It’s been a year since we’ve last seen lightweight contender Michael Chiesa compete but it wasn’t for a lack of trying.
Chiesa was scheduled to take on number 2 ranked Tony Ferguson last July but was forced to pull out due to a back injury, sidelining him for a couple of months. Since November, he’s been gunning for a top ranked opponent but nobody seemed to want to fight him. Despite not drawing a top ranked opponent, he is excited to headline UFC Oklahoma City versus rising star Kevin Lee this June.
He targeted the UFC 205 card at MSG for a return and was hoping that the Ferguson fight will be rescheduled. When that didn’t work out, he set his eyes on former champion Eddie Alvarez, a fight the UFC was all for but yet again was declined.
Enter Kevin Lee who’s coming off an impressive 2nd round submission finish over Francisco Trinaldo and Chiesa is grateful that someone has finally agreed to fight him.
“The UFC wanted the Alvarez fight but he didn’t want the fight,” Chiesa explained. “It was a load of shit, he was lying to people telling them he didn’t know who I was, it was just bullshit. The Ferguson fight, there were a lot of different scenarios going on. When Khabib and Ferguson were scheduled to fight at 209 and Tony wasn’t coming to terms, I was about to fight Khabib for the interim title and then there were some slight talks of me stepping in for Khabib when he pulled out with the weight problem at 209.”
“There were just a lot of different things going on that never came into fruition but thankfully I got this fight and I’m really excited about it. I like the challenge that Kevin presents and the fact that it’s a main event makes it that much cooler so I’m excited to go out there and finally get that main event spot that I think I’ve earned in the last 5 years being in the UFC.”
Although Chiesa is frustrated that none of the top ranked fighters have agreed to fight him, he understands their position. With such a small margin of error in an ultra competitive lightweight division, each fighter is looking for the fight that will propel them to a title shot.
“A lot of these guys look at me as a high risk, low reward fight because if they didn’t think I was that good of a fighter then they’d take it,” Chiesa said. “It frustrates me that they won’t take the fight with me but I don’t blame them, I wouldn’t want to take a fight with me.”
Now he has turned his focus to Kevin Lee who’s riding a lot of confidence coming into this bout. Lee, like Chiesa has been calling out the likes of Khabib and feels he can beat the top guys in the division which is enough motivation for Chiesa.
“You got a tough, young, hungry kid who’s on a 3,4 fight win streak finishing guys,” Chiesa said on Lee. “He feels he’s got the tools to go out there and beat me and obviously he’s got more stones than the rest of these guys so I’m pretty excited to go out there and fight the guy.”
And Chiesa is expecting the often outspoken Kevin Lee to have a few words for him but won’t let that deter him from the task at hand.
“He’s probably going to talk a whole lot of shit about me,” Chiesa laughed. “I really don’t care but nonetheless I’m going to beat the guy. I’m going to beat the guy, I’m going to finish him and I’m going to make this a 4 fight win streak.”
“I know it’s coming, the caveman jokes, the homeless guy shit trust me I’m ready. While he’s sitting at home thinking of what he’s going to say to me, I’m thinking of all these ways I’m going to kick his ass.”
Trash talk aside, Chiesa knows he’s in for a tough fight and isn’t going to underestimate his opponent. After taking a year off healing from a nagging back injury and a hip injury, he feels that he’s continuing to improve and that we’re yet to see the best of him.
With both fighters known for their strong grappling and submission ability, the crowd is expecting a ground galore. For Chiesa, he’s confident wherever the fight goes.
“He’s going to have to avoid my clinch game and my opinion I think I’m the best clinch fighter in the UFC,” Chiesa said. “Kevin’s a great wrestler but he’s got good stand up skills so that might just be a bluff. He’s got good skills all around but he’s not better than me anywhere.”
The lightweight picture is unclear. With the champion Conor McGregor not looking to defend his belt in the near future and the previously booked interim title fight between Khabib and Ferguson not falling through, anything can happen.
While a win over Kevin Lee may not be seen as the direct route to a title shot, Chiesa feels that with a win, he’ll definitely be in the running.
“They were already talking about me fighting for the interim title before,” Chiesa explained. “I’ve been in the talks, I’ve been in the rumblings so all I have to do is keep winning. At the end of the day, by the time fall rolls around, it’s going to be between me, Edson, Tony and Khabib.”
“However it works out I’m going to be ready. I just have to win this fight, I’m going to train really hard and I’m going to be the best version of myself that I’ve ever been in my career and just keep making my claims, that’s all I can do.”
Ten of his fourteen professional wins have come by the way of submission and come June 25th he’s expecting no different.
“I’ll probably sub him,” Chiesa predicted. “Get him with my bread and butter, I take his back and choke him, maybe TKO him. He’s a tough kid, he’ll have his moments. Every guy has their moments against me but I’m a tough guy to fight and an even harder guy to beat.”