I’m not a religious man, but those who are might look at Michael Chiesa and say that he has angels lining the path to his Ultimate Fighter run.  The Spokane native lost his father to leukemia soon after winning a qualifying fight to make it into the house for The Ultimate Fighter: Live. His father’s dying wish: for Chiesa to continue on and win it all.

Chiesa could have succumbed to his grief.  Nobody would have blamed the 24-year-old fighter for packing his bags and heading home.  Instead, following a brief departure to attend his father’s funeral services, Chiesa returned to the TUF house…and won.  The lanky lightweight defeated Jeremy Larsen via unanimous decision, then scored TKO victories over Justin Lawrence and James Vick.

Whether you believe it is all in his skills, or if there has been a divine influence at work, Chiesa has marched his way into the finals.  Now, in his father’s honor, he will seek to put one more victory under his belt when he takes on Al Iaquinta on June 1 at The Pearl at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas to determine the winner of FX’s first season of The Ultimate Fighter: Live.

While the prospects vie for the chance to hoist up The Ultimate Fighter trophy at the show’s finale event, two welterweights will be seeking a chance for a shot at a different type of championship.  Fast-rising Jake Ellenberger and long-time UFC fighter Martin Kampmann square off in a contest that might determine a future title contender.  In addition, two other TUF: Live combatants—Justin Lawrence and John Cofer—lock horns on the main card, which is rounded out with a set of featherweight match-ups pitting Jonathan Brookins against Charles Oliveira and Max Holloway against Pat Schilling.

The action gets underway with one preliminary bout on Facebook at approximately 6:30 p.m. ET, followed by four tussles on Fuel TV at 7 p.m. ET.  Then it’s off to the home of the reality series, FX, for the main card, beginning at 9 p.m. ET.

With the shift of the Justin Lawrence-John Cofer fight to the main card, The MMA Corner’s Round Table panel gets a bit complicated this week.  Our preliminary card panel of Corey Adams, Brian McKenna and Jesse Thomas joins us to discuss Lawrence vs. Cofer, then our main card panel of Kyle Symes, Paige Berger and Dale DeSouza takes the reins to break down the four remaining main card bouts.

LW: Justin Lawrence (3-0) vs. John Cofer (7-1)

Adams: This was to be the feature fight on Fuel TV, but has been promoted to the main card instead. Many will tune in to see the highly talked-about Lawrence take on Team Faber’s Cofer.

Lawrence (R) walks away in victory (Josh Hedges/Zuffa, LLC)

Right from the start of the season, all eyes were on Lawrence, who defeated James Krause to make it into the house, then went on to take down arguably one of the toughest guys on the show, Cristiano Marcello. Not only did the 21-year-old defeat both men, but knocked them out cold. The member of Team Cruz then ran into Michael Chiesa. The two men put on one of the best fights of the season, with Chiesa earning a TKO in round three. Many thought Lawrence was the favorite to win the show after a hot start, but he will now look to impress the UFC once again against Cofer.

Cofer is from my part of the country in the south, but I’m not being bias in my pick. The University of Tennessee-Chattanooga graduate made it into the house with a decision win, but fell to the very tough Vinc Pichel to end his run. The 27-year-old trains at a solid camp in Georgia alongside UFC veteran Rory Singer and will have to use his wrestling game to take Lawrence to the ground if he wants to win this fight.

However, Lawrence will display too much talent for Cofer. I see Lawrence coming out aggressive in this fight, and he will earn a first-round TKO over his opponent.

McKenna: I have to plead honesty when I say that I was not overly impressed with Cofer on the show. Sure, he went to the third round with semifinalist Pichel, but I guess I was expecting big things when I learned that he trained at The Hardcore Gym with former WEC bantamweight champion Brian Bowles. That, and that he carried an impressive 7-1 professional record into the show.

But simultaneously, I was not overly impressed with Lawrence either. When I learned that he came from Team Black House, which has had a revolving door of UFC champions and other outstanding fighters, I expected him to be an instant semi-finalist. I honestly thought that he had kind of a freebie in the first round because of the fact that Urijah Faber told Marcello to keep the fight standing. That basically rolled out the red carpet for the Brazilian to be knocked out, which happened. But to see him get dominated on the ground the way he did against Chiesa was a little bit of a red flag for me.

