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Michael Chiesa expects barnburner against 'highly underrated' Neil Magny

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
·5-min read

Neil Magny is a nightmare matchup for most UFC welterweights. He’s 6-foot-3 and has an 80-inch reach, which gives him the kind of advantage in the 170-pound division that long-time champion Jon Jones enjoyed over his peers at light heavyweight.

Michael Chiesa, who will fight Magny at Etihad Arena in the main event of a UFC Fight Night card on Wednesday (noon ET, ESPN+), shrugs it off.

Chiesa, who normally has height and reach advantages on most of his opponents, gives two inches in height and five inches of reach to Magny. Chiesa, though, believes it’s not an issue.

“It’s a problem if you let it be,” Chiesa said. “But it’s something you have to take care of during your preparation. The important thing is finding a good, skilled sparring partner, and there aren’t a lot of skilled guys who are 6-3 with an 80-inch reach like Neil. But I feel like I was able to get the work done that I needed to and I’m ready for anything Neil may try.”

Magny evolved after Maia fed him ‘humble pie’

Magny is one of the division’s most underrated fighters, in large part he says, because he lost at the wrong time. Two defeats in particular, to Demian Maia in 2015 and to Santiago Ponzinibbio in 2018, gnaw at him.

He’d won seven in a row going into the Maia fight and instead of providing him confidence, it made him cocky. He didn’t, he said, prepare the way he should have done.

“At the time, I was 27 years old fighting a 37-year-old and I was on a seven-fight win streak and I was like, ‘Dude, I got this in the bag. I’m going to go out there and smoke this old dude,’ ” Magny said. “It didn’t play out that way at all; I went out there and got schooled. It definitely gave me a piece of humble pie and it forced me to go back to the drawing board, so to speak. I needed to work on a few things, but I definitely feel like those losses were more mental than physical. They are lessons I needed to learn.”

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - AUGUST 29: In this handout image provided by UFC, (R-L) Neil Magny punches Robbie Lawler in their welterweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on August 29, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Neil Magny's reach causes lots of problems for his opponents. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Magny learned whatever he needed to learn and he enters the bout with Chiesa on a three-fight winning streak. His last outing was a dominant win over Robbie Lawler, one of three victories over former UFC champions on his record. He also has defeated Carlos Condit and Johny Hendricks.

None of it will matter much, though, if he doesn’t get past Chiesa, who has been dominant since moving to welterweight.

Magny said he was almost shocked into compliance when, on vacation in California, he wandered into Liam McGeary’s gym before McGeary was to fight Phil Davis in Bellator.

“One of the coaches pulled me aside and said, ‘I’ve seen you fight a few times,’ ” Magny said. “I’m like, ‘Yeah,’ and then he said, ‘You know, sometimes I see you and I think you are a world champion. And then other times, I say, Who the hell is this guy?’ ”

Magny was shocked at first, but it dawned on him quickly: The coach wasn’t wrong.

“When you look at things and you know that you look like a champion on one night and then on other nights you look like a guy who can’t fight his way out of a paper bag, it’s pretty obvious that there is only one person to blame and that’s yourself,” Magny said. “I believe it’s really my mental approach that caused that, so a lot of the work from then to now is how to get that consistency so the same guy shows up every time.”

RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA - JANUARY 25:  Michael Chiesa celebrates after his decision victory over Rafael Dos Anjos of Brazil in their welterweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at PNC Arena on January 25, 2020 in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Michael Chiesa (17-4) is 3-0 since moving up to the welterweight division in December 2018. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Chiesa’s added perspective

Chiesa has been an underdog for much of his career, and he’s always known he had to be ready to bring it to be able to compete.

He’s looked like a title contender since arriving at welterweight when it became clear he’d long since outgrown the lightweight division. He’s also added something to his repertoire since becoming a welterweight that he said has helped.

He’s now working television broadcasts as an analyst, which is something he wants to pursue, and he said it gives him a perspective on the game that helps.

“I love this sport so much, I’m MMA 24-7-365,” he said. “I told [UFC broadcaster] Jon Anik a while ago that my goal is to be involved in this sport not only as a fighter, but as a guy behind the desk, calling fights and doing everything in this business. This is my life’s work.

“I’ve always been good at breaking guys down when I watched, but it was always in relation to how I thought I would do against them. But now, I look at guys fighting and I see tendencies and tactics and it helps me see things to prepare myself for my own fights.”

Chiesa called Magny “highly underrated” and said the bout is the toughest of his career.

He said he expects to be worthy of its billing.

“There is a lot at stake and you have two guys who need this win and who are ready to sacrifice pretty much anything to get it,” Chiesa said. “This is one of those fights I think you’ll see people talking about for a while. It’s going to be that kind of a fight.”

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