Michael Chiesa is one of those rare individuals who had one of the most private, personal and emotional moments of his life played out on national television.
Chiesa was one of 32 mixed martial arts fighters chosen to appear on the first episode of Season 15 of the UFC's reality series, "The Ultimate Fighter." On March 9 at the UFC Training Center in Las Vegas, those 32 men would fight for 16 spots as cast members.
When Chiesa left his home in Spokane, Wash., a few days earlier, he did so knowing that it might be the final time he ever saw his father, Mark. The 52-year-old Mark Chiesa was fighting a losing battle with leukemia.
Michael Chiesa submitted Johnavan Vistante with a rear naked choke on March 9. When Vistante tapped, Chiesa leaped to his feet in jubilation, raced toward a camera and shouted, "That was for you, Dad!" In Spokane, his dying father gave a thumbs up and then smiled.
A few hours later, he died. Michael Chiesa flew home -- for barely 24 hours -- to pay his respects. He's been back in Las Vegas since and, tonight, will get his first chance to fight when he meets Jeremy Larsen of Team Cruz.
"I feel very good about the matchup," said Chiesa, the fifth-round pick of Team Faber. "Larsen is a tough guy and I realize that. I'm looking to be the better fighter in all aspects and come out with a finish."
He said that having to break camp, even temporarily, didn't impact him. Once the fighters make the show, they're not allowed any contact with the outside world for the duration. They have no television, no Internet, no newspapers and they normally aren't allowed to leave the house where their every move is filmed. In Chiesa's case, UFC president Dana White made an exception to allow him to fly home to Spokane, Wash., to allow him to attend a service for his father.
Chiesa said leaving didn't put him behind the other fighters. Team Faber coach Urijah Faber said that if Daron Cruickshank had won the first week, he would have picked the Chiesa-Larsen matchup for Week 2.
"Chiesa is ready and he's a very hungry guy," Faber said. "He's highly motivated and I love this matchup for him. I think he has a big edge in grappling."
Chiesa said he'll fight as he always does and work to finish the fight. He noted that Larsen is resilient and was able to withstand several bad positions in his qualifying fight to get into the house.
"He's shown he can weather the storm, so I have to be aware of that, but I will go for the finish like I always have," Chiesa said. "If you look at my fights, you see I finish a lot. It's just how I like to go and I'm always looking for a way to end it."