However, because I was disappointed in these two fighters doesn’t mean I am not excited for this fight. Both fighters are probably disappointed in themselves and will leave it all in the cage on Friday night as a result. At the end of the day though, I am in agreement with Corey: Lawrence uses his superior striking to earn a first-round TKO.

Thomas: Lawrence vs. Cofer could be a very interesting match-up in regards to each other’s strengths and weaknesses. If styles makes fights, then because of the search of identity for each of these fighters, it will worth watching.

Being the champ’s first pick can be a heavy burden. Lawrence allowed that to hinder his performances. His ground game is solid and in his last performance on the show, he showed quite the brawling technique against a heavy-handed brawler. Mike Chiesa went on to the finals while Lawrence was left wondering what went wrong.

Cofer was, as Mr. McKenna mentioned earlier, a little bit of a disappointment himself. I think Cofer has the obvious experience advantage, and in my view, a little bit more of a rough edge to his skill set. Cofer will have to hope to turn this into a slugfest and hope for a flash-bang KO, in my opinion.

The fight edge belongs to Lawrence; both men can improve on what they are bringing to the fight, but I think that Lawrence wants this just a bit more. Both men will be bringing “A” games in hopes of furthering their careers in this sport, but the ceiling is a bit higher for Lawrence and this time he won’t disappoint.

FW: Jonathan Brookins (13-4) vs. Charles Oliveira (15-2)

DeSouza: Johnathan Brookins and Charles Oliveira have somewhat reinvented themselves since dropping down to featherweight, or at least it appears that way. Brookins lost his first post-TUF bout when he ran into Erik Koch at UFC Fight Night 25 last year, but rebounded against Vagner Rocha earlier this year at UFC on Fuel 1. Oliveira, meanwhile, scored a “Submission of The Year” contender against Eric Wisely at UFC on Fox 2 when he forced the tap by way of a calf-slicer.

Charles Oliveira (L) throws a kick (Paul Thatcher/Fight! Magazine)

With Oliveira, we know what we can expect—his intentions to take his fellow featherweights down to the ground and submit them is like Junior Dos Santos’ intentions to score a knockout win against one of his fellow heavyweights. It may seem a bit out there to make that comparison, but it’s the truth in regards to Oliveira. By trade, Oliveira—despite having recorded a knockout win by way of a slam in 2010—is still a submission wizard, and he will do well to try and avoid throwing any degree of heat against Brookins.

In the same way that we know Oliveira will look to out-grapple and submit Brookins, we also must expect that Brookins will find his time to showcase his striking skills. Brookins is not a striker by trade either—and let’s not forget, this Brookins kid is the same man who lost his WEC debut to current featherweight champ Jose Aldo—but against Oliveira, Brookins does deserve his props on the feet. Oliveira may be an outstanding grappler and a natural fit at 145, but Oliveira has not been proven to me as a more well-rounded fighter than Brookins at this stage in his career.

That being said, if the machine isn’t broken, there’s no need to call up anyone to fix it. Oliveira does not appear as the more well-rounded fighter in my eyes, but I don’t have any reason or logic to support the school of thought that says Oliveira won’t at least look it against Brookins. Besides, “do Bronx” is one of those fighters that will always find a way to bring his fight to his opponents and secure a win the way he wants to secure it. I wish that Oliveira would pull off a Sorcerer, a Vaporizer, or pretty much any other plausible Eddie Bravo submission, but realistically, only one of Brookins’ arms will be a casualty of this fire fight. Count me in for an Oliveira victory in no later than the second round by way of an Americana, and mark my words: Brookins will tap if Oliveira secures that hold.

Berger: This fight is an intriguing one in a few different ways. First, Oliveira is definitely known for his jiu jitsu, but he has six knockouts to his credit. Second, Brookins is only a purple belt, but has almost three times as many victories via submission as he does knockout. Essentially meaning either man can finish the fight wherever it goes.

