In a coastal, picturesque United Arab Emirates city with its share of perks, main cards at UFC Fight Island 8 get a few more.
When Spokane native Michael Chiesa checked into his upscale Abu Dhabi hotel last week, he was welcomed with a chocolate figurine of himself in an octagon against fellow welterweight Neil Magny.
The Shadle Park graduate hopes the real fight – the headliner at UFC Fight Island 8 on Wednesday on ESPN – is even sweeter.
His first fight in a year, the eighth-ranked Chiesa (17-4) takes on ninth-ranked Magny (24-8) in a five-round fight Chiesa dubbed “the biggest fight of my life.”
“It would be criminal for the winner (of this fight) to not be in the top five,” said Chiesa, who trains with the Spokane-based team Sik-Jitsu.
Chiesa vs. Magny was initially slated to be an undercard fight beneath third-ranked welterweight Leon Edwards and No. 15 Khamzat Chimaev, but Chimaev still exhibited COVID-19 symptoms, prompting the change.
Chiesa, 33, looks to take advantage of the promotion, his first maincard since 2017’s UFC Fight 112 in Oklahoma City.
“I have a lot of tools in my arsenal,” Chiesa said. “It’s all about staying focused and executing. It won’t be pretty, but I’ll get the job done.
“It’s hard to look good against a guy like Neil Magny. He’s super tough, super durable, well-rounded. You can’t expect to have a highlight reel performance against a guy as skilled as he is.
“I’m prepared to walk through the fire.”
Since making the switch from lightweight to welterweight in 2018, Chiesa has rattled off three straight wins, including a unanimous decision over former champion Rafael dos Anjos on Jan. 25, his previous fight.
Chiesa planned on fighting more in 2020, but knee surgery and the coronavirus pandemic put him in limbo.
He found refuge behind the microphone doing UFC analysis and helping train Spokane native and Sik-Jitsu member Juliana Pena, who also fought on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi in October in UFC 16 on ESPN.
“The pandemic hits, I have surgery. I was at a standstill,” Chiesa said. “I wasn’t frustrated, but I was sad and in a rut. I was starting to feel like the sport was starting to pass me by a bit, and was having these weird thoughts.
“But everyone was having weird thoughts during the pandemic. You’re stuck at home, can’t do your job.”
UFC President Dana White expects a great bout.
“Magny, in my opinion, never gets the credit that he deserves,” White told MMA Junkie. “This guy has fought everybody. He’s willing to fight anybody, anywhere, anytime. You have to love guys like that. I’m actually happy for him to be getting a main event slot.
“Chiesa is a stud and has been around for a long time, too. This is a much-deserved fight. (It was) not the one we had planned to be there, but (it’s) great for both of these guys.”
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