After beginning the year with a win over a former world champion, Michael Chiesa—like most people—had a somewhat rough 2020.
“Maverick” has picked up great momentum since making the move from lightweight to welterweight and he looks to extend his winning streak to four when he faces Neil Magny in the main event of UFC Fight Island 8. The card takes place Jan. 20 on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi and will stream on ESPN+.
After picking up his third straight win with a unanimous decision over former champion Rafael dos Anjos, Chiesa’s competitive year came to a halt.
“I’m really excited to continue the momentum,” Chiesa told MMA Fighting while appearing on What the Heck. “Everybody’s year got thrown for a loop so my whole plan was to get through the fight with RDA, get a minor surgery done on my knee and then move onto a fight in July, move onto another fight towards the end of the year, or January, and that all just got thrown out the window with COVID.
“Even though my goals kind of got rearranged, I still got to end the year with one of my top goals which was to be put in a main event spot before 2020 ends. I was able to make that happen, it just sucks there was a lot of inactivity in between this fight and my last one.”
Chiesa’s knee surgery took place in July with the hope that it would fix a lingering injury he had since he was 15 years old. “Maverick” competed and dealt with the pain, but as the years went on—especially in the winter months—it got worse and worse.
While the surgery was ultimately a success, it did not go as smoothly as he had expected.
“I feel like a new man since July but that surgery did not go as well as we had hoped,” Chiesa said. “It was supposed to be around 45 minutes to an hour, max, but it turned out to be a six-and-a-half hour surgery. They really kind of did a number on me and I definitely had some dark days throughout the recovery process. I knew I was gonna compete again, but was my leg going to be the same? I think that’s normal for anybody going through the recovery process, but I definitely had some dark days. Those are behind me, my leg is 100 percent, and I can do a lot of things I couldn’t do before.
“To be able to go through a whole training camp without dragging my knee behind me, it’s been really nice. It’s been refreshing.”
This will be Chiesa’s first main event since facing Kevin Lee at UFC Oklahoma City in June 2017. The build to that fight wasn’t about the matchup itself, but the trash talk and physical altercation that took place at the UFC Summer Kickoff press conference two months prior.
This time around, Chiesa is thrilled that the focus can be about a pivotal divisional matchup, and not a bunch of insults and barbs.
“Neil’s got great skills and he’s a good man,” Chiesa explained. “These are the guys I want to compete against. I’ve done the whole press conference thing, I’ve done the trash talk and stuff. It’s just not who I am. That doesn’t mean that any fight after I won’t get pitted against a guy who will talk trash, and that’s all fine and dandy. I just don’t engage in that anymore.
“It’s always nice to go out there and compete against a guy you have a lot of respect for, and is a good all-around human being, a great athlete. I think that can lead to fireworks as well. You don’t have to hate the guy to put on a great performance and I know Neil is gonna bring it.”
Magny returned from a USADA suspension—of which he was cleared of any wrongdoing—in 2020 and ran off three wins over Li Jingliang, Anthony Rocco Martin and Robbie Lawler. One of Magny’s biggest attributes has been his ability to push the pace with his outstanding cardio.
Chiesa is well aware of Magny’s strengths and is looking forward to seeing them for himself in Abu Dhabi.
“He presents great challenges, especially in this circumstance,” Chiesa said. “This is a guy that trains at elevation, he’s a five-round fighter, he stepped up on two weeks’ notice against Kelvin Gastelum in Mexico City at elevation and squeaked out a split decision win. The cards are in his favor for cardio, and I like the challenge. This is what it’s all about for me and it’s gonna be a fun fight. I didn’t hesitate when they called me to tell me this would be the main event. Deal. Let’s go.”
The Washington native has plans for a massive 2021 after only competing once in 2019. Chiesa knows that to reach the goals he has set for himself, it all starts with his first bout on Fight Island against a game competitor with, likely, similar ideas.
“[I plan on] getting this thing done by doing what I do best,” Chiesa stated. “I just need to be me and put the pressure on. I know Neil is gonna meet me in the middle and ultimately I’d like to get this done in less than 25 minutes. If I gotta go the distance, I gotta go the distance. I just know I had a great camp and I’m healthy.
“I went into that last fight with a broken nose and couldn’t do any live training, and I know I still have [some time] to go, but this is the healthiest I’ve gone into a fight [in a long time] so I’m gonna be a totally different guy. In an ideal situation, I get my hand raised within the 25 minute mark. I beat him, I finish him, shoot myself into the top-five, set myself up for another big fight and end the year as the No. 1 contender at 170 pounds.
“I’ve got lofty goals but I think I can achieve them. It’s my time. I’m 33 years old, been in the UFC for nine years. I feel like I’m at my best, in my prime, and I feel like this is a good showcase fight for me.”