That said, I don’t think Brookins has what it takes to submit a guy at Oliveira’s level. A former TUF champ, he looked great in his last fight against Vagner Rocha, probably the best we’ve ever seen out of him. Rocha is a similar fighter to Oliveira—just not quite as dynamic—but this should help Brookins with his gameplan.

Jonathan Brookins (L) delivers a left hand (Paul Thatcher/Fight! Magazine)

Oliveira has experience in many different weight classes and looked great at the start of his UFC career at lightweight. While he is a couple inches shorter than Brookins, he’s got a much bigger frame, which will likely help him to keep the fight on the ground, where he undoubtedly wants it. This will be only his second time cutting to 145, so as long the cut doesn’t take much out of him, I feel he’ll have the leg up on his opponent.

As previously mentioned, this fight can be ended at any point in time. I think Brookins will weather the storm early, but ultimately the Brazilian’s ground game will prove to be too much. Oliveira via late submission.

Symes: Both Dale and Paige brought up good points about both Brookins and Oliveira. It’s interesting to note the disparities between what we believe each man is skilled in and their win totals.

Like Dale said, Brookins is probably the more rounded fighter, but it’s hard to ignore Oliveira’s grappling expertise. Brookins has a number of ways to win, but are any of them as good as Oliveira’s chances at securing a submission?

I don’t believe so.

Oliveira looked great at lightweight despite his stumbles before dropping to 145 pounds and has looked solid at featherweight. I believe Brookins will look to use his punches to either wobble or knock Oliveira down and attempt a submission then, but I don’t believe Oliveira will let the fight last on the feet that long.

I see the Brazilian taking Brookins down and making him tap. Perhaps he will try to outdo his calf-slicer submission from his previous bout?

FW: Max Holloway (4-1) vs. Pat Schilling (5-1)

Berger: This fight is between two of the UFC’s young guns. Holloway is the youngest guy currently under contract with the promotion at just 20 years old, and Schilling is only 23. Both men are coming off losses in their promotional debuts and will be looking for a win to ensure they stay in the UFC.

Pat Schilling (Jeff Miller/Sherdog)

Schilling’s debut against Daniel Pineda was a bit of a feel-good story, as he got the call as a short-notice replacement while working at Best Buy. He was submitted early in the fight, and it was his first loss as a professional. None of his fights have gone the distance, and he has a well-balanced attack.

Holloway is a flashy fighter with a lot of size—he’s a 5-foot-11 featherweight. In his UFC debut, he was thrown straight to the wolves and was submitted in the first round by Dustin Poirier. Before that loss, he had a lot of hype behind him, and I think we’ll see more of his talent on display Friday night against a more equally matched opponent.

I think this one will go to the judges, but Holloway will return to Hawaii victorious.

Symes: It will be a clash of style of sorts when these too young fighters meet.

Holloway gained recognition through the MMA scouting community for his flashy attacks, but was effectively grounded against the talented Poirier. Holloway is a tall featherweight and will likely look to use his height advantage against Schilling.

Schilling, who comes from a wrestling background, has won a number of his fights on the ground through submissions. It’s not only the fact that Schilling has never been to a decision, it’s the fact all his victories comes inside the first round.

Both men are coming off the first loss of their professional careers, so it will be interesting to see how they rebound as both were handed defeats inside the opening frame.

I’m going to have to disagree with Paige on the predictions. I think Schilling will be able to use his wrestling to negate Holloway’s height advantage. Holloway has three decision victories including a split decision on his record while on the regional circuit, while Schilling has five first-round finishes.

Holloway may have the flash, but Schilling will bring the substance. Schilling via TKO.

DeSouza: It’s really difficult to hate on a fight between two young upstarts, especially when the two are meeting up immediately after suffering their first professional loss—and in the UFC, no less. Still, it’s always exciting to see two guys like “Thrilling” Pat Schilling and Max Holloway showcase their skill sets in front of a crowd that will be in for a treat once they see what these two dudes can do on the main card of a pretty underrated fight card such as this…and yes, I did just call this card “underrated.”

Anyway, Schilling and Holloway both lost to fighters who themselves suffered defeats, but there’s no shame in losing to Poirier or Pineda. Schilling knew that Pineda—a Legacy Fighting standout—was a highly-touted prospect who many had (and still have) some strong hopes for. Besides, Schilling came in with only five pro fights and no real hype behind him, so of course nobody saw him coming at all. The same is true of Holloway, who brought a 4-0 record with him to his UFC 142 bout with Poirier.

