When Michael Chiesa woke up a little over a week ago and saw that Khamzat Chimaev was out of his scheduled main event matchup with Leon Edwards, he thought his 2021 schedule might begin differently as well.
It turns out that Chimaev’s unfortunate circumstances led to a bigger opportunity for Chiesa as his originally scheduled matchup with Neil Magny will now headline UFC Fight Island 8. The event takes place Jan. 20 in Abu Dhabi and will stream live on ESPN+.
“What a world and what a whirlwind,” Chiesa told MMA Fighting while appearing on What the Heck. “I remember waking up the day the news broke that Khamzat Chimaev was out of the main event. I woke up and saw the news and was like, ‘F*ck, I’m gonna lose the fight.’”
Magny was one of several fighters who volunteered to replace Chimaev, but the UFC matchmakers decided to postpone Edwards’ next appearance for a later date rather than book a new opponent.
At the time, Chiesa hoped for the best, but he wasn’t overly confident that the fight with Magny would be saved. “Maverick” was in the midst of his one of the longest layoffs of his career and wanted to make sure he didn’t jinx anything along the way—which is why, despite confirmation that the fight was set, he didn’t make it public.
Finding out Chimaev was out due to lingering effects of COVID-19 made his day start off lousy, but end tremendously.
“I thought I was gonna lose the fight with Neil,” Chiesa said. “Him and I have been eyeing each other for awhile so instantly I was like, ‘I kind of thought this was gonna happen.’
“That’s why I didn’t announce the fight yet against anybody. As the day went on, it turned out to be a really good day. I thought it was gonna be a crappy day. I’m excited to be in the main event spot against a guy like Neil Magny. It’s gonna be a really fun fight for the fans.”
Since moving up to the welterweight division after a long tenure at 155, Chiesa has won his last three fights. The 33-year-old submitted Carlos Condit in the second round at UFC 232, along with earning unanimous decision wins over veterans Diego Sanchez and Rafael dos Anjos.
While it may seem like Chiesa wasn’t putting out good vibes into the universe ahead of the fight, it turns out that there was a reason behind what he was feeling once he caught wind of the UFC Fight Island 8 main event shakeup.
“I thought that they would give Neil the bump up just because they had him in that spot anyways to fight Khamzat had Leon fallen out, but I knew that could go both ways,” Chiesa said. “I had been kind of warned about that prior to the fight being booked: ‘Hey, it’s gonna be you and Magny, but just so you know, if something happens to Chimaev and Edwards on the Dec. 19 card we’re gonna bump Neil up.’
“We get through the 19th and I thought we were kind of out of the woods, but I still wasn’t convinced. I didn’t announce anything, and I wasn’t going to until this was going to happen for sure. I’m not saying anything, and it very well could change. One of us could pop for COVID, there’s a lot of moving parts. But I was just gonna stay focused, stay training, and hope everything pans out so I can fight Neil.
“I just thought something might happen with the main event, which I was right about. But I was wrong about one thing, I get to keep my Neil Magny fight.”