If I was making this prediction a year ago, I would probably pick Francisco Trinaldo to win and not think twice about it. If fights were determined by sheer talent alone, Trinaldo would defeat Michael Chiesa and it probably wouldn’t be a particularly competitive match. However, right now I think this fight represents a perfect example of how hidden factors in MMA can elevate one fighter above his pure talent, and hold another fighter down.
In Trinaldo, I saw a powerful lightweight with well-rounded abilities. I didn’t see him as a future champion or anything, but I thought he was fully capable of rising to the top 20 in the UFC lightweight division. In Chiesa, I saw a fighter who had gaping holes in his skill set and was winning on The Ultimate Fighter only because his opponents were finding ways to lose.
What makes Chiesa an equal (if not better) fighter to Trinaldo are the things that are difficult to quantify. Things like conditioning, determination, and a stubborn refusal to let the opponent dictate how the fight will play out. Chiesa is far from the most efficient wrestler/grappler in the UFC, but he never gives up on getting his opponent to the floor, taking his back, and finishing by submission. If Chiesa had to win UFC fights with striking alone, he probably would have been cut from the promotion already. It’s Chiesa’s relentless drive that keeps him successful at a high level.
It might sound strange to hear these things from an analyst who relies heavily on statistics, but the statistics reflect Chiesa’s abilities pretty well. He’s landed five takedowns, executed five guard passes, and attempted five submissions in just 27 minutes of action. That translates to 8.35 of what I call “grappling advances” per 15 minutes, which is higher than accomplished lightweight grapplers like Jim Miller and Thiago Tavares, and is close to Gleison Tibau.
While Chiesa is a fighter who makes the most of his abilities and finds ways to win, Trinaldo is a man who finds ways to lose despite his superior talent. His conditioning has failed him on multiple occasions; he quit on the stool against Thiago Perpetuo on The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil and he gassed out after just one round against Piotr Hallmann, eventually losing that fight by submission. Despite Trinaldo’s well rounded abilities, he has a tendency to fight his opponent’s fight; for example, engaging Jesse Ronson in a striking match and escaping with a split decision victory.
Trinaldo also has questionable takedown defense. He was taken down five times by Tibau, but Tibau is the best wrestler in the division and a physical freak of nature. However, Trinaldo was also taken down twice by Hallmann and once by Mike Rio. More observation is needed to make a conclusion about where Trinaldo’s overall takedown defense is, but right now it’s not looking good at just 55 percent overall.
So when I look at where Trinaldo is weak – takedown defense, conditioning, possibly submission defense – I see a fighter whose weaknesses correlate very strongly with Chiesa’s strengths.
This is not a slam dunk for Chiesa by any means. Trinaldo will start the fight as the vastly superior striker and the stronger athlete. It’s possible that Trinaldo will finish Chiesa quickly with strikes or that he’ll be able to consistently shut down Chiesa’s takedown attempts. I think the first round will probably be a rough one for Chiesa, and he’s in danger of being stopped by TKO if Trinaldo can land cleanly.
The problem for Trinaldo comes after that first round, and while Trinaldo gets considerably weaker as the fight progresses, Chiesa gets stronger. If this fight plays out the way it usually does for Chiesa and Trinaldo, it will end with Chiesa finding a way to finish an exhausted Trinaldo with a submission hold after a rocky start.
Pick: Michael Chiesa by submission