Michael Chiesa not expecting flashy win vs. Neil Magny

Michael Chiesa is a realist. And when it comes to his UFC on ESPN 20 headliner with Neil Magny, he knows there’s a good chance he’ll have to dig deep to get his hand raised.

Chiesa (17-4 MMA, 10-4 UFC) returns to the octagon for the first time in almost a year when he meets Magny (24-7 MMA, 17-6 UFC) in a welterweight main event on Jan. 20. The card takes place at Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi and airs on ESPN.

Magny is one of the more consistently successful welterweights in UFC history, having racked up 17 wins in the weight class – just two shy of Georges St-Pierre’s all-time record. Beating Magny is a difficult task for anyone, but doing it with style points is even more challenging. Chiesa will be seeking a definitive end, he said, but is also wise enough to know it might not play out that way.

“You can’t expect to look good beating Neil,” Chiesa told MMA Junkie. “That’s a tough expectation to put on yourself when you’ve got a guy as well-rounded as he is. He doesn’t really have any glaring weaknesses. He’s just a good all-around fighter. He’s very well conditioned. He comes from a good team. Good human being. There’s really nothing bad I can say about the guy. He’s just a good all-around sport. But I have certain aspects to my game. He’s good at everything, but I think there’s things that I do better than he does. Those are the things I need to emphasize and capitalize on.

“I think I’m going to surprise a lot of people with how I look coming out there. I’m not the same guy that fought (Rafael dos Anjos) … I’m not expecting to look pretty beating Neil Magny. I’m just going to go in there and do whatever I need to do to get the job done. I’m going to be pursuing a finish as I always am, but if we got to go blood-and-guts for five rounds, so be it. I’m ready to do whatever I’ve got to (do to) get the job done.”

Chiesa was only able to fight once in 2020. He beat former UFC champ dos Anjos early in the year, but then a string of injuries – including a botched surgery – took away his ability to compete until now.

Chiesa said there was upside to the time off, though: He was able to hit his groove as a UFC analyst, working several cards over the course of the year and gaining some perspective on his life and career. He said he’s come out the other end better for it, especially on the mental side.

“It was just a challenging time,” Chiesa said. “My mind definitely played some tricks on me throughout last year. Once I was cleared to get back to full training – before I left for ‘Fight Island’ for the analyst gig (in July), I knew I was back. I got cleared by the doctor to train 100 percent again, and even that first week back once I got cleared I was like, ‘Dude, your mind is playing tricks on you. You’re still just as good as you were before.’ I was able to sharpen my mind as well as my skills. That’s probably the best thing I gained through last year was getting to do the nine shows as an analyst. It sharpened my mind. That’s a very hard thing to do as a fighter.”

Chiesa’s return fight was originally supposed to be the co-main event of UFC on ESPN 20. However, when Khamzat Chimaev withdrew from the planned headliner against Leon Edwards, the bout was elevated to the new headliner.

With a main event spot comes the duty of being slated for five rounds, but Chiesa said it was a welcomed change that he took in stride.

“I’ve never once thought, ‘Oh I don’t want to come back and do five rounds after not fighting for a year,’” Chiesa said. “It’s the first time it’s been brought to my attention, so obviously not a worry in my mind. … I think if I would’ve known long in advance that I was fighting in the main, maybe I would’ve, like, gone too hard in training and would’ve hurt myself. Training for those extra two rounds, you’ve got be very intricate. You’ve got to go about it in a very measured way.”

A victory for Chiesa would move him to 4-0 since he moved up to 170 pounds from lightweight in December 2018. He’s currently ranked No. 13 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMA Junkie welterweight rankings, with Magny an honorable mention, but Chiesa said he’s not thinking about what the future holds.

Magny is an opponent to be fully respected, Chiesa said, and he’s not allowing himself to think of anything beyond his upcoming fight.

“Usually I have like a name in mind for what comes next or I’m thinking about other things outside of the fight, in a good way – not like lack of focus,” Chiesa said. “This is a fight where I’ve been so zoned in on this guy and just laser-focused on Neil Magny, just because I know how evenly matched this fight is. I’ve got to be on my ‘A’ game when that octagon door closes. I know I have the tools to get the job done, and I know my mind and my body are ready to go to whatever bounds I need to to beat this guy.”

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