Taking main event honours on short-notice, it’s certainly a deserved platform for both welterweight contenders, Michael ‘The Maverick’ Chiesa, and ‘The Haitian Sensation’ Neil Magny to showcase their expertise — in a pairing that could offer a change of the division guard.
Promoted to the headlining tilt of UFC Fight Island 8 in Abu Dhabi, UAE — Chiesa and Magny move into the spotlight in place of another failed bout of Leon ‘Rocky’ Edwards and Khamzat ‘Borz’ Chimaev.
In a matchup which may have been overshadowed by both Edwards and Chimaev’s presence, Chiesa and Magny’s move to the curtain closer gives them an opportunity to announce themselves to the division’s upper-echelon.
With champion, Kamaru ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ Usman already slated to defend his gold at UFC 258 against Gilbert ‘Durinho’ Burns in February, an eye-catching performance from either Chiesa or Magny could propel them to a title opportunity for themselves via another victory over a top-five ranked contender next.
Simply steller since his move to 170-pounds, The Ultimate Fighter 15 winner, Chiesa has won three on the trot, dispatching three future Hall of Fame inductee shoo-ins. Clashing with former WEC and interim UFC welterweight titleholder, ‘The Natural Born Killer’ Carlos Condit on his division arrival, Chiesa notched his eleventh career submission via a second-round kimura — snapping a two-fight skid. Pitted against one time lightweight title challenger, Diego ‘The Nightmare’ Sanchez, Chiesa scored a unanimous judging victory over the veteran in a standout performance.
Featuring in the co-main event of UFC Fight Night Raleigh in January of last year, Chiesa met with common-foe, former lightweight pacesetter, Rafael dos Anjos in arguably his most high-profile Octagon outing.
Utilising his overall grappling game, the Aurora native scored six successful takedowns against the Niterol native from eight attempted shots. Tying current undisputed lightweight champion, Khabib ‘The Eagle’ Nurmagomedov for successful shots, only former interim titleholder, Colby ‘Chaos’ Covington, and the aforenoted, Usman managed more takedowns against dos Anjos, with seven and a stunning twelve, respectively. A potential route to success for Chiesa on Wednesday.
For Chiesa, he can share some comfort in the fact that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu icon, Demian Maia managed to score two successful takedowns on Magny before eventually submitting the Denver native.
Even with dos Anjos, the Brazilian found his eventual arm-triangle win over Magny via a stiff calf kick which knocked the latter off balance. Initially assuming side-control, dos Anjos was forced to settle for half-guard before a dry Magny gave up three-quarter mount. Softening Magny up with a couple of ground strikes, dos Anjos, who’s got a squeeze to him, was gifted the arm-triangle as Magny elected to power out instead of using his technique. While Chiesa isn’t as heavy with top-pressure as dos Anjos, I’d pick the former to seize upon a mistake from Magny if presented the opportunity.
Against the aforenoted, Condit, what really stood out to me during the first round especially was Chiesa’s ability to control the former champion both in the clinch and from top-position. Stature-wise, Chiesa matched up with Condit and completely dominated the strength and technique side of the equation on his way to the submission win.
Historically, Magny has struggled with proficient grapplers in the past, and that’s exactly what Chiesa is. From his seven career losses, Magny has dropped four submission defeats, which is obviously a cause of concern when faced with James Weed purple belt, Chiesa.
Where Magny can prevail however is in the striking exchanges. A decent counter striker with good distance management, Magny successfully stifled the power shots that former champion ‘Ruthless’ Robbie Lawler approaches with, however, clinching with Chiesa is more often than not going to prove a non-runner.
A distinct advantage for Magny in this one is his striking proficiency. Compared to Chiesa, he’s got a far higher technical understanding, often sticking behind a severely lengthy jab and using every inch of his incredibly long welterweight frame.
A tactical approach for Magny would see him keep as much space between himself and Chiesa as physically possible, utilising his jab to avoid the often bodylock approach to clinch work from the latter.
Ultimately, this one likely boils down Chiesa’s ability to efficiently close down Magny and create clinch openings in the hope of finding a series of takedowns. I’m picking Chiesa to do just that on his way to his fourth welterweight victory successively, on route to a matchup with someone ranked higher than him next time out, rather than looking downward.