Michael Chiesa has an interesting task ahead of him.
The newly minted welterweight has been commissioned to fight Diego Sanchez in the opening act of Saturday’s UFC 239 pay-per-view card in Las Vegas. Chiesa will be looking to follow up on his submission win of Carlos Condit late last year, which marked the beginning of his journey at 170-pounds while the farewell to his 10-year run at lightweight.
But to build a win streak at welterweight, Chiesa will have to put an end to another. His opponent, Sanchez, who turns 38 in December, is on the cusp of yet another career reinvention. The season one winner of The Ultimate Fighter has stringed together two impressive wins over young talents Craig White and Mickey Gall in his most recent move back to 170-pounds.
Chiesa is well aware of Sanchez’s sneaky run and understands a win over him is at the highest value it’s been in recent years.
“I have another tough veteran, a guy who’s a legend in the sport and who’s coming off two straight wins where he really put it on those guys and they were pretty big welterweights,” Chiesa told MMA Fighting in a recent interview.
“I pay attention to the guy, I follow him on social media and he’s a guy that shows up on fight night like 175 pounds, and yet, he’s been manhandling all these big guys. I expect a strong, game opponent. The word on the street is that crazy Diego is back, so I’ve trained myself to deal with the crazy and I’ll be ready for whatever version of Diego shows up.
“If you win one fight in the UFC, you’re good. If you win two in a row, you’re great. So when you’re 37 years old and you’ve had a 14 year career in the UFC – his career in the UFC is longer than what I’ve been competing in MMA. I’ve been doing MMA for 11 years and he’s been in the UFC for longer than what I’ve been doing this for. So to still be relevant, to still be putting win streaks together, this is the time to fight him.
“It shows he’s got a lot left in the tank and I’ve been hearing he’s back to old Diego in the gym and back to his crazy ways. He’s looking really good. I always want to fight guys that want to test me. I want to see where I stand in this sport, I want to find out where my limits are, and this is the right fight for me right now.”
Preparing for Sanchez is a tricky order given the Burqueño’s unmatched pace, pressure, heart and vast experience. Chiesa had to put himself in harsh situations, something he doesn’t believe Sanchez’s previous foes did in preparation.
“It’s obviously pushing the cardio through my strength and conditioning, but that’s also in my live rounds, having guys switch on me half way through a round and getting guys start while I’m in bad positions, while they’re fresh and I’m tired, just really putting myself in a lot of bad positions.
“I don’t expect to be in a lot of bad situations this fight, but I have prepared for them, that’s where I think guys go wrong with Diego. They don’t put themselves in those bad situations in training camp, and when they get in them in the fight, then they’re surprised. You watch how he fought Craig White, you watch how he fought Mickey Gall, he just mauled them on top. So I think a lot of it it’s just preparing to be put in a lot of bad situations and forced to fight out of them time and time again.
“Through my strength and conditioning, I was pushed really hard. To say it lightly, I had to go to some pretty dark places to push my mind and body to get to where it needs to be to fight this guy. I trained expecting the Diego Sanchez I saw in the Clay Guida fight. I trained for the Diego that’s getting inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame this weekend.”
Remarkably, Sanchez, who’s been in the fight game on a professional level since 2002, has never been submitted in his historic career. It’s a code no one has been able to crack in the Octagon, not even skilled grapplers such as: Nick Diaz, Jorge Santiago, Kenny Florian, Jim Miller, Marcin Held and the list goes on.
However, Chiesa wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the one that finally catches ‘The Nightmare.’
“I am looking to make history,” Chiesa said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if I did submit him and that’s not me discrediting him or talking shit or anything like that. I’ve submitted guys for the first time in their career before.
“I was the first guy to submit Beneil Dariush, I was the first guy to submit or one of the few guys to submit Carlos [Condit], I know ‘Cowboy’ Oliveira did but I’m one of the few that did it as well, you know. I was the second guy to submit Jim Miller, so I’m up there in catching guys that have been deemed uncatchable. I’m not saying that as a shot at him, I’m just saying that if I do catch him in a submission, it’s not meaning to make history by submitting Diego Sanchez, that’s just standard protocol, you just kind of have to expect that.”