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 Michael Chiesa battles Sean Brady in a welterweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on November 20, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Athletes

Michael Chiesa Is 'Obsessed' With The Sport Of MMA

At 35, Michael Chiesa's Fire For Competition Burns Brightly Heading Into UFC 291: Poirier vs Gaethje 2

At 35, Michael Chiesa may have figured life out. 

What was once the energetic kid with the wild hair is now a married man, a seasoned professional, and a broadcast analyst drawing rave reviews. But maturity and having the ability to walk away from the sport as an active competitor hasn’t dulled that energy. If anything, as he approaches his UFC 291 bout against Kevin Holland, he’s more obsessed than ever.

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“As crazy as this is to say this, the obsession has never stopped growing,” Chiesa said. “Where I'm at in life, just being able to say I'm a UFC fighter is something that I just always dreamed about as a kid. I was somebody that grew up in a really rough upbringing, being bullied, not being a stellar athlete, but setting my eyes on the UFC for the first time gave me this idea of a way out from all the adversities I was going through in my life. And as I got older, the UFC started to gain more traction. It became more tangible. And you know, fast forward to today, I'm 35 years old, I'm still Top 15, one of the best fighters in the world in my weight class, and my career has grown from being more than a fighter. I'm an analyst, I'm an aspiring commentator, and this has grown to be more than what I thought it potentially could.”

For most, that’s all the more reason to take the foot off the gas a bit. He made it. He came up the hard way, earned his place in the big show, established himself as a top contender, and branched out into something that will carry him forward once he puts the gloves away. But Chiesa has taken a different route. Instead of being complacent and taking some time to smell the roses, he’s hungrier than ever.

Michael Chiesa vs Kevin Holland Preview | UFC 291
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Michael Chiesa vs Kevin Holland Preview | UFC 291
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“I can never get myself to slow down from training,” he admits. “My eyes are still set on the prize. I’m 35 years old, I've had a few shortcomings in these last few fights, but it has not deterred my confidence that I'm one of the best in the world and the goal has remained the same: it's to become world champion. And I thought that it would take getting a world title to get everything else that I have; getting in the mix, getting close to commentary, doing all the analyst work. I thought it would take a world title to get to that, but I'm already here, so I don't have to do this anymore if I didn't want to. If I wanted to call it a career, I've had a great career, but I'm not done yet. I haven't finished what I set out to do and that's to become world champion. So my obsession continues to grow day in and day out. This sport has never stopped growing on me. It would be almost criminal if it did, because this sport has given me everything. It has given me a life that no other avenue I could have taken in life could have given me. This sport has given me everything.”

In Chiesa’s eyes, the way he gives back to that sport is by going all-in during training camp, then leaving it all in the Octagon on fight night. He knows that you can lie to yourself and anyone around you, but you can’t lie to the sport. The truth comes out when the door shuts and it’s just you and your opponent, and that’s the beauty of it. It’s a beauty that the Washington product embraces, and he wants everyone to experience it, as well, so when you see him preparing for Holland, there are some familiar faces from the next generation around him, not just training, but learning.

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“One thing that helps with keeping the fire burning when it comes to this obsession is when I first got in the sport, I was the young guy,” Chiesa said. “I was the young guy, and me and Sam Sicilia were looking up to the guys like Cody Mackenzie and Lyle Beerbohm. And as time has gone on, I've taken that senior role in the gym. And when you’ve got these guys like Brady Hiestand and Chase Hooper making their way up the rankings and they're coming to help you, you see the shades in them that I saw in myself when I was 24 years old, first making my way. It’s something that gives you a lot of gratitude.

"It makes me realize what role I'm in and it keeps me wanting to progress, not only for myself, but I want to keep progressing for them. Because you're always going to look to the people ahead of you and their successes and think, in the best way possible, I can do what they did; I’m with that guy every day, and I have time on my side. So I want to achieve everything and more to blaze a trail for them to walk in. I want to blaze the trail so they can walk my line and be more successful than I am. I want them to have everything I have and more. So having these young guys in the gym, they keep me honest, they keep me sharp and keep me motivated. It definitely helps fuel that obsession that you would think didn't need any more fuel as it burns now.”

Michael Chiesa | Top Finishes
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Michael Chiesa | Top Finishes
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It's as unselfish an approach as you will find in the fight game, or any walk of life, for that matter, but on Saturday night, it will be Chiesa, and Chiesa alone, tasked with turning back the charge of Holland, a tough style matchup for anyone, and a fighter who will look to use Saturday night’s bout as a showcase to propel himself into the Top 15. As for the No.12-ranked “Maverick,” he just wants to return to the win column for the first time since January of 2021 after dropping back-to-back bouts to Vicente Luque and Sean Brady.

Those losses, which snapped a four-fight winning streak, also came in 2021, which means it will be 20 months since his last bout thanks to injuries. He’s stayed busy outside the Octagon, but on Saturday, nothing else matters but the fight.

UFC 291 COUNTDOWN: Full Episode | Poirier vs Gaethje | Błachowicz vs Pereira 

As always.

“I can't speak to where other people's mentalities are when it comes to this sport,” Chiesa said. “I can only speak for myself. It would be very judgmental of me to say nobody is as obsessed with this sport as me. I have no right to say that, but what I can say is, in my mind, I am the most obsessed guy with this sport. This is my life. Every single thing I do in life revolves around this sport. I'm not a fighter that goes home when practice is over and I get to pick up an Xbox controller and play video games. When I get home from practice, I’m right into film study for my next broadcasting show. I'm right into looking at the next LFA card I have to work. I'm right into looking at who they announced for FIGHT PASS Invitational. Every single thing I do every day revolves around this sport and I would not have it any other way.”

Michael Chiesa punches Sean Brady in a welterweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on November 20, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Michael Chiesa punches Sean Brady in a welterweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on November 20, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

He pauses, then chuckles.

“Sometimes you wonder, what happens if Josh Rosenthal stops that fight with me and Justin Lawrence (on TUF 15) when I got dropped with that body shot in round two?” Chiesa asks. “Where would I be in life? Would I be right here talking to you, talking to you about my 11-year UFC career and how I've evolved from being a fighter to an analyst? I don't know. But I do know that I'm very thankful for the way things panned out. I wouldn't change the results of any of my fights.

"As bad as I want to get the losses back, everything panned out for a reason. It led me right here to where I'm at. Every single thing has happened for a reason and I don't need an explanation for what the reason was; I'm just thankful for it. I'm thankful that I'm here. I'm thankful that every single thing I do revolves around the sport that has given me this amazing life.” 

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UFC 291: Poirier vs Gaethje 2 took place live from the Delta Center in Salt Lake City, Utah on July 29, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass