UFC 239: Michael Chiesa Recalls Lowest Moment, Explains Why He Fought at Lightweight for So Long

Michael Chiesa opened the UFC 239 with one of his finest performances, outgrappling an overmatched legend in Diego Sanchez.

Las Vegas, NV – Michael Chiesa is now completely back on the right track. After two straight losses to Kevin Lee and Anthony Pettis, Chiesa elected for a change of scenery by moving up to welterweight. After a win over Carlos Condit, Chiesa dominated Diego Sanchez at UFC 239 to get to 2-0 at 170.

Through his career, the Washington native has found a second home in Las Vegas, and couldn’t think of a better place to win this fight.

“Last year was so tough for me. Everything with Brooklyn, missed weight cut, losing to [Anthony Pettis], especially losing here. I love Las Vegas. I love fighting here. This is feeling more and more like home. I’ll never leave Spokane, Washington, but I love fighting in Las Vegas. I love the fans, I love the environment. This is just where I enjoy fighting most. So it just feels good to get that one back. A year ago today was the lowest point of my professional career. I can honestly say that that day is long gone. This is the best version of myself and I’m in the right weight class. I’m making the right decisions with my career. It feels really good to be up here talking to you guys. It’s surreal.”

Diego Sanchez is a notoriously tough and durable opponent, regardless of the skill gap present between Chiesa and him. Chiesa was able to experience that toughness first hand, as Sanchez still has not been submitted in 41 career fights despite being in trouble for the great majority of this fight.

“I think the first submission attempt I got a little too ahead of myself. It’s something we went over in the back. The chances of me submitting Diego Sanchez are very slim. Especially with the choke. As you saw, any time I tried to go hooks in and stretch, he just had a good way of just kind of shrinking himself and slipping out. So I really had to ride the wrists really hard. I had one decent kimura attempt. I knew if I was going to submit him it was going to be some sort of two-on-one hammerlock. I didn’t expect to get one like I did against Condit. I knew if I was going to get the finish it was going to be ground-and-pound. Dude, he’s Diego Sanchez, he’s tough as hell.”

Exactly one year ago, Chiesa reached the lowest point in his career as he was submitted by Anthony Pettis. “Maverick” will use that moment as motivation for the rest of his career.

“I remember sitting in the back here at T-Mobile. I remember the fight getting over and going back to the locker room and I was just by myself, nobody there. My team was tied up and I beat everyone to the locker room. There was no other fighters, no other coaches, no commissioners, nobody. I remember going back to that locker room and just sitting. I don’t know how long that was. Could have been one minute, could have been a half hour. I just remember sitting in that locker room all by myself. Everything just piling down on me. Just being like, ‘How did this happen?’ I trained hard, I take my career very seriously. It was a lot for me to overcome and get where I’m at here today. I had to push myself to my absolute limit against Diego Sanchez to get the win. I’m very blessed, I’m very thankful. Looking back at last year, you have to remember days like that, because you just have to remember where you don’t want to be. I will remember that moment for the rest of my life and cling on to it, keep it dear to my heart. Because I know I’ll never let myself get back to that point again. I’m just very blessed to be where I’m at.”

Always seen as a huge lightweight, Chiesa is now at a much more natural weight class and it is paying dividends for his career. He also explained why he stuck around at lightweight for so long.

“It felt really good. The last fight against Carlos Condit, change is very scary for everybody. That’s not just in fighting, but in life. Making changes in your life, it’s a scary thing to do. Not only am I going into foreign territory, having two straight losses – I’ve usually lost one then rebounded with two or three wins. Losing two in a row, I then decided to make that jump up, I didn’t really get to soak it in against Condit. I was very stressed out, I was nervous. Even in the weight cut. I was still expecting it to be as bad as it was against Anthony. Whereas this fight and fight week I was just like, ‘This is cake. I feel good. This is how fighting should feel.’ I can’t believe I spent so much of my career killing myself to make 155. But when you’re in the rankings and you’re a couple wins away from title contention, that’s hard to walk away from. It took two losses in a row to make that decision. Did I want to go that way? Absolutely not. But I made the change, took the leap of faith, now I’m enjoying this more than I ever have. I feel like this extended my fighting career. Before, I didn’t really see myself fighting past 33, 34. Now I’m like, ‘F**k yeah, man. I can fight to 38.’ If I can fight at this weight and feel this good, going through fight weeks with this amount of confidence, yeah, I can do this for a long time.”

Check out the rest of Michael Chiesa’s UFC 239 post-fight scrum above.