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Michael Chiesa already staked his claim as an elite welterweight in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The question now becomes whether or not he can continue his ascent.
“Maverick” will confront Cerrado MMA export Vicente Luque in a pivotal UFC 265 showcase this Saturday at the Toyota Center in Houston, where another victory—particularly a decisive one—could put him in position for a title eliminator at 170 pounds. Chiesa, 33, has rattled off four straight wins since he decided to forego hellacious weight cuts and moved to the welterweight division in 2018. He last appeared in the UFC on ESPN 20 main event, where he took a five-round unanimous decision from Neil Magny on Jan. 20.
As Chiesa makes final preparations for his battle with the surging Luque, a look at a few of the rivalries that have helped shape his career to this point:
Chiesa put the Serra-Longo Fight Team standout to sleep with a rear-naked choke to win Season 15 of “The Ultimate Fighter” on June 1, 2012 at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas. Iaquinta refused to surrender and instead lost consciousness 2:47 into the first round of their brief encounter, which served as “The Ultimate Fighter 15” Finale co-main event. “Raging Al” had his counterpart on the run with power punches but strayed too close to Chiesa and left himself exposed. From there, Iaquinta’s situation took a turn for the worse. Chiesa cinched a body lock, tripped the former Ring of Combat champion to the floor from behind and hooked himself into position. He then calmly hunted the choke, cracked Iaquinta’s code and let his squeeze do the rest.
American Top Team’s Masvidal coaxed a tapout from the previously unbeaten Chiesa with a brabo choke in the second round of their UFC on Fox 8 prelim on July 27, 2013 at KeyArena in Seattle. “Gamebred” brought it to a close 4:59 into Round 2, beating the buzzer by one second. Chiesa had his chance but failed to capitalize. “The Ultimate Fighter 15” winner staggered Masvidal with a sneaky left hand and threatened him with a modified guillotine choke. Drawing upon his considerable experience, the Miami native stayed composed, freed himself from Chiesa’s clutches and returned to his feet to regroup. Masvidal settled into top position after an ill-advised kick attempt from his fading opponent in the second round. He then passed to side control, softened Chiesa with heavy ground-and-pound and cinched the choke. “Maverick” tried desperately to escape but conceded defeat with one tick left on the clock in the middle stanza.
“The Motown Phenom” was awarded a submission after sinking a rear-naked choke on Chiesa in the first round of their UFC Fight Night 112 headliner on June 25, 2017 at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City. Referee Mario Yamasaki called for the stoppage 4:37 into Round 1, touching off controversy in the process. Chiesa neither tapped to the choke nor lost consciousness, and he protested the decision immediately. His pleas fell on deaf ears. The conclusion notwithstanding, Lee appeared to be ticketed for a clean victory in what was a dominant performance. He struck for a takedown inside the first 90 seconds, advanced to the back and secured his position with a body triangle before applying heavy ground-and-pound. Lee latched the choke into place after an extended struggle, resulting in the contentious finish.
Chiesa signaled his arrival as a serious welterweight contender when he laid claim to a unanimous decision over the respected Brazilian in the UFC Fight Night 166 co-feature on Jan. 25, 2020 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina. Scores were 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28, all for “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 15 winner. Dos Anjos spun his wheels, and outside of several kicks to the Sikjitsu star’s lower leg, he did little to leave his mark on the fight. Chiesa was relentless in his pursuit of the clinch, executed well-timed takedowns in all three rounds, applied maximum pressure from top position and avoided a few submission attempts—none of them were close to being completed—from the longtime Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and former UFC lightweight champion.
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