UFC Fight Island 8: Chiesa and Magny Jockey for Divisional Position

Neil Magny and Michael Chiesa, UFC Fight Island 8
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JANUARY 19: (L-R) Opponents Michael Chiesa and Neil Magny face off during the UFC weigh-in at Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 19, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

A welterweight clash is on deck for Wednesday as Michael Chiesa looks to continue his climb up the ranks as he takes on perennial contender Neil Magny at UFC Fight Island 8.

Michael “The Maverick” Chiesa is at a precarious tipping point.  On the one hand, he is arguably on the best win-streak of his UFC run after putting together three straight victories that includes two opponents who have held championship gold in Carlos Condit and Rafael dos Anjos.  His personal brand has never been bigger, being a ranked contender with a burgeoning broadcast career as an analyst on ESPN.  A win on Saturday would put him at 4-0 with an opportunity to leap into the upper-echelon where names such as Jorge Masvidal, Colby Covington, and Stephen Thompson are all looking to get back to title contention.

On the other hand, he has not fought for exactly one year by his own decision.  In the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, Chiesa elected not to compete out of concern for the health and safety of those around him.  Surgery followed.  The result, however, is that the welterweight division has built up a logjam ahead of him in his absence.  There are more than a handful of fighters as of this writing who are all ahead of him in the title picture.  A successful return could see him in the conversation in 2021.  A loss after a year away would see him become an afterthought over the fighters who have been active and at the forefront in his absence.

Not since Michael Bisping has there been a more perennial contender in mixed martial arts than Neil Magny.  With 17 victories in the UFC, he is just two short of the welterweight record set by pound-for-pound legend Georges St-Pierre.  And yet, the story of Magny’s UFC career is defined by a consistent performances that have yet to turn into a bid at a world title or even a title eliminator.  At age 33, he is in the rare window where years of experience converge with an athlete’s speed and reflexes still at their peak.  At a time when the division is bottlenecked with contenders battling for position, it would appear that the time is now for Magny to finally have his breakthrough.

He has been in this position before, having a 10-1 stretch that saw him emerge as a contender in 2016.  While he struggled to get that signature victory that put him into the upper-echelon of the division, he nonetheless continued to impress with one of the busiest schedules in the promotion.  Going into Wednesday, Magny is on a 3-0 run that has seen him turn back contenders like Li Jingliang and former champion Robbie Lawler.  At a time when Stephen Thompson, Leon Edwards, and Khamzat Chimaev are all looking to get a shot at the title, a win for Magny could finally book him that elusive title eliminator.

Stylistically, the height and athleticism of Magny will have to contend with the durability and grappling of Chiesa.  “The Maverick” does his best work when he is able to tie up his opponents against the fence and use his wrestling to smother foes as he works for submissions.  Against a tall opponent like Magny, it is expected that Chiesa will look to keep as little space as possible to implement his game plan.  For Magny, footwork and takedown defense will be crucial as he will want to keep the fight standing and avoid being a stationary target for Chiesa to attempt a takedown.  His best work comes when he is able to keep the fight at midrange and open up with his striking and he figures to be able to pick apart Chiesa if he can maintain his distance.

Surveying the welterweight division, the title will be contested on February 13 as champion Kamaru Usman meets Gilbert Burns.  Top-ranked contender Leon Edwards and rising star Khamzat Chimaev are expected to meet a month later with the winner being the most likely choice to fight for the title afterward.  The winner between Chiesa and Magny could see a fight with former title challenger Stephen Thompson later in the year or possibly the Edwards-Chimaev winner should the UFC choose to go in another direction for the belt after February.