The setback snapped a four-fight win streak that had propelled Chiesa to the brink of welterweight title contention. And three months later, as he begins his climb anew up the 170-pound ranks, Chiesa heads into UFC Vegas 43 acutely aware of how close the margins are between a good and bad night in a sport as unpredictable as mixed martial arts.
“Everything was going great,” Chiesa said Wednesday on The MMA Hour days out from his co-headlining return bout against Sean Brady in Las Vegas. “And just, in the heat of the moment, I got into that position a lot faster than I thought I would, and I just kind of strayed away from what got me into that position [to get that fight], was just kind of dominating fights, taking my time, really working to get these finishes or just dominating guys. And I think that, for me, it was just a mental lapse in the heat of the moment.”
Chiesa nearly had Luque dead to rights when the two squared off back in August. The 33-year-old American took Luque down early in the opening round at UFC 265 and leapt onto a rear-naked choke attempt that appeared to be locked in tight. It was a dramatic scene, however Luque eventually gutted out the submission attempt and snatched his own D’Arce choke in the ensuing scramble, which forced a quick yet frustrated tap from Chiesa.
It’s a sequence that Chiesa replayed in his mind numerous times in the aftermath of the bout, and it’s one that he ultimately puts the blame on himself for forgetting one of the core tenets of the grappling arts: Position over submission, always.
“I just got to his back so fast and just, my mind was like, ‘Go for the finish, go for the finish, put a stamp on this fight.’ And that’s a big gamble when you’re going against the guy as tough as Vicente Luque,” Chiesa said. “We know how durable he is. And I just thought, in the heat of the moment, I had that mental lapse — like, I’m going to be the guy to finish him and solidify my spot. And the gamble almost paid off. We’d be having a different conversation right now if the gamble paid off, which I was very close to cashing out.
“But it didn’t pay off, and that’s something that I have to live with. So now it’s all about the road to get back into that position, and it starts with Sean Brady.”
The loss dropped Chiesa into a tie for the No. 8 welterweight spot on MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings, while Luque currently sits at No. 6.
It also sent Chiesa back to the end of the queue in the division’s title picture, which meant a detour to defend his position against one of the young killers coming up in the lower ranks at 170 pounds. That opponent ended up being Brady, an undefeated 28-year-old who is 4-0 in his four UFC appearances. But Chiesa said he had no qualms about taking a step backward to give a chance to an up-and-comer before returning to his pursuit of gold.
“Look, when you get on a nice little win streak in the UFC, the more fights you win, the more political it gets,” Chiesa said. “And coming up short, I’m not here to lobby for different matchups or say yes to this guy, say no to that guy. I’ve never said no to a fight in my entire nine-year tenure with UFC. When they call, I say yes. So when they called with Sean Brady, there was no hesitation to fight this guy. And the good thing is, being in the position I’m in with what I’m doing outside of the octagon, all the analyst work and stuff, I already have the drop on him.
“I already have the notes on him in my phone from when I was studying his fights for the desk show. So I knew what I was getting into and I know what I’m getting into on Saturday, so I’m really excited for this matchup. There was no hesitation to take this fight. I want to test myself against a guy like Sean Brady, especially after how things went in my last fight. I got submitted. I’m a submission specialist. I’ve got to go out there and right that wrong. And I feel like I can do that by going out and fighting a guy like Sean Brady.”
Chiesa said Wednesday that he still feels like an up-and-comer who has something to prove despite approaching the 10-year anniversary of his underdog run on TUF 15. He knows if he had slowed himself down at UFC 265 and stayed patient against Luque, he very well could’ve been one fight away from challenging for the welterweight title against UFC champion and No. 1 ranked pound-for-pound fighter Kamaru Usman.
That knowledge has kept his self-belief high heading into UFC Vegas 43 despite the disappointing hole he now finds himself working to climb out of, because he’s also well aware that memories are short in MMA, and it only takes one spectacular performance to get that championship momentum back on his side.
“My confidence is still running high,” Chiesa said. “If I felt different because I’m riding into this fight week on a loss, that’d mean that there’s a fracture in my confidence. And I’m as confident as I was headed into the Luque fight, as confident as I was headed to the Neil Magny fight. My confidence is at an all-time high.
“And I’m glad to be fighting at the Apex. I haven’t gotten to fight at the Apex yet. So I feel like this year, all three of my fights have been across all three landscapes you could possibly compete in. I got a fight in Abu Dhabi, I got a fight in a packed arena in Houston, now back at the Apex. And I look at the Apex like the TUF gym, like I’m going back to my roots. I’m going back to my roots when I put together that run in 2012 on The Ultimate Fighter. I’m going back to the small show, small cage, small crowd. But big fight feels.”