Age 30 was hard on Michael Chiesa.
The professional mixed martial artist and Spokane native was – and still very much is – in optimal fighting shape, but a series of strange events and setbacks had Chiesa feeling uncertain about his place in the Octagon.
Early last year, Chiesa, eager to bounce back from a controversial loss to Kevin Lee at UFC Fight Night 112, was slated to face Anthony Pettis at UFC 223, but the fight was postponed after famed MMA figure Conor McGregor’s violent rampage at the event’s venue.
McGregor tossed a steel dolly through the window of a bus that was ferrying fighters from media interviews to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, injuring Chiesa and ultimately pushing his fight back to July at UFC 226.
Chiesa, who later filed a lawsuit against McGregor seeking damages, weighed in 1 1/2 pounds over the required lightweight standard (156 pounds) and was penalized. He went on to lose to Pettis in the second round via submission.
For the first time in his professional career, he’d lost two fights in succession.
“Missing weight for for the Pettis fight was the most embarrassing thing in my career,” said Chiesa, a Shadle Park graduate with a 15-4 career record. “It was rough on my body and rough on my mind, going almost two years without a win.”
With a typical nonfighting weight of around 200 pounds, the 6-foot-1 Chiesa had put himself through a rigorous training regimen and diet leading up to his previous fights to reach the 155-pound mark, never failing until last summer.
Cheisa was ready for a change, one inspired by a chat with coach John Wood.
“He said, ‘You got to get back to who you were in 2013. The humble, blue-collar guy. Forget about trying to please people who don’t care about you, like your family and the people of Spokane,’ ” Chiesa said.
“I got caught up in the trash-talking of the sport,” he added. “Putting on a show to promote fights. That’s not who I am.”
Shortly after losing to Pettis, Chiesa made the decision to move up a weight class to the welterweight division (170 pounds), a move he deemed scary but necessary.
Chiesa also cut his prominent mullet.
Life has been good for the 31-year-old “Maverick” since.
Chiesa had a sterling welterweight debut in December at UFC 232, submitting Carlos Condit in the second round.
On Saturday night at UFC 239 in Las Vegas, Chiesa will face 37-year-old Diego Sanchez (29-11).
“We righted the ship with that win (against Condit),” Chiesa said. “Right now I feel like my best days are ahead of me. Diego presents a tough challenge, but I feel good.”
Often enjoying summertime in the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene area, Chiesa said he’d like being around lakes and pine trees, but is relishing his opportunity this weekend at T-Mobile Arena.
“Even though I’d like to be lighting off fireworks and drinking light beers back home on the Fourth of July, the real show is going to be on Saturday,” Chiesa said. “I am looking forward to winning this for Spokane.”
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