Friday, June 29, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Michael Chiesa sighs and leans back in his seat, resigning himself to discuss the Conor McGregor situation that left him unable to compete as planned at UFC 223 three months ago in Brooklyn.
Chiesa sustained cuts to his face that prevented him from fighting after McGregor threw a dolly at a bus window in the bowels of the Barclays Center. He’s previously resisted discussing the incident publicly, but knew it was unavoidable with his rescheduled fight against Anthony Pettis scheduled for UFC 226 next Saturday at T-Mobile Arena.
“Brooklyn was a heartbreaker to say the least,” Chiesa told a group of reporters on Thursday. “This is the most I’ve said about it. I’ve tried to stay pretty closed off, but (expletive) it, if you want answers, you’ve got them.”
The veteran lightweight was forthcoming about the anger and disappointment he felt after the easily-preventable injury forced him to pull out of the first bout with Pettis two days before fight night. The only answer he wouldn’t provide was if he was pursuing legal action against McGregor, as reports and rumors have suggested.
But he made it clear he believed the attack caused him irreparable damage. The worst part for Chiesa actually came the day after the incident, when he received news that Max Holloway was unable to compete in the main event against Khabib Nurmagomedov for the lightweight title.
Al Iaquinta filled the vacancy — losing via unanimous decision — but Chiesa believes he would have instead received the last-minute title shot if he were healthy because he was the highest-rated lightweight behind Nurmagomedov on the card.
“Opportunities like that don’t come around,” Chiesa said. “I could string together 15 wins and still not a get title shot. I lost my opportunity, my dream. I’m going to fight my ass off to earn it back starting July 7 against Anthony Pettis but it’s a tough pill to swallow.”
Chiesa’s anger subsided quickly in the aftermath of UFC 223, giving way to acceptance. After the UFC rebooked the fight with Pettis, he tried to focus on the positives to come out of the cancelation.
The Spokane, Wash., native normally considers himself a part-time Las Vegas resident, but he headed back almost immediately for a second-straight eight-week fight camp. The extended stay has proven beneficial because of how much time he’s spent at the UFC’s Performance Institute, utilizing the facility’s cutting-edge technology to streamline his training.
Chiesa said the first Pettis training camp at the performance institute went smoothly, but he was still familiarizing himself with the staff and equipment. A new comfort level emerged the last two months.
“It takes more than eight weeks to figure someone out,” he said. “You kind of run through the tests. They feel you out, so this camp we’ve kind of figured all that out and we’re building on that. It’s been very productive, very good.”
McGregor has apologized to several of the fighters harmed, including women’s strawweight champion Rose Namajunas and flyweight Ray Borg. Although Chiesa was affected more than anyone, he said he hadn’t heard from McGregor.
UFC President Dana White initially called McGregor’s actions, “the most disgusting thing that’s happened in the history of the company,” but has since backed off. Now it seems likely McGregor will fight before the end of the year, pending how his assault charges in New York play out.
Chiesa hasn’t given much thought whether McGregor deserves more punishment.
“I want to close the chapter with Anthony so I’m not thinking about who should do what to Conor, whether it be the state of the New York, the athletic commissions or whatever,” he said.
Chiesa rose to prominence by winning the live season of “The Ultimate Fighter” despite his father passing away while he was filming the reality show. Leading up to UFC 223, he talked about how meaningful it would be to fight in his father’s hometown of Brooklyn.
Not getting the chance stung, but Chiesa is determined to make the most of it.
“I really wanted to fight in Brooklyn for a lot of reasons,” Chiesa said. “It’s where a lot of my family is from. I had a lot of family out for that but you know what? Here I am. International Fight Week on the main billing, on the pay-per-view.”