The losses hurt Michael Chiesa. They always do, but he also understood that in the fight business, sometimes it’s just not your night. But when his favorite part of being a prizefighter started to grow tired, the 31-year-old knew he needed to make a change.
“There was a point when I started to get tired of it and I was starting to get a little burned out on the sport,” said Chiesa. This response came after we discussed his budding broadcasting career and his uncanny ability to cite chapter and verse on virtually anyone on the UFC roster. That’s today. For a while, he wasn’t feeling the same way.
“I’m thinking that I’ve been doing this 11 years almost and that’s just what happens,” he said. “And then I realized that I’m feeling burned out because I don’t enjoy what I do as much. And it was all attributed to this weight cutting.”
For years, Chiesa made the drop to 155 pounds, and as hard as it got, he kept shedding the weight because he was making a mark in the lightweight division, scoring wins over the likes of Al Iaquinta, Francisco Trinaldo, Jim Miller and Beneil Dariush. But losses to Kevin Lee and Anthony Pettis, capped off when he missed weight for the first time in his career before the Pettis bout in July, forced him into a corner. He thought about staying at 155, focusing strictly on his skill set and weight loss during camps, but that wasn’t going to work for him. So the decision became an easy one.
“The best part about fighting is the training camp,” he said. “I love the training camps, and these last few, I was not as happy about it. The thing I should be enjoying the most in this whole process I’m just dreading, and it didn’t make sense to me. I should be having fun, I should be enjoying the grind and the process, and it’s hard to do that when all you’re doing is focusing on cutting weight the whole time.
“So I said I can’t fight my body anymore,” Chiesa continues. “My body wants to get bigger. It came down to either I need to stop trying to be an athlete, stop trying to get bigger, faster and stronger and just diet and focus on my skills, and that just wasn’t for me. Even like that, it’s still a stretch to make that weight cut. So it’s been a game changer for me, making the decision to go up in weight class. I feel like it’s given me a second breath of life. I don’t know if this is a cliché thing to say, but I feel like my old self when I first got into the sport.”
On Saturday, Chiesa makes his welterweight debut against former interim champ Carlos Condit in a UFC 232 main card bout. And if you’re wondering, yes, training camp was fun this time around, making “Maverick” one of the most unique fighters in the sport.
“I made a post about this when I started my training camp,” he said. “To most fighters, the fight is the reward, but I don’t look at it like that. I’m all about the journey. I love the grind. The fight is gonna handle itself. That’s a whole separate side of me that only comes out when I’m under the lights. I can’t control that. But training, I love pushing myself. I love finding my limits and pushing them a little farther every day. I love waking up and being beaten up and sore and finding a way to push the stick a little farther. I enjoy that and I find a lot of reward in that.”
The excitement in Chiesa’s voice is evident, with the grind of checking the scale every day replaced by the grind of getting better, a much better scenario for a fighter looking to make moves in as vicious a shark tank as he was in at lightweight. But if recent UFC history is any indication, moving up is the new moving down when it comes to Octagon success.
“The guys that are doing the best are the guys that aren’t fighting the scale all the time,” he said. “Kelvin Gastelum, Robert Whittaker, Dustin Poirier, Thiago Santos.”
It’s a formidable lineup, and Chiesa hopes to join that group beginning this weekend. And though the 34-year-old Condit enters their bout on a four-fight losing streak, Chiesa is not expecting to face a fighter nearing the end of a storied career.
“I’d be a fool if I looked at Carlos Condit as a guy that’s on the downslide,” he said. “That would make me an unintelligent fighter. I’m not that guy. I’m preparing for the WEC Carlos Condit. I’m preparing for the Carlos Condit that knocked out Dan Hardy and Dong Hyun Kim, the Carlos Condit that almost took the title from Robbie Lawler in as close of a contest as you could possibly have. That’s who I’m preparing for, that’s who I’m fighting. I’m fighting a world-class guy who’s a former champion across two of the best promotions in the world.”
If Chiesa sounds like a fan of “The Natural Born Killer,” he is guilty as charged, right down to the Condit t-shirts he used to wear proudly around Spokane. But there is still business to take care of on fight night.
“Carlos is a guy I have a ton of respect for,” he said. “I could show you a ton of pictures from when I was 20-21 years old where I’m wearing my Sinister Natural Born Killer t-shirt. I’m a fanboy first, I’m a fighter second. (Laughs) But as I’ve grown and matured in the sport, I’ve got an opportunity to compete against guys I grew up watching like Jim Miller, Joe Lauzon, Jorge Masvidal. I’ve learned to put the fanboy aside and go out and compete and I do that pretty damn well. I’ve got a ton of respect for Carlos and I’ve been a fan of his since I first saw him fight. But I know I will have no problem putting that aside and going out and getting the win on the 29th.”
Michael Chiesa loves fighting again. That makes “Maverick” dangerous again.
“This is all about finding something within yourself that pushes you to do something,” he said. “Growing up, I was never a star athlete. I got bullied a lot. A lot of people think I was some state champion wrestler. I never made it to state. I was a high-level JV guy that was small and scrawny, I was bullied a lot and had a rough upbringing, but I saw this thing that I fell in love with, the UFC, in 1996. I saw something I wanted to do, it became a dream of mine and I knew it wouldn’t come easy. I had to find something within myself and find my fire to set a great blaze and get me to where I’m at now. Part of my purpose in this world is I’m meant to be a performer. I’m meant to compete, I’m meant to be a fighter. That’s something I was born with.”