If you’re going by FightMetric numbers, Holloway lasted a little bit longer against Poirier than Schilling did against Pineda, but Schilling has a history of finding homes for each shot that he throws. He also has a history of taking some pretty serious shots from some very hard hitters. Holloway, in turn, is only 23% less accurate with his strikes than is Schilling, but the numbers estimate that about three strikes per minute do land when Holloway is the one throwing those strikes. Holloway also has been noted for having some pretty good takedown defense in the past, which is something often overlooked and underrated about him simply because of how we all saw Poirier ground Holloway and submit him.

If there is one key factor that may make all the difference, it’s that both men will have the benefit of a full training camp for this bout. Schilling has quoted a full training camp as a reason why he is excited to face Holloway, and if we will recall, Holloway was a replacement opponent for Ricardo Lamas, who was a replacement opponent himself against Poirier when Erik Koch had to pull out of the originally-scheduled bout with Poirier.

Expect both men to bring all that they can to this fight, and don’t be surprised if this one goes to the judges. If it does, Schilling will be a gamer, but Holloway will do more to pressure Schilling and control the action for the duration of the fight. It will be a fun affair between both men, but if Holloway gets his game plan off first, he will earn a hard-fought unanimous decision win, with Schilling winning the second round at best in a closely-contested bout.

WW: Jake Ellenberger (27-5) vs. Martin Kampmann (19-5)

Symes: Two welterweights on the cusp of being considered for title shots will clash when Jake Ellenberger and Martin Kampmann meet inside the Octagon. Ellenberger hasn’t lost since 2009—a split decision to Carlos Condit—while Kampmann is riding a two-fight winning streak.

Jake Ellenberger (R) celebrates his win (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Ellenberger comes from a strong wrestling background, but is by no means a one-dimensional fighter. He holds the rank of purple belt in BJJ and, as evident by his win over Jake Shields, some power behind his strikes.

Kampmann has been competing inside the Octagon since 2006 and has fought a number of top fighters. Coming from a kickboxing background, he is one of the more technical strikers in the division. Just as Ellenberger has multiple tools at his disposal, so too does Kampmann, who trains his BJJ under the world-renowned Robert Drysdale.

I can see this fight playing out a lot like Kampmann’s bout with Diego Sanchez where “The Hitman” lands the more technical strikes, but Ellenberger is able to land strikes with more power. It will be a tough call on the judges’ scorecards until Ellenberger decides to use his wrestling prowess.

Ellenberger can certainly hold Kampmann down and use his top game to out-work the former middleweight, but I believe this is where the fight’s X factor will come into play.

Kampmann is more known for being a kickboxer, but he has a great submission game. He’s also won just as many fights by KO as he has by tapout.

If Ellenberger chooses to take this to the mat, he will need to be conscious of Kampmann’s submission attempts. I think Kampmann will at least make this an interesting fight, but Ellenberger is riding some great momentum and is too hot to stop right now. Ellenberger via unanimous decision.

DeSouza: Ellenberger vs. Kampmann is a bout that many fans have occasionally flirted with, but because of what Kampmann has accomplished in the UFC, few thought it would ever turn into a competitive clash. Of course, if you believe that anyone would ever consider this one to turn into a one-sided bout in favor of Kampmann, you may want to re-watch Ellenberger’s UFC career run. Some saw “The Juggernaut” coming, but not everyone thought it’d happen the way it has happened.

Kampmann does deserve at least a little bit of credit, though. Officially, he’s 3-2 in his last five, though I argue him as being 4-1 in his last five. Apologies for thinking so, but his UFC 139 bout with Rick Story was not the shutout that those three judges’ scorecards would have one believe—as a matter of fact, I did not think the way Kampmann ended the third round against Story would be enough to give him a 29-28 score. The fights with Shields and Sanchez both also had their controversies behind them, as I count myself among those who wondered how anyone could say either won their respective bouts with Kampmann.

