Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight grapplers Diego Sanchez and Mike Chiesa will duel this Saturday (July 6, 2019) at UFC 239 from inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
From 2011-2015, one could easily argue that Diego Sanchez did not win a single fight, even with a trio of decision wins in that time. Since then, however, Sanchez has doubled down on his wrestling, and while he certainly isn’t the “Nightmare” of old, Sanchez has legitimately won four of his previous seven. Chiesa, meanwhile, jumped ship to 170 pounds after a pair of defeats to top-level Lightweights. He’s only one fight into his Welterweight career, but “Maverick” still showed his usual strength and grappling prowess en route to submitting Carlos Condit with a one-arm kimura.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Mickey Gall (UFC 235), Marcin Held (TUF Latin America 3 Finale), Jim Miller (UFC 196), Clay Guida (TUF 9 Finale)
Key Losses: Matt Brown (UFC Fight Night 120), Al Iaquinta (UFC Fight Night 108), Joe Lauzon (UFC 200), BJ Penn (UFC 107)
Keys to Victory: A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt with solid wrestling, Sanchez’s grappling skills have not declined like the rest of his game. The veteran may not be able to hold his own in a brawl anymore, but if given top position, he’ll still make an opponent’s life hellish with great top control and heavy elbows.
Sanchez wants a grappling match with Chiesa, and given how often Chiesa turns to the takedown himself, it shouldn’t be overly difficult to force his fellow submission specialist into a wrestling match. It’s hard to say who wins the wrestling battle ahead of time — there’s a chance Sanchez puts Chiesa on his butt early, which would likely lead to a great night for Sanchez.
If that isn’t the case, however, Sanchez must remain committed to the takedown. Chiesa has slowed down in the past, so if Sanchez can really embrace the grind and fight his way into top position, it could wear Chiesa’s gas tank out and eventually overwhelm him similar to Sanchez’s other recent wins.
Key Wins: Carlos Condit (UFC 232), Beneil Dariush (UFC on FOX 19), Al Iaquinta (TUF 15 Finale), Franciso Trinaldo (UFC 173)
Key Losses: Kevin Lee (UFC Fight Night 112), Anthony Pettis (UFC 223), Jorge Masvidal (UFC on FOX 8)
Keys to Victory: Despite the change in weight, Chiesa’s game and strategy is largely the same. He’s an awkward, rangy and dangerous striker, but Chiesa is all about securing the body lock in the clinch, muscling his foe to the mat, and landing a submission of some kind.
It’s impossible to know for sure, but I expect Chiesa can out-wrestle Sanchez at this point in their respective careers. He’s younger, stronger and has been taking down a higher level of competition overall recently. However, there’s really no need, as accepting a wrestling match is willingly playing into Sanchez’s only real chance at victory.
At range, Chiesa is much faster. He may not have knockout wins on his record, but he hits harder, too. Meanwhile, Sanchez’s face-first rush of hooks grows more obvious each year, and his chin can no longer hold up to massive amounts of abuse. If Chiesa just stays relaxed and punches Sanchez in the face when given the opportunity — and there will be many — this fight will not last long.
Bottom Line: It’s likely to end up a fun wrestling match.
Despite entering this bout on the heels of consecutive victories, I’m not going to pretend a Sanchez win means anything for the division. It would be surprising, sure, but Sanchez’s level of competition should not rise any further. Realistically, him and Demian Maia have spoken of a potential match up, and that fight would make sense regardless of the outcome here.
As for Chiesa, the stakes are obviously much higher. Chiesa is still building himself up at 170 pounds, trying to pick up wins against fighters outside of the rankings before he attempts to jump into the mix. A win is largely expected and helps set him up for a step up in competition. A loss, however, would be disastrous, a true sign that Chiesa must head back to the drawing board and make some changes.
At UFC 239, Diego Sanchez and Mike Chiesa will open the main card. Which man will have his hand raised?