Typically taking 16 twenty-something year-old men and locking them in a house together for 13 weeks with no access to the outside world would spell disaster. But for The Ultimate Fighter: Live finalist Michael Chiesa, it was a rollercoaster of emotions and a true testament to friendship.

Almost immediately following his fight to get into the house, the 24-year-old was approached by his coach, Urijah Faber, and handed the phone. On the other end of the line was his mom, delivering the crushing news that his father had passed away just hours after his fight. He would return home to attend the services and be there for his family, something the Washington native credits for providing mental stability throughout the course of the show.

“It was good for me because I think ultimately if I wouldn’t have gone home to see my family just a little bit, I’d be pretty emotional right now,” Chiesa told The MMA Corner. “My family just got here to Vegas (on Tuesday), so I think I wouldn’t be able to keep myself composed; it would be my first time seeing my family since my dad died. It was just better for me, for my family, that I went home and I owe a lot to Dana (White) for that.”

Chiesa reflects on the loss of his father (Zuffa, LLC)

Upon his return to Las Vegas, Chiesa was greeted by long-time friend and training-partner-turned-TUF-cast-mate, Sam Sicilia. The friendship between the two was one of the rare glimpses into life in the house that viewers were given this season, as the primary focus of the first live edition of the show was on the fights and training.

Chiesa credits having Sicilia with him as a blessing. “Just having him there with me, it was huge. Everything I went through with my dad, if he wouldn’t have been there, I wouldn’t have had anybody to turn to.”

Even though MMA is an individual sport, these athletes wouldn’t get to where they are without their team. Many times refusing to fight team members, the Sikjitsu teammates were fortunate to have not been faced with the dilemma of what to do if their names were called to square off with one another.

“Obviously, we’d have to go out there and do the dance, but I never, ever took it into real thinking consideration,” Chiesa confessed when asked what he would’ve done if the situation arose. “There’s no way in hell we want to fight each other. We got each other here. We don’t have a huge camp back home with a ton of crazy coaches and world-class facilities like a lot of these guys have. Sam and I pretty much have each other and I’ve never even wrapped my head around what would happen if we made the finals.”

Luckily for the two friends, they’ll never have to, as Sicilia will be dropping to featherweight after his fight against Cristiano Marcello at the finale.

Entering the finale, Chiesa will be forced to face off with his Team Faber teammate, Al Iaquinta. While it’s not exactly the same as fighting a long-time friend, the two have worked day in and day out for the last three months in an effort to make each other better. “Maverick” feels it’s a testament to his TUF coaches and teammates that both finalists were members of Faber’s team.

“I’d be honored to fight any one of my teammates because that just shows that our coaches and our teammates did a great job of propelling both of us to this point whether it was me and Al, or two other guys from our team, we did a good job building each other up and getting each other to this point.”

Going into the fight, it’s clear that Chiesa has the utmost respect for his opponent.

“Before I say anything, Al is class act, he’s a great guy,” Chiesa said. “There’s not a bad thing in the world I can say about him at all as a fighter or as a person. I’m honored to fight him.”

As to how he sees it playing out? He feels it will likely go the distance, but is hoping for a Griffin vs. Bonnar style fight.

Chiesa celebrates victory (Josh Hedges/Zuffa, LLC)

As an underdog throughout the season, and in his fight with Iaquinta, Chiesa doesn’t put much stock in the odds.

“You know, you have to focus on yourself, you can’t dwell on how others perceive you, whether you’re the favorite or you’re the underdog,” he explained. “The one thing they can’t take into consideration is what you have in here (pointing to his heart) and what you have in here (pointing to his head). They don’t know what’s going on in there. The favorite might be a total mental case, might have a mental breakdown before his fight, and the underdog might be the most mentally tough guy in the game and just will go out there and stomp a mudhole in his ass.”

Discussing the cast of the season and the men that helped get him to where he is today, Chiesa stated, “These guys are good, great. I’m not the technically best fighter; I don’t have the best stand-up; I don’t have the best ground game; I don’t have the best wrestling. I’m just saying what I believe, I have more heart than any of these guys. That doesn’t mean I’m unbeatable, that just means that I’m always going to be in the fight; I’m always going to be dangerous. I’m always going to be looking to finish a fight and I’m always going to be looking to win.”

“With everything I’ve been through in this competition, I’d love to cap this story off with a win,” Chiesa said, reflecting on his time in the house and his return to Washington. “I would love to write the perfect book. It means everything to me. Even in just a regular fight, you can never put a monetary value on how great winning a fight feels. It means more than a paycheck; it means more than the materialistic things than come with it. I think if I win this fight, it will be the biggest win of my career until I retire, unless I fight for a world title. This will be the best of the best, the best moment of my life. I’m so excited to get out there and do it.”

Win or lose Friday night, Chiesa’s father will be looking down on his son with pride in the man Chiesa has become. Proud of the fact he raised a man who has his priorities in order, who works hard, and never gives up, even in the face of adversity. A man who values friendship more than money, and most of all, a humble man with a ton of heart.

Top Photo: Michael Chiesa (top) pounds on Justin Lawrence (Al Powers/Zuffa, LLC)

About The Author

Paige Berger

Relatively new to the sport of MMA, Paige is a life long athlete. She attended the National Sports Academy in Lake Placid, N.Y., where she was a pioneer member of the women's ice hockey program. She also excelled in softball and soccer before deciding to focus on hockey. Born and raised in New York, she is an avid Yankees fan. Currently residing in Las Vegas, a move she made after falling in love with MMA while training at the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif., she is currently studying public relations and advertising at UNLV.