Isn't it hard to believe Michael Chiesa became the 22nd mixed martial artist to win "The Ultimate Fighter" title Friday in Las Vegas? That's less a commentary on the man himself -- though Chiesa's heart-tugging run was improbable -- than recognition of the reality show's longevity and impact since debuting in 2005.
More on Chiesa and TUF in a bit.
First, let's focus on the night's main event -- another terrific Martin Kampmann comeback.
The Danish welterweight went down in the first 30 seconds against Jake Ellenberger, taking a left hook to the jaw that did as was intended. Somehow, Kampmann survived, recovered and stood under his own power, ready for Round 2.
Ellenberger showed no fear of Kampmann's power and paid the price, taking a much less pronounced punch than the one that felled his opponent earlier in the bout off the side of his head. Nonetheless, it hurt him, and Kampmann made sure to do what Ellenberger could not, end the bout.
There were complaints afterward that the finish was aided by a premature call from referee Steve Mazzagatti. I thought it was fine. The difference between what Kampmann experienced in the first round and what Ellenberger went through in the second was obvious.
When Kampmann went down, he almost immediately protected himself by getting guard. Kampmann moved his head then tied up Ellenberger for most of the rest of the round.
After Ellenberger was knocked sideways in the second, however, Kampmann followed up with Thai knees in the clinch that put the Nebraskan on the floor. Kampmann came down with one hard shot that made Ellenberger turn to his side, curl up and cover his face.
Yep, no issue with the stoppage on my end.
The win elevates Kampmann into a title eliminator against Johny Hendricks, which should be a fascinating fight. Really, the 30-year-old Extreme Couture product was a hair away from winning his past seven bouts, but unkind decisions against Jake Shields and Diego Sanchez mean that for as good as he has been, he's needed to continually climb that harsh welterweight mountain.
Will he finally get a title shot?
"Here's the adversity, HERE THE ADVERSITY!! What are you gonna do!?" -- Tom Brands
Shortly after Jake Ellenberger picked himself up off the canvas, his brother Joe, he of the incredible tale of perseverance and recovery from a rare blood disorder, tweeted that quote from 1996 Olympic gold medalist and current University of Iowa wrestling coach Tom Brands.
I highlight it because it speaks to the Ellenberger boys' attitude about things.
Jake could let this loss get to him. He can feel Mazzagatti robbed him of a chance to fight back. He can stew about how close he was to a UFC title shot in arguably it's most challenging division. He can find the negative in this scenario pretty easily. But I'm betting he won't.
When I spoke to Jake in January prior to his wonderful win in Omaha, Neb., against Sanchez, he made it clear that his MMA experience wasn't about money or fame or proving how tough he was. He was in the game to be champion -- and to be the best. The potential is still there, and considering he's only 27, there's little reason to suspect that this setback will do anything other than motivate him to be better.
TUF's top prospects
On my podcast this week, TUF coach Urijah Faber, who chose Chiesa and his opponent, Al Iaquinta, to be on his team, spoke glowingly of the talent that emerged over the course of the show.
Winning TUF is hardly an indication of future success in the UFC, and I don't expect much from Chiesa when he gets into the teeth of the lightweight division. But I'll agree with Faber's assessment that this season showcased men who could make an impact in the Octagon.
Let's begin with Chiesa, though, because he earned it. What a heartfelt story. That's the first thing to remember about what he did after losing his father to leukemia for the world to see. No one would have held it against Chiesa had he departed Las Vegas to be with his family. Instead, Chiesa focused on the task at hand and made it through to the final after a grueling 12 weeks. Sealed with a win on his mother's birthday as she watched her son fight in person, Chiesa's was one of the better stories to emerge from TUF in a long time.
But if I'm correct, and he doesn't do much in the UFC, who will?
Two names stand out. Undefeated Myles Jury and one of Chiesa's victims, Justin Lawrence. I especially like Lawrence as he moves down to featherweight, his natural weight class. He's athletic and, as we saw on Friday with his head-kick knockout against John Cofer, eminently dangerous.