It would have been an understandable, if not the more logical choice, for Mike Chiesa to quit and go home.
But the 24-year-old Spokane, Wash. native says his only option was to continue fighting and make good on the promise he gave to his dying father.
“It wasn’t tough at all. It was something me and my dad talked about before I left, so it never cross my mind at any point if I wanted to drop out of this competition or not,” said Chiesa, his voice cracking with emotion as he talked about his 53-year-old father, Mark Chiesa, who passed away from a battle with leukemia — shortly after Chiesa had made it as one of the 16 fighters picked for The Ultimate Fighter Live.
Tonight the younger Chiesa can fulfill his promise to his father and his own fighting dreams with a victory over Al Iaquinta in The Ultimate Fighter Live Finale at the Palms.
“When you lose someone as close as a father, the scars don’t heal fast,” Chiesa said. “My family, it’s going to take lot of time for us to cope and get over it. We’ll probably hurt for a very long time.
“But I know every Friday, whether I was fighting or not, them getting to tune in and see me on the show, I know for at least an hour it made them happy. I know my family is proud of me and I’m proud of them as well.”
Now his family, mother, Teresa, and younger sister, Meggie, have joined him in Las Vegas.
“His dad would be really happy. He would be so proud,” Teresa said, wiping away tears as she talked with reporters earlier this week. “He would be so proud.
“We wanted him to go on with his career. I’m just so proud of him. He’s a great kid and he’s got a huge heart.”
UFC President Dana White broke with tradition in which fighters aren’t allowed to leave the secluded house they stay in Las Vegas during the 13 week filming of the popular reality show on FX, when he let Mike return for his father’s funeral.
Chiesa came back a day later and racked up some impressive victories to get to tonight’s lightweight finale and possible $100,000 payday.
Chiesa defeated Johnavan Vistante and Jeremy Larsen before knocking out Justin Lawrence, the favorite to win the show, and then earning a tough, second-round KO of another favorite, James Vick, last week in the semifinals.
Chiesa’s emotional and physical toughness earned the respect of Iaquinta, his Urijah Faber-coached teammate on the show.
“My hats off to him. I couldn’t imagine myself in the same situation,” said Iaquinta, a 25-year-old New York native, who is the favorite tonight.
“Hopefully I never will. Having to fight under circumstances like that is definitely tough. To be honest with you I didn’t even know anything had happened until one of the coaches told me. He really kept a poker face. I think he’s definitely a tough guy.”
A guy who knows his touching story won’t quite be complete without one more victory.
“I’ll find a way to win,” Chiesa said. “I won’t roll over and quit.
“It’s been a test. It’s a blessing to get where I’m at, a lot of hard work and perseverance through tough times. It’s been quite a journey.”