Michael Chiesa knew of Carlos Condit before he’d even set foot in an MMA gym. Before he started training and competing as a fighter, Chiesa was a “huge fan”.
“I still have some of his walkout shirts from back in the day,” Chiesa told EMG.
Now looking to reboot his career at welterweight, the 31-year-old of Spokane, Washington, will take on Condit this weekend at UFC 232. And despite his reverence for the former WEC champion and UFC interim champion, Chiesa believes his appreciation of Condit’s skillset has only aided his preparation.
“It’s always good when you train for a fighter you have a lot of respect for because that means you recognise their skills, you recognise the threats. And Carlos, he’s a very dangerous guy, regardless of the skid that he’s on. It doesn’t take away from the fact that this guy is dangerous. He can finish you everywhere, so really this training camp I had to prepare for all scenarios – on the feet, on the ground. He’s a guy that does damage from any position. Obviously I’m a takedown-heavy fighter, that’s pretty obvious, so I gotta be ready for him to impose damage from his back. I just gotta be ready for a tough-ass fight and whether things go smooth for me, or it turns into a blood-and-guts brawl, I feel very well-prepared to get this win.”
That preparation, Chiesa feels, has been uniquely refreshing due to the move up to 170lbs.
“This is the most prepared I’ve ever been for a fight, and I can honestly say that’s not just some cliché statement, because I haven’t had to focus on a weight cut the whole time. This time the focus has just been about skills. These last three/four fights, basically these last three/four years, every time I get into camp, it’s just a constant weight cut, and my mind’s not as focused on the fight as it should be. It’s always focused on the scale.
“I didn’t have a stress in the world. All I have to stress about is fighting another guy, and I’m very confident I can beat anybody in the world that walks on two feet, so that doesn’t stress me out that much.
“I’m getting a lot of that confidence in being able to push myself to whatever depth I have to go to to get this win because I’m not debilitating myself before the fight. I’m not killing myself before the fight. I get to go in there healthy, my brain’s gonna be operating, I can see things so much better in my training. It’s unreal.”
With a new division before him, Chiesa (14-4) is already mapping his path to the title, and that includes keeping a watchful eye on those at the top of it.
“Now that I’m in the welterweight division, I’ve gotta look at the landscape of the top ten, the top five and the champion. And right now, the champion’s Tyron Woodley, the number one contender as of now is Colby Covington. That’s the fight that needs to be made.”
“Tyron Woodley, some people may say he can be boring at times, but I think he’s just very calculated. He’s a very cerebral fighter. He does not break position, he doesn’t break posture and he just doesn’t make mistakes. Colby, sometimes can come running in with combos. I don’t see his wrestling, the way he implements his wrestling and his game plans, I don’t see him being able to do that to Tyron. I see Tyron soundly winning that fight. Either way, it’s just the fight that’s gotta be made.”
Chiesa was just one of the fighters and many fans inconvenienced with the entire UFC 232 card moving from Las Vegas to Los Angeles on just a few days’ notice. That controversial decision was made because headliner Jon Jones returned an adverse drug test which caused the Nevada Athletic Commission not to sanction him to compete in their jurisdiction.
“In between all the opinions, the controversies, the facts, there is a truth somewhere, and unfortunately that’s something that we will never know,” Chiesa told EMG.
USADA and the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) expressed belief that the amounts found in Jones’ system corresponded with his test failure from last July for which he was already penalised with a 15-month suspension, and CSAC granted Jones a license to compete in California.
“I don’t think Jon intentionally took something before this fight, I will say that,” Chiesa said. “But that substance turned up in his body somehow, someway. Even though they’re saying it was 17 months ago, it’s still there. It ended up in his body somehow and even if it was a tainted supplement or whatever his story is, whatever the truth is, it’s still a mistake on his part.
“I’m not saying this as a biased Daniel Cormier fan, but look at DC and look at his long run as an Olympian, as a champion. This guy’s been taking drug tests for 20 years and you’ve never seen him accidentally – whether it’s ‘accidentally’ or really is accidentally – we’ve never seen him have anything in his system, or for that matter a lot of other athletes.”
As for how that main event between Jones and Alexander Gustafsson takes place, Chiesa sees it unfolding much like the first fight between the pair.
“I think it’s gonna come down to a decision. Jones is very tricky and I feel like when you train for Jon Jones, you almost have to take a gamble and guess what he’s gonna do because every fight he shows a new wrinkle in his game.
“He’s so freaking good at fighting that if he’s fighting a high-level wrestler, he is gonna try to outwrestle him; if he is fighting the highest level black belt in jiu-jitsu, he is going to try to submit them. I feel like he just, he really is so talented and so dominant that he just wants to beat everybody at what they’re good at. Now the problem for him is what Gustafsson is really good at is being mobile, being fast, being agile, being hard to catch. Jon is fast in his own right, but not like Gus. Gus is fast on his feet, he’s really agile, nimble, I guess you could say.”
“I’m gonna go with The Mauler, I’m gonna go with Alexander Gustafsson.”
UFC 232 takes place at The Forum in Los Angeles, California, on Sunday, December 30 (AU).