Miserable weight cuts a thing of the past for Michael Chiesa

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist
Michael Chiesa aims to be the No. 1 welterweight contender by the end of 2020. (Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

Fighters like Michael Chiesa need to have two sets of clothes: One they wear most of the time and then another they wear after they’ve cut weight.

This was particularly true for Chiesa, who for years fought as a 155-pounder but would weigh more than 200 pounds as his normal walking-around weight.

“Like every fight, after you make weight, you want to go crazy and eat after you’ve gone through a camp where you can’t do that,” Chiesa said. “So I’d eat pizza and wings and beers. The difference was, with me, my body held onto everything I ate.”

At 6-foot-1, he was a lanky, almost skinny lightweight. Without cutting weight, he was basically a heavyweight. He made the cut repeatedly because he thought that was what he was supposed to do, to shrink his body as low as it could possibly go.

What he didn’t think of at the time was the damage he was potentially doing to his body. He’ll fight former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN+) at PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina, in the co-main event of UFC Fight Night 166.

This will be his third fight as a welterweight, after wins over Carlos Condit and Diego Sanchez. Each time, he’s felt better because he hasn’t tortured his body getting to the non-title lightweight limit of 156 pounds.

“Fighting at welterweight, I’m much more active in the gym,” Chiesa said. “I haven’t stayed out of the gym at all since the Diego fight [on July 6 in Las Vegas]. Staying in the gym has kept me improving. I’ve evolved all facets of my game. Before, because of what I was doing to my body, it was a camp-by-camp thing. After a fight, I absolutely couldn’t get back into the gym. Now, I’m more of a year-round fighter.”

He’s also a healthier one. The end came when he was trying to make weight for a bout at UFC 226 in 2018 against Anthony Pettis. Weight cutting is horrible for fighters even in the best of times. But this time was different. Chiesa had often boasted that he would die before missing weight. It’s a phrase that fighters senselessly use as an attempt to show commitment, but let’s be honest: No one wants to die while doing his or her job.

(L-R) Opponents Michael Chiesa and Anthony Pettis face off during the UFC 226 weigh-in inside T-Mobile Arena on July 6, 2018 in Las Vegas. (Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

As Chiesa baked himself to try to wring out the final few pounds, the thought of what he was doing to his body hit him like a Conor McGregor left hook.

“I don’t think people realize what those weight cuts were doing to me,” Chiesa said. “It took so much out of me to make 155. I wish I could put into words what it was like to be able to paint the picture of my weight cuts, but I can’t. All I can say is that every fight week was a complete misery. Now, I’m able to enjoy the process a lot more, and my team is a lot happier. They’re not having to drag me around like a bag of dirty clothes.

“I get a pit in my stomach every time I think of that last attempt to make 155 for the Anthony Pettis fight. I just get this nasty feeling in my stomach, because no exaggeration, that was one of the scariest moments of my life. I remember that I couldn’t stop my body from shaking. These feelings were just horrible. I had always prided myself on being professional. I vowed I wouldn’t miss weight no matter how hard the weight cuts were. I had this mindset as I was doing it, ‘[Expletive] it, I’m just going to die here.’”

And that’s where he was taking himself. Fighters have died while trying to make weight and it’s one of the biggest problems in the sport.

Chiesa, fortunately, caught himself in time.

“I just wasn’t going to miss weight and I’d say to myself, ‘I’ll be the first person to die cutting weight in the UFC, because there is no way I’m ever going to miss,’” Chiesa said. “I really got into that mindset and embraced it and got comfortable with it. Looking back, I realize how foolish I was. To think I was doing that to myself and then thought I’d be able to go out and fight the next day, it gives me shivers right now just thinking of it.”

He’s looked like a different fighter since he moved to 170, and he got a gift when, out of the blue, dos Anjos called him out. Chiesa isn’t ranked while dos Anjos is No. 5. That’s an unusual match to make.

Chiesa and dos Anjos are friendly and there is no beef between them, but Chiesa wants to use a win over dos Anjos as a springboard to a rise up the rankings. He wants to be the No. 1 contender by the end of the year, setting himself up for a 2021 championship bout.

To do that, he must beat dos Anjos, and then said he’ll never fight anyone behind him in the rankings.

“My confidence is at an all-time high because of how I’ve been able to train,” Chiesa said. “When you are a year-round fighter, you are able to do things that you couldn’t even conceive of previously. I’ve dreamed for a long time of being a world champion, and I can see the path now. I’ve competed against the best guys in the world. I’ve won some and I’ve lost some, but I know I have the ability.

“ … I’m a different athlete, a different fighter now and that’s led me to make so many gains. RDA is inarguably the best opponent I’ve faced. He has wins over two guys who beat me, so I know how good he is. I’m not the same guy I was, though. I have massive respect for him, but this is the kind of opponent I want because I want to be able to show how much better I am.”

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