Michael Chiesa is no longer a stranger when it comes to competing in main events on Fight Island.
“Maverick” earned a dominant unanimous decision win over Neil Magny at UFC Fight Island 8, the second of three main events during the promotion’s trip to Abu Dhabi to kick off 2021.
The final headliner of the excursion takes place Saturday night in the main event of UFC 257 with the highly anticipated rematch between Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor.
Their first meeting took place more than six years ago at UFC 178 where McGregor put Poirier away in the first round in a featherweight grudge match. Clearly, the mutual respect between the two has grown leaps and bounds since the first meeting.
After 15 months away following his UFC 229 loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov, McGregor returned to action with a 40-second finish of Donald Cerrone nearly a year ago at UFC 246. Poirier also bounced back from a submission loss to Nurmagomedov with a win over Dan Hooker in the “Fight of the Night” of UFC Vegas 4 in June.
While the narrative heading in leans towards the improvements Poirier has made since their first meeting, Chiesa is quick to acknowledge that the former two-division champion will enter the octagon on Saturday a more evolved fight in his own right.
“One thing Conor has shown time and time again is this guy, with his time off, is going to show improvements,” Chiesa told MMA Fighting while appearing on What the Heck prior to his win over Magny. “We saw them when he fought ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone. He came out with these shoulder strikes, he put a big stamp on that main event, finished an ultra tough Cerrone.
“Dustin is a guy who has shown new wrinkles in his game through his performances. He’s been a little more active than Conor and I think the move to 155 pounds has been good for his chin. Everybody wants to go back to that first fight saying that he got slept really fast and that’s gonna haunt him in his sleep, and it’s gonna come back to bite him in the butt in this fight. I just don’t know if I truly believe that.”
Another big narrative being tossed around in the MMA sphere is that the longevity of the matchup favors Poirier. McGregor’s head coach John Kavanagh said during his media day this week that he believes that line of thinking won’t play a factor in the fight—even alluding to it as “false hope” for Poirier.
While anything can certainly happen in a fight, Chiesa feels there is some semblance of truth to that narrative.
“Conor is one of the best fighters we’ve ever seen inside the octagon—arguably the best,” Chiesa said. “This guy is versatile, he’s got underrated ground skills. If you go back and watch his fight with Khabib, he was able to defend takedowns. He was able to get back to his feet. He was able to do a lot of the things that Dustin couldn’t. But this fight isn’t going to take place on the ground. These guys are gonna fight on the feet.
“Dustin has shown a lot of new wrinkles on the feet, in his boxing game. He’s shown that his chin is not compromised, that he can take a shot and I think that his activity could benefit him in this fight. And I think the longer the fight goes, the more it’s gonna benefit Dustin.”
When the betting lines opened, McGregor was nearly a 2-1 favorite. As the fighters get closer and closer to making the walk to the octagon, McGregor has become an even bigger favorite, even as high as a 3-1.
Chiesa, who also serves as an analyst on frequent UFC broadcasts, is leaning towards Poirier to weather the early storm. But if there’s a finish to be had, he believes it will come from “The Notorious.”
“If the fight is finished, it’s gonna be a Conor McGregor knockout,” Chiesa stated. “If this fight goes the distance, I believe Dustin Poirier gets his hand raised. With that being said, I believe Dustin has what it takes to avoid the early onslaught from Conor and take this fight into the deeper waters to win a decision.
“No matter what, I think this fight is going to be absolutely insane. Irregardless, it’s either gonna be a knockout of the year performance from Conor, or it’s gonna be a five-round fight of the year between Conor and Poirier. I just think if the fight goes the distance, it favors Dustin more.”