Gripes aside, Kampmann does have something going on in the department of his submission game, as well as a rather underrated striking regiment. Against guys like Jacob Volkmann and Paulo Thiago, Kampmann was able to exercise his own ground game in order to ensure his victory, and against Volkmann, he actually came away with the submission. Against Thiago Alves, Kampmann looked on his way towards a legitimate unanimous decision loss, but caught Alves with his neck out and submitted the Muay Thai wrecking machine in the third round. Ellenberger is not Alves, but he runs a similar risk when taking Kampmann down.

The difference between Alves and Ellenberger, though, is that Ellenberger is a natural wrestler with an ever-improving all-around game, and he will have prepared for the possibility of Kampmann trying to submit him after a takedown attempt. Nonetheless, Ellenberger is a very active worker who knows when to make his move in the wrestling department, and he also has shown that he can do damage with his hands whenever possible, though he may not be as diverse as Kampmann.

Martin Kampmann (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Nonetheless, this bout—the most likely candidate for a title eliminator—ought to be good for as long as it lasts. Kampmann has what it takes to knock out or submit anyone in the division, but his strengths on the feet and the ground will be neutralized by the strength and the power that Ellenberger carries. Not to count Kampmann out, but this night will not belong to him as he will have a tough time coming back from the offense Ellenberger will have in store for him. Ellenberger is a man whose shot at a title seems overdue at this moment, and this belief will receive its accentuation and validation by way of a late first-round TKO finish as Ellenberger finally earns his crack at UFC welterweight gold.

Berger: Well, there isn’t much that Dale and Kyle haven’t said about these two guys. I think this will be a very interesting fight, as it has the potential to be finished at any moment, anywhere the fight goes.

One thing that hasn’t been mentioned about Kampmann is that although he didn’t wrestle in college, he does have a solid wrestling base, as he’s an Xtreme Couture guy and trains with Randy Couture on a regular basis. That, coupled with his own Muay Thai base and the instruction of Ray Sefo for his stand-up and Drysdale as a jiu-jitsu coach, makes “The Hitman” a legitimate threat in every aspect of the game.

Ellenberger, however, is a NCAA Division II wrestler that has a wealth of experience in the fight game. He’s on a helluva run right now, but over the course of his six-fight winning streak, the most legitimate threat he faced was Sanchez. With 17 career knockouts, Ellenberger is far from a boring wrestler and will be ready come Friday night.

I’m going against the grain with this pick; I feel Kampmann will leave the Palms as the victor. He’s got the more well-rounded attack and will have the “hometown” advantage as well. Kampmann via unanimous decision.

LW: Al Iaquinta (5-1-1) vs. Michael Chiesa (7-0)

Berger: I don’t think this TUF championship bout will have the fireworks the last few have had, with Tony Ferguson winning TUF 13 in the first round via KO, and both TUF 14 winners also winning via a finish, but I do feel the most deserving men are there.

Chiesa celebrates victory (Josh Hedges/Zuffa, LLC)

Chiesa’s story unfolded right before the viewers’ eyes with his father passing after his fight to get into the house. It’s safe to say he’s been a man on a mission right from the start. He’s got great size for a lightweight at 6-foot-1; he’ll have a six-inch height advantage over Iaquinta.

Iaquinta was one of the favorites at the beginning of the season, so it’s really no surprise the Serra-Longo prodigy has ended up in the finale. He’s got good stand-up and looked great against Andy Ogle in the quarterfinals. He’s a smart guy and will have a solid game plan—for the week he’s had to prepare. He’s also very even tempered, so the emotion of having a six-figure contract on the line likely won’t play a factor for Iaquinta.

I think Chiesa’s “Cinderella” story will play out, and he’ll use his size and wrestling to keep the fight on the ground and walk away as the TUF Live champion. Either way, it will be a good day for Urijah Faber.

DeSouza: I agree with Paige in thinking that June 1 will be a great day for Faber, as he will be the coach of the man who will become the first winner of The Ultimate Fighter: Live regardless of whether it’s Iaquinta or Chiesa. Truthfully, this is a fight in which the fans could end up winning either way because both men are stylistically fun to watch inside the cage. It’s fighters like these two that made it easy for many to see why UFC President Dana White was serious when he said this would be a phenomenal season.

