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Michael Chiesa: ‘By the time I get done with 2016, I swear to God, I'm going to be in the top-five'

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

LAS VEGAS - Michael Chiesa is, by any measure of the phrase, a successful UFC fighter. The underdog TUF 15 winner has compiled a solid 5-2 record since his 2012 season victory, highlighted by dominant wins over quality competition in Al Iaquinta and Mitch Clarke. But inconsistency and bad fortune have prevented Chiesa from making that leap into contendership, and now, just days out from his UFC Fight Night 80 bout against Jim Miller, Chiesa is ready to call his shot.

"This is it, I'm going on my run, man. It starts now," Chiesa said at Tuesday's open workouts. "Jim is ranked 14th. I'm going everywhere and up. By the time I get done with 2016, I swear to God, I'm going to be in the top-five. I don't care what it takes, and it starts with Jim. I got a lot of respect for all the guys in this division, but you're not going to stop me, man. It's my time."

In Miller, Chiesa meets a man who many at lightweight would aspire to be. The 32-year-old is the owner of 14 Octagon wins at 155 pounds, good for the third-most in UFC lightweight history. Miller has been to the places and done the things that Chiesa vows he wants to do, but even despite his relative youth and insistence that he is entering his prime, Miller is long in the tooth for the fight game, and has won just five of his last 10 contests since 2011.

So in that regard, Chiesa sees this as the exact opportunity he has been waiting for to make that next step.

"He's a better hunter than me, probably makes better beer. But I don't think he's a better fighter," Chiesa said. "He's tough. Like I said, I got a lot of respect for him and all these guys in the division, but I feel like I'm the best in the world. I train with some of the best in the world. I've done well and I perform well. Think about this: I finish every fight. And if I don't finish and go to a decision, I win 10-8 rounds. How many guys do you know in the lightweight division who've had fights where they have gotten two 10-8 rounds scored? Think about it. I'm a winner. I'm just going to go out and prove it on Thursday."

Chiesa's present state is an archetypal example of just how hard it is to break through in the UFC's lightweight division, which doubles as one of the most historically stacked weight classes in the sport.

The struggle to be heard among the sharks of 155 is one of the reasons Chiesa expressed frustration at he and Miller's exclusion from the event's UFC Embedded series. Rather than feature either co-main event fighter, the UFC's cameras flew to Texas to follow around heavily hyped prospect Sage Northcutt and his unheralded opponent Cody Pfister, despite Chiesa having completed the final three weeks of his camp just a short drive away from the UFC's Las Vegas headquarters.

Fellow UFC Fight Night 80 fighter Aljamain Sterling sympathized with Chiesa's grumbles, calling the decision "baffling," but ultimately Chiesa isn't taking anything personally.

"It didn't really bug me, but it's just like, I've watched the Embedded. It's a little stagnant, watching guys make smoothies and stuff," Chiesa said. "I was out there at the Cliff Keen Invitationals, watching some high-level wrestling you guys could've been at. I was racing go-karts, sitting in my little portable sauna drinking PBRs for my birthday yesterday, so you missed out on some good stuff. Now if they came around, they're just going to see me sweating, sitting, doing jack-s**t. So it's their loss. It's the fans' loss."

Chiesa dismisses the situation because ultimately he knows that as long he accomplishes what he has vowed to accomplish over the next year, that attention will come to him, even if he has to drag it kicking and screaming to his doorstep. And it all begins this week, with what he hopes is a signature performance against one of the gamest veterans in the sport.

"It's not the name, it's the fight," Chiesa said. "Jim is a tough guy. We've seen time and time again that he performs. He's one of the best. He's one of the most winning lightweights in UFC history, so it's one of those things where I'm just looking to take advantage of the opportunity. I got all the respect for him in the world. I think Jim is a great guy, but I've got to go out and beat him up, and I've got to go out and make my run. He had his time. I haven't had mine yet, so it starts on Thursday."