njokuani.
Scores were 30-27 twice and 29-28.
A good start by Njokuani came to a quick end after an accidental eye poke by Pichel, and after being cleared to continue, the Las Vegan got taken down by “From Hell,” who pushed Njokuani to the fence. After the two stood, a stalemate brought a restart from referee Mark Smith, and this time, it was a knee to the groin by Pichel that halted the action. Njokuani was able to get off some good shots before the bell though.
Taking a page out of previous opponent Rustam Khabilov’s book, Pichel used two suplexes to take control of the fight in the second round and another thudding slam with under 90 seconds left just added to Njokuani’s woes, especially when he took his back with a minute remaining. Njokuani did make it back to his feet, only to be taken right back down in the closing seconds of the stanza.
Pichel was breathing heavy throughout round three, yet he kept pressing, allowing him to get three more takedowns that cemented his upset victory.
With the win, Pichel ups his record to 9-1; Njokuani falls to 16-8 with 1 NC.
SICILIA vs. PHILLIPS
Featherweight prospect Sam Sicilia got back in the win column with a hard-fought three round unanimous decision victory over promising newcomer Aaron Phillips.
Scores were 30-27 and 29-28 twice for Sicilia, now 13-4; Phillips falls to 8-1.
Phillips’ body kicks were setting the table in a big way in the early going, with Sicilia opting to take the fight to the mat, where he didn’t have to worry about those kicks. While there, the former TUF 15 competitor got off some big shots before the two rose, but with a minute left, a knee jarred Sicilia and the bout went back to the mat. Sicilia got his bearings back soon enough, ending the round in solid fashion.
The increasingly interesting battle was waged on the ground in round two, with each fighter having his moments in control. Sicilia’s moments were more substantial though, as he likely evened things up on the scorecard, and in the third, the Spokane product jumped ahead for good with a workmanlike effort that
JINGLIANG vs. MICHAUD
In the welterweight opener, UFC newcomers Li Jingliang and David Michaud got the night off to a good start with an action-packed scrap won by China’s Jingliang via split decision.
Scores were 30-27, 29-28, and 28-29 for Jingliang, now 9-2; Michaud falls to 7-1.
“We really didn’t expect him to be that tough out there,” said Jingliang. “He was much stronger than I expected too. I’m going to stay strong and keep working with my wonderful coaches. I’m the next Bruce Lee. Wait and see.”
There was plenty of good action in the opening round of the night, with Jingliang winning several heated stand-up exchanges before Michaud got the crowd roaring with a slam late in the frame.
Jingliang’s boxing continued to impress in the second, no doubt a product of his work in Las Vegas with renowned local coach Jimmy Gifford, but again, a late surge by Michaud that included a takedown and rear naked choke attempt tightened things on the scorecards.
Michaud got his takedown in the second minute of the final round, quickly opening a cut over the left eye of Jingliang. The Beijing native was able to reverse position though, opening up the door for him to let loose his own ground attack. Michaud kept battling, trying for a guillotine choke late, but it was Jingliang who finished on top, both in the fight and on the scorecards.
> Watch: Highlights from this fight!