Wednesday’s Main Event will feature two experienced, top-ten welterweights, each riding a three-fight winning streak.
Michael Chiesa’s last five fights include decision wins over Rafael Dos Anjos and Diego Sanchez, a submission win over Carlos Condit, and submission losses to Kevin Lee and Anthony Pettis. The Dos Anjos win was Chiesa’s only fight of 2020.
Neil Magny has won four of his last five, losing only to Santiago Ponzinibbio by knockout over that stretch. His last five include decision wins over Robbie Lawler, Anthony Rocco Martin and Jingliang Li, as well as a knockout of Craig White.
This fight is a clear clash of styles. While Chiesa, a Brazilian jiu jitsu purple belt with excellent wrestling skills and 11 career wins by submission will likely look to get the fight to the ground, Magny will look to take advantage of his 4.5” reach advantage and keep the fight standing.
What we’re seeing from Magny at this point in his career is an evolution of the way he fights. Known earlier in his career as a knockout artist, Magny has spoken recently about leaving himself open less often and taking smarter chances. His last three victories have come by decision and he managed all three fights very well.
Magny is a long kick boxer with great power and timing. He does well in the clinch because of his height. He’s a precision striker with solid boxing combinations and punch-kick combinations. He works low kicks and body blows.
In his last three fights, Magny has shown a progression in poise and fight IQ. He’s been at his best mixing up his striking to the head body and legs, and collaring into the clinch and landing body shots. He has some strong clinch throws and can hold his own on the ground. His top game is solid, but takedowns will not be an option for Magny in this fight. Chiesa is more confident and skilled on the ground and this matchup becomes dangerous for Magny if the fight takes place on the canvas.
Overall, opponents have had a lot more to worry about against Magny as of late than ever before. The most impressive thing about his recent rights has been the establishment of his jab. He has always fought behind it but, as of late, he has looked like a villain on Scooby Doo holding Scrappy away by his forehead. The man has an 80-inch reach and if he doesn’t want you penetrating it, it’s not happening. When Magny is first to the punch, he dominates the exchanges and his striking speed is superior to that of Chiesa at this point in each of their careers.
Chiesa will be competing in just the fourth welterweight fight of his career, after losing his last two lightweight fights by submission and missing weight for his last lightweight fight against Anthony Pettis by 1.5 lbs. Chiesa found plenty of success at lightweight, winning five fights en route to becoming the TUF 15 champion. Chiesa was enormous for that weight class and is still a large fighter at 170.
The easier weight cut has done well for Chiesa, as he’s 3-0 at welterweight against some impressive competition. He has one of the more impressive MMA skillsets in this division, in the sense that he blends his disciplines very well. He isn’t an elite kick boxer, jiu jitsu player or wrestler, but he is strong in each of these disciplines and uses each to keep pressure on his opponents.
When Chiesa is at his best, he’s landing jabs to lead basic combinations, before pressing his opponents into the fence. There, he transitions from double leg and body lock trip attempts to elbows, knees and fists in the clinch. He is eventually looking to get his fights to the canvas, but a lot of his best work is done in the clinch. He is a nightmare to have on your back, looking for his signature rear naked choke while softening opponents with elbows a hammer fists.
Chiesa plays human chess on the ground. He spends a lot of time controlling but he is hunting for arms and necks on top. He has an extremely aggressive guard and transitions between arm locks, arm triangles and Kimura attempts from his back. He doesn’t mind being on his back, sometimes to a fault. His jiu jitsu is very offensive but he has been put in dangerous positions by other fighters with technical proficiency on the ground, who have caught him being a bit too aggressive from his back.
Standing, Chiesa’s kickboxing is pretty average. He holds a low guard and tends to absorb a lot of damage. His most effective strikes from distance are his hooks and his kicks to the midsection. His head movement is not great, and he leans into winging punches to set up his takedown entries when he is moving forward.
He has great timing to his level changes which he sets up by timing striking exchanges, but Chiesa is not really looking to do damage standing. He has a lot of trouble checking leg kicks. His striking style does not match up well at all with Magny, who has crazy long arms and advanced kickboxing. Magny’s jab is going to get home all day, and Chiesa’s ability to avoid the ensuing strikes will partially determine the story of this fight.
This fight is going to come down to one other key factor: Neil Magny’s takedown defense. One of two things is going to happen in this one; either Magny will utilize his range to keep his distance, stuff Chiesa’s takedowns and win a striking battle over five rounds, possibly finding a knockout along the way, or Chiesa will drag Magny into deep water, control him on the ground and eventually find a submission.
Magny’s takedown defense has held up extremely well against the stronger grapplers he has faced, like Craig White, Santiago Ponzinibbio, Anthony Rocco Martin and Li Jingliang. It’s worth noting that he holds a brown belt in jiu jitsu, surprisingly a higher rank than that of Chiesa. But as we all know, belt level isn’t the end-all, be all on the ground. Point in case, Chiesa dominating Rafael Dos Anjos, an advanced black belt, on the canvas for three straight rounds.
One of the recurring themes in Chiesa’s dominant grappling efforts is that he is much larger than his opponent, but Magny is taller and longer then Chiesa. One of the recurring themes when Magny has been controlled in the clinch is that his opponent is tall enough to establish head position along the fence, which Chiesa is. However, Magny has found ways to pull out wins in those fights.
I think Magny has the skills and the build necessary to avoid being controlled by Chiesa for most of this fight. He is the more experienced fighter, the more educated fighter and he will likely be the better-conditioned fighter. In a three-round fight, Chiesa could afford to press harder earlier and perhaps chase a submission not having to worry about what happens if he doesn’t get it.
Magny, on the other hand, can maintain a high pace for as long as he wants to. He’s always fresh late in fights and he will likely take this one over somewhere towards the middle of the fight and ride it out to a decision victory.