The world isn’t perfect, the world of mixed martial arts perhaps even less so. So while going unbeaten forever would be nice, it’s just not reality, especially in an imperfect world. Just ask Michael Chiesa.
“In a perfect world, we would all go undefeated, and we would all make it to the UFC and win championship belts,” laughs the UFC lightweight, who suffered the first defeat of his professional career in July against Jorge Masvidal. “But that’s not how this works. When you’re in the NFL of fighting, you’re gonna lose some fights. That’s just what happens. And when the dust settled from the Masvidal fight, that’s just what I had to remember, that this is just what happens.”
The loss, Chiesa’s first in ten pro fights, wasn’t one of those setbacks that make you question whether a prospect has what it takes to compete at the UFC level. In Chiesa’s case, it just confirmed that he belongs, as he rocked and almost submitted the veteran from Miami before getting submitted by a D’Arce choke late in the second round. Not that it was easy dealing with the aftermath, especially when you consider that going back to his lengthy amateur career, the Spokane Valley, Washington product hadn’t lost in what probably felt like forever.
“It’s a tough situation for me,” he said. “I had only lost one other fight before that and that was my second amateur fight and I was really inexperienced back then so I didn’t really have a grasp on the sport. And the next thing you know, I won 23 fights in a row going all the way back to my amateur career. So this is new territory for me and it’s tough because on one hand I got what I asked for.”
What he asked for in his first fight in Washington as a UFC fighter was the kind of opponent that would push him further than anyone else had. So when UFC matchmaker Joe Silva presented him with Masvidal, “it just made the hair on the back of my neck stand up,” said Chiesa.
“I thought this is my opportunity to fight a guy that I had been watching before I ever even trained,” he continued. “He’s a ten year veteran. I was watching him back in the day, I was watching his street fights, I was watching him fight Yves Edwards, and I wasn’t even training yet. So I said this is the test I’m looking for, and I got tested, and it’s unfortunate that I came up on the other side of things, but I learned a lot from that fight.”
The biggest lesson was that in a fight, he can’t stop to think.
“This is the UFC, and just because I punch a guy and put him in one of my best submissions, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to go out,” said Chiesa. “Where I fell apart in that fight is that I hit him with some big punches, caught him in a deep submission, and he didn’t go down. And I just started thinking. A fight should be an instinctive thing. When you go out and fight, you shouldn’t have to think; you should be able to act and react. It shouldn’t be ‘oh, what should I do next?’ And that was the first time in my life that I was in a fight, and I just started thinking ‘well, what do I do now?’ So I learned a lot from that fight and I almost need to thank Jorge.”
On Wednesday, he’ll get to show what he’s picked up over the last four months when he meets up with Colton Smith on the UFC Fight For The Troops card at Fort Campbell in Kentucky. It’s a clash of mirror images almost, one that goes beyond both fighters picking up Ultimate Fighter season titles.
“We both won (TUF) with a lot of the same attributes,” he said. “Both of us fought and we’re not the cleanest, most technical guys, but we go out there and we fight with a lot of heart and we lay it all on the line and show a lot of tenacity, and we both have that crazy will to win. We’ll go out there and just go forward and we’ll take shots and try to give shots, and really just go out and try to win at all costs. That’s the one thing that we really share.”
Where the two differ is that while Smith won season 16 of the reality series in the conventional manner of spending six weeks in the competition in Las Vegas, TUF 15’s Chiesa, as part of the only live season in series history, spent 13 weeks locked away from the world, a process made even more difficult by his father’s passing early in the competition.
“I can look back to The Ultimate Fighter and know that there’s no situation that will ever be tougher than that,” he said. “I had wars on that show: in the gym, in the fights, inside my head with everything that was going on with my dad. That experience alone, there is no man that is tougher than having to go through three months dealing with the loss of my dad, being away from my family, and in the house with a bunch of monsters. And I can always look back at that experience and know that I can take it. When I get out there, I’m bred for battle. I’ve been through the fire, and I know I can go out there and be losing two rounds to nothing and still go out there and win because I’ve done it before, and there’s no reason why I can’t do it again.”
Yet at the same time, the 25-year-old wants to make it clear that while it’s always good to heave heart and know that you can push on in situations where others fail, in the UFC, tough ain’t enough.
“I always knew I was a tough guy, but you can’t just have heart and win fights,” he said. “You’ve got to train hard in order to back up that attribute.”
Chiesa’s got all those bases covered. Now all he wants is to get that winning feeling back.
“I’ve always had the hunger, but I’m hungrier now, the fire burns more, and I want to get this win so bad,” he said. “After having so many wins in my life, I feel like I totally forgot what it feels like. I feel like I’ve never won a fight in my life. I’m hungry to go out there and get this win, and I know it’s not gonna be an easy one, but I’ll go through Hell or high water to get it. It’s gonna be a great fight.”
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Michael Chiesa: The Will to Win
"I’ve always had the hunger, but I’m hungrier now, the fire burns more, and I want to get this win so bad." - Michael Chiesa