I like what Paige referred to as Chiesa’s “Cinderella story,” but it’s more than just Chiesa’s willingness to remain in the competition and fight his way to the finale. When I look at Chiesa’s road to this finale bout, I look at the two men he’s defeated in this competition so far—Justin Lawrence and James Vick. I see them, and I remember thinking that Lawrence was arguably the favorite to take this whole competition, while Vick was one of the dark horses. That Chiesa was convincing in his victories over both says that he might just be the most unlikely fighter to become a TUF finalist since Court McGee’s run in season 11.

As far as this fight goes, the mentality and emotion of Chiesa is only half the story. The man and his rather epic beard bring a rather unique and downright unorthodox offense to the Octagon. Not only is he willing to throw anything and everything he can at his opponents in order to finish them, but he doesn’t mind scrambling with his opponents to make his fights messy. From the time spent on the show, fans can see that he’s good on the feet, but does a lot of his best work on the ground. As a matter of fact, five of his career wins are submissions, and it was indeed his ground game that was key in his success when he drew Lawrence as an opponent in the TUF Live competition.

Chiesa looks well-rounded, but Iaquinta is well-rounded, and that’s essentially why he was one of the favorites to take it all this season. He’s a jack-of-all-trades type of fighter who can finish anywhere with anything, and if you ask Ogle, the results can be quite deadly. Of course, we have to talk about Ogle when we discuss Iaquinta’s road to the top, because it was Ogle against whom Iaquinta earned a vicious KO victory in order to reach the semifinals, and it was against Vinc Pichel that Iaquinta had all his skills on display in achieving the unanimous decision victory that punched Iaquinta’s ticket to the finals.

Iaquinta (R) connects with a right hand (Josh Hedges/Zuffa, LLC)

From my seat, Iaquinta and Chiesa will look to deliver five rounds’ worth of action inside of three rounds because this is, after all, the first “live” season of TUF and it’s good to end the season on the highest note possible. Not only that, but when you look back at how both men got to this finale, you cannot help but think that both will be looking to make sure their cardio does in fact hold up for three rounds because of how much is on the line in this fight. The world knows how much a victory would mean to Chiesa, but against Iaquinta, it will be a difficult task to accomplish. Iaquinta has paid attention to what Chiesa has done and what he’s been able to do this season, and in paying attention to Chiesa, Iaquinta will unquestionably find a way to make Chiesa play into his fight plan. Once that happens, Iaquinta will score a menacing early second-round TKO victory and earn his honor of being the fifth lightweight winner of The Ultimate Fighter.

Symes: Just as Paige and Dale have said, it’s hard not to root for Chiesa given his struggles on the show. It was gut-wrenching to watch Chiesa finally realize part of his dream had come true by making it into the TUF house only to have his dad die shortly after.

It would’ve been easy for Chiesa to go home given the apparent grief he was in. When you consider other fighters have left the show because of girlfriends and family members that are still alive, it’s remarkable that Chiesa was able to stay in the house, let alone make it to the finals.

Although Chiesa has the hearts of America behind him, it is Iaquinta that stands in the way of the Hollywood ending. Iaquinta is a solid fighter that comes from a great camp as well. Training with the Serra-Longo guys has no doubt made Iaquinta’s ground game well-versed and, as evident from his vicious KO, Iaquinta packs some power as well.

Chiesa has been fighting with a ton of emotion and weight on his shoulders while competing on the show. Can he fight through the personal struggles to become TUF champion?

Unfortunately for him, I don’t see him beating the more talented Iaquinta. There’s a reason this guy was one of the favorites to begin the show. Carrying all that emotional turmoil weighs on you each and every day, which could leave Chiesa drained given what’s at stake and what he’s been through.

I have Iaquinta winning it, but if the fight moves into the later part of round two, expect a sloppy fight to ensue as both men have to be drained from being on the show and rushing through a “training camp” on a week’s notice.

At the very least it should be more exciting than the recent run of TUF finales and have some action inside the Octagon.

Top Photo: Al Iaquinta (L) delivers a left hand against Andy Ogle (Josh Hedges/Zuffa, LLC)