Michael Chiesa (17-4, #8) is hoping to produce a statement display Wednesday against #9 ranked welterweight Neil Magny (24-7), as he makes his Octagon return after undergoing knee surgery last July to repair a troublesome issue that had bothered him since his teenage years.
After a unanimous decision win over former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos on January 25 last year, Chiesa’s 2020 ended like most: one originally filled with plenty of promise but one that simply proved too disruptive for real progression, as his top-five aspirations were shelved.
Since moving from lightweight to welterweight himself, the Maverick has earned some encouraging momentum and will be looking to snap Magny’s three-fight win streak in midweek.
He’s on a run of his own right now (Carlos Condit, Diego Sanchez and dos Anjos) and feels positive, after it was confirmed that he’d be headlining one of the UFC’s first cards of 2021.
All about perspective
“Even though my goals kind of got rearranged, I still got to end the year with one of my top goals: 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.”
As mentioned earlier, Chiesa underwent knee surgery last July hoping to remedy a lingering injury that he’d been suffering with since his teenage years. Although successful, the operation itself didn’t go smoothly – revealing it took six-and-a-half hours, when it was set to be just one.
Even still, he’s glad that he hasn’t had to grit his teeth through pain during training.
“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% and can do a lot of things I couldn’t before. To be able to go through a whole training camp without dragging my knee behind me, it’s been really nice and refreshing.”
Plenty of mutual respect, aware of the challenges lying ahead
This is Chiesa’s first main event since losing to Kevin Lee at UFC’s Oklahoma City show in June 2017. While the build-up was overshadowed by trash talking and a physical altercation between the pair at a summer press conference beforehand, this one has a completely different tone.
The 33-year-old highlighted Neil’s skillset and revealed he’s got a lot of respect for him, but is relishing this latest challenge and hopes it’ll propel him up a few places in the rankings.
Although he’d ideally like a finish without having to go the distance, he’s aware of Magny’s cardio and is prepared to go a full 25 minutes – so long as he gets his hand raised.
“I’ve got lofty goals but think I can achieve them, it’s my time. I’ve been in the UFC for nine years, feel like I’m at my best, in my prime and this is a good showcase fight for me.”
Since the COVID-19 enforced shutdown, Magny has stayed busy in the Octagon – decision wins over Anthony Rocco Martin in June and Robbie Lawler three months later have earned him an opportunity to string together four wins for the first time since 2014.
With Kamaru Usman making the third defence of his title against Gilbert Burns at UFC 258 next month, (#1) Colby Covington angling for a grudge match vs. Jorge Masvidal (#4) and Leon Edwards (#3) facing Khamzat Chimaev (#14) next, a win could do wonders for either man here.
Stephen Thompson (#5) showed last month that he’s improving with age, while former champion Tyron Woodley (#6) and Demian Maia (#7) both don’t have fights booked.
Magny has shown a public willingness to fight everyone above him in the rankings, so it’ll be interesting to see how the UFC’s matchmakers pair up a whole host of contenders going forward.
Pictures via Bloody Elbow, MMA Junkie — quotes’ source: MMAFighting