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Michael Chiesa says he told girlfriend during weight cut that he was afraid he would die

Michael Chiesa is moving up to welterweight.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Michael Chiesa already has a big weight cut if everything is going right. But there was nothing right about Chiesa’s UFC 226 fight week.

Eleven days before he was supposed to fight Anthony Pettis on July 7, Chiesa fractured his foot during a sparring session. At the time, Chiesa said he considered pulling out of the fight. Not because he was worried about what might happen in the Octagon; he was concerned about not being able to cut weight properly.

The Washington native’s consternation proved to be correct. Chiesa ended up missing the lightweight mark by 1-1/2 pounds on weigh-day and getting fined 30 percent of his purse. Pettis beat him by second-round submission, but what came before all of that was worse.

Chiesa told MMA Fighting that he had such a brutal weight cut that at one point he told his girlfriend he thought he would die.

Because he wasn’t able to do proper cardio to shed pounds on the treadmill due to the foot injury, Chiesa said he checked in the Tuesday before the fight at 175 pounds. The heaviest he had ever been before coming into fight week, he said, was 170. Normally, Chiesa said he checks in somewhere in the low-to-mid 160s.

The night before weigh-ins, Chiesa said he went through a four-hour water cut and only lost seven pounds. Prior to his fight against Kevin Lee last year, Chiesa said he was able to hit the lightweight mark within an hour and 40 minutes.

One of the thoughts in his head during that period was Max Holloway and the concussion-like symptoms that forced him with withdraw from his scheduled featherweight title defense against Brian Ortega at UFC 226 just a few days prior.

“I know Max’s issue wasn’t a weight issue,” Chiesa said. “But for some reason I just kept thinking about that. I don’t know. There was a lot of things going on in my head. I couldn’t feel my arms. I was hyperventilating, my back was cramping up. My blood pressure was dropping. I could hardly walk back to my hotel room. I knew I had to get up the next day and cut more weight.”

After four hours of cutting water, Chiesa said he had a hellish night and could not sleep, already depleted and knowing he had more weight cutting to do in the morning.

“It was just scary,” Chiesa said. “It’s never been like that. In the middle of the night, I had like a huge panic attack. I couldn’t stop my body from moving. I felt like I was having a seizure, but it wasn’t a seizure. My body was like trembling, my back was cramping, I was having like a panic attack. My girlfriend was with me and was just like, ‘What the f*ck do I do?’ I literally told her, ‘I’m afraid tomorrow I’m gonna die doing this. I’ve never felt like this.’

“It’s always bad. Cutting weight is always rough, especially for guys like myself that make a significant cut to make a number. I’ve never felt like that. I’ve never been in fear of my life.”

Chiesa said he woke up still 3-1/2 pounds over. He jumped into a 108-degree bathtub to sweat for 20 minutes or so, then wore a plastic sweatsuit for about 30 minutes. With more weight to shed, Chiesa said he had to get back in the scalding hot bath — for another 70 minutes.

All told, Chiesa said his weight cut lasted about eight hours. He said his team was frightened by how it went.

“They said this was a really hard thing for them to watch,” Chiesa said. “It’s never easy to watch. It’s never great to see your friend or teammate put himself through hell. But my teammate Austin [Arnett], he was like, ‘I almost started crying, I couldn’t handle it.’ It was bad.”

The one thing Chiesa wants to make clear is that this is no the fault of his nutrition coaches George Lockhart and Daniel Leith. He said he does not blame them in the least.

“Lockhart and Leith are f*cking awesome,” Chiesa said. “Those guys are great at what they do. They knew my situation, they knew it was a tricky one. We made due with what we had. I gave them maximum effort, they gave me maximum effort. It was just tough, dude. Usually, for me, making weight takes a couple of hours.”

The broken foot is what did him in, Chiesa said. He couldn’t grapple, wrestle, or run to lose weight. He did some treadmill work underwater at the UFC Performance Institute in Las Vegas the weekend prior and used the anti-gravity treadmill there, too. Finally, two days before he had to hit the scale, he jumped on a regular treadmill.

“It was too little, too late at that point,” Chiesa said. “We tried. I tried my ass off.”

Chiesa said he was popping aspirin and putting lidocaine patches and cream on his foot constantly. He didn’t get any kind of injection, he said.

“Would I have made weight if I didn’t break my foot?” Chiesa said. “Absolutely. The fans are giving me a lot shit for making excuses. That’s just a fact. If I didn’t break my foot and I could run, I would have made weight. It would have been fine. But maybe this is some type of wake-up call.”

When he was on the scale July 6, right after it was announced that he missed weight, Chiesa told those in the room that he was moving up to welterweight. He is still leaning that way, but not admits to being somewhat on the fence.

“Now I’m in this position where the stubborn side of me is like, ‘F*ck that, I’m not leaving this division I’ve been in my entire career on a loss,’” Chiesa said. “And by loss I mean, missing weight.”

Chiesa, 30, remains a highly ranked lightweight and doesn’t want to lose his status in that division. He said he’ll take the summer to decide and will likely fly back from his home in Washington to Las Vegas to talk things over with the staff at the UFC Performance Institute, where he settles in for training camp.

With a weight cut looming during every camp, Chiesa can’t help but wonder if he could put all the technology and capability the UFC PI has to better use if he didn’t have to worry about shedding all those pounds. Chiesa said if he’s eating as perfectly as possible, he still walks around at 180.

“What would it be like to just take advantage of all the resources?” Chiesa said. “Be able to completely nourish the body and not have to worry about hitting a number or caloric deficit. What if I could just focus on fighting? What would that be like? What would it be like to take advantage of all the resources this place has to offer? Because you’re not doing it when you’re cutting weight all the time.”

Chiesa said Leith himself has suggested he goes up to 170. So, he’ll have a decision to make. Chiesa said he’s still in a boot recovering from the broken foot for another few weeks, but he hopes to fight again before the end of the year.

That’s another thing he wants known — he’s not saying in any way that the broken foot cost him against Pettis. Only in the weight cut.

“The foot didn’t affect me in the fight,” Chiesa said. “There’s no excuse for the fight. I got beat by a better guy.”

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