After missing out on what would’ve been the most high-profile assignment of his UFC career against Tony Ferguson due to injury, it’ll be interesting to see what comes next for surging lightweight Michael Chiesa. The No. 7-ranked contender has made significant strides in the talent-laden division by emerging triumphant in five of his last six appearances. “Maverick” is in the midst of a three-fight win streak that includes an impressive submission victory over Beneil Dariush in his last appearance at UFC on FOX 19.
Chiesa is currently one of only a couple of top 10 contenders to find himself without a booking. It’s definitely an exciting time for the lightweight landscape, as the division’s future will be mapped out next month by a trio of huge fights. The biggest battle features the champion vs. champion showdown at UFC 205 involving featherweight kingpin Conor McGregor and current 155-pound titlist Eddie Alvarez.
Other key upcoming affairs include undefeated No. 1-ranked Khabib Nurmagomedov squaring off against No. 6-ranked Michael Johnson on that same historic Nov. 12 card at Madison Square Garden. Former champion Rafael dos Anjos is set to return a week earlier in Mexico City against Ferguson in the headlining act of the TUF Latin America 3 Finale. Chiesa had been slated to square off against the red-hot “El Cucuy” at Fight Night 91 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, but was forced to withdraw from that contest due to a back injury.
The Sik-Jitsu Fighting Systems standout originally burst onto the scene as the Season 15 winner of The Ultimate Fighter when he defeated Al Iaquinta in the final. Chiesa has gone on to firmly establish himself as one of the top submission specialists in the division. He uses his long limbs to maximum benefit in employing an effective ground game that prominently displays his favorite choke techniques. Chiesa has produced several finishes via rear-naked choke and has been working to improve upon his striking skills. His conditioning is always at a very high level.
The 28-year-old Chiesa has posted a 7-2 record during his Octagon tenure and owns other notable victories against Jim Miller and Francisco Trinaldo. He’s coming off one of his finest career performances against Dariush in his last bout in Tampa and possesses a formidable combination with his skill, strength, tenacity and toughness. Chiesa’s lone loss during this solid 5-1 run was a doctor’s stoppage because of a nasty cut he incurred during an entertaining scrap against Joe Lauzon at Fight Night 50. That spirited battle in Connecticut earned a Fight of the Night bonus for Chiesa even though the contest had a disappointing outcome.
With Chiesa undoubtedly looking to keep the positive momentum rolling when he returns to action, it’ll be intriguing to see what matchmakers have in store for his next assignment. Here are three potential options that warrant serious consideration for Chiesa’s next UFC fight.
1. Evan Dunham
The 34-year-old Dunham is experiencing a career renaissance brought about by a current four-fight win streak. His last appearance was a unanimous decision victory over Rick Glenn in a crowd-pleasing affair at Fight Night 94. The strong resurgence seemingly came out of nowhere as it appeared as though Dunham was on the decline after a previous three-fight skid. His successful exploits have vaulted him into top 15 territory and have once again made him a relevant competitor in the division.
The No. 14-ranked Dunham has showcased an effective stand-up game that features both a high volume and diversity. He’s been putting together his striking combinations with more fluidity. He’s also proven quite capable in the grappling department when the action dictates. The 17-fight UFC veteran is battle-tested and is never one to back down from an intense firefight. Dunham squaring off against Chiesa would be a contest that could prove to be quite a war of attrition.
2. Dustin Poirier
The move up to the lightweight division was looking like the perfect fit for Poirier until he was demolished by Michael Johnson in the main event of Fight Night 94 in Hidalgo, Texas. The humbling first-round knockout ended Poirier’s four-fight win streak as a 155-pounder and left the talented American Top Team product to pick up the pieces and head back to the drawing board.
The 27-year-old Louisiana native is currently ranked No. 10 and has the ability to make another push up the ladder. His well-rounded skills and proven fan-friendly reputation would make him an ideal candidate for Chiesa’s next appearance. Poirier is a proven finisher with 16 of his 20 career wins coming by either knockout or submission. Poirier and Chiesa have combined for ten Fight Night bonus awards between them and the meshing of these two talented and ultra-game competitors would likely provide a Fight of the Night candidate for any event.
3. Edson Barboza
The dangerous Brazilian striker may have gotten the ball rolling for this potential matchup by expressing an interest in facing Chiesa in his next appearance. The No. 5-ranked contender has certainly hit his stride as an elite competitor thanks to back-to-back victories over former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis, and most recently, former Strikeforce kingpin Gilbert Melendez. The flashy Barboza possesses some of the most devastating leg kicks in the entire sport and is a formidable test for anyone in the division. He’s faced many a top-flight opponent during his Octagon tenure and is presently in peak form.
With Barboza respectfully tossing out Chiesa’s name as part of his future wish list, it would seemingly be a request that matchmakers would be wise to act upon and grant. Barboza would certainly be the type of opponent that Chiesa is deserving of after the misfortune of seeing a previously proposed bout against the No. 3-ranked Ferguson fall through this past summer. Barboza’s dynamic striking skills against Chiesa’s impressive grappling and grit would make for a highly compelling affair.