Michael Chisea is not only healthier fighting at welterweight, but he’s also much happier.
The former Ultimate Fighter winner will get his chance to dive into the deep end of the 170-pound weight class this weekend when he faces Rafael dos Anjos in the co-main event from Raleigh, N.C.
A win would likely put Chiesa within striking distance of a title shot considering dos Anjos’ resume in the division where he’s already defeated former champions like Robbie Lawler while going five rounds with current welterweight king Kamaru Usman and former interim title holder Colby Covington.
“Given that a lot of guys have moved on to fight for the title after beating him, that will be tough for me to do but it’s very attainable,” Chiesa explained when speaking to MMA Fighting. “I put the pressure on myself. Whenever I get matched up with a guy, I always look at who beat him and I’ve got to be better than those guys. I’ve got to do better than those guys to get farther than where they are.
“I believe I have the tools to finish RDA. I’m going to have to go through hell. I’m going to have to walk through fire, but I’ve proven I’m gritty enough to get that done. If I go out there and do it better than those guys, I can take his spot in the top five and I could be gunning for a title by the end of the year. I’m not looking past him but godd*mmit, that thought drives me right there.”
Perhaps the best part of that scenario is Chiesa knowing that winning on Saturday night along with one more victory against a top-five ranked opponent will almost assuredly secure his first shot at UFC gold.
That’s a stark contrast from when he was competing at lightweight where he never felt like there was a guaranteed way to earn a title fight opportunity.
“The thing that differentiates it from lightweight to welterweight is just a much clearer path to the title,” Chiesa said.
“We had the true interim champ versus welterweight champ fight, we got that out of the way. There’s one title out there. You’ve got a guy like Usman, he’s going to fight whenever the UFC wants him to step up, he’s going to do it. That’s motivating. I always feel for a guy like Tony [Ferguson] when you look at how many fights he won and he’s now finally getting [his shot] — now granted there were a lot of injuries, the vaunted cursed matchup with Khabib but it was still muddy waters for a long time for him and he was still winning fights.”
Ferguson has won 12 fights in a row and while he has been matched up in title fights in the past, a bizarre set of circumstances have still prevented him from ever getting a shot at the undisputed belt.
The most egregious case of Ferguson being passed over, however, came in 2018 when he suffered a knee injury that knocked him out of a fight with Nurmagomedov but then made a miraculous recovery after surgery to get ready to compete again six months later.
Unfortunately by that time, Conor McGregor decided he was ready to return so he got the title shot against Nurmagomedov while Ferguson ended up competing on the same card against Anthony Pettis instead.
Looking at the current state of the 155-pound division, Chiesa sees the same problems exist as when he was fighting there, which is another reason why he’s in a much better spot at welterweight.
“Look at poor Justin Gaethje. This Ferguson-Khabib fight has to happen but by the sounds of it when their fight gets done, who knows if he’ll even get a title shot and he’s in the top three. It feels good knowing the fruits of your labor really pay off in this weight class,” Chiesa said.
“170 is not a popularity contest. 170 is a working man’s weight class where you work hard, you get your rewards whereas at lightweight, it wasn’t the same. You could work as hard as you want, win as many fights as you want, and there’s no promise what you’re going to get out of it.”
All signs are currently pointing to Usman defending his title against Jorge Masvidal later this year with Leon Edwards about to battle former champion Tyron Woodley in March in a potential No. 1 contender’s fight.
Chiesa truly believes a win over dos Anjos will put him into a position where he could face one more top-five ranked opponent in 2020 and then move onto the championship.
That’s not something he could ever say with such clarity when competing at lightweight.
“I feel like this is the weight class where you beat a guy ahead of you, you take his spot. You keep working your way up the ladder and you’ll get a title shot,” Chiesa said. “At lightweight, that’s not the same. You could all the way up to No. 1, but if Conor comes back and decides he wants to fight for the title, he’s going to jump ahead of everybody.
“I really feel like I beat him, I’m not worried about getting leap frogged by a guy with more clout, with more of a following or more popularity. I feel like the better fighter is going to get the title shot at 170.”