Whatever law enforcement and UFC officials have told Michael Chiesa about publicly discussing the bus attack involving Conor McGregor, his reasons for seeking another topic seem personal, not evidential.
“I knew who was spearheading the thing and I knew who it was, put it that way,” Chiesa said. “This guy gets enough attention. If there’s questions to be answered about Conor, I’m sure you can get a hold of the guy. But there’s things going on with me other than that guy.”
In April, Chiesa (14-3) was to return from a near 10-month layoff following a first-round submission loss to Kevin Lee last year when McGregor and a band of associates confronted a bus loaded with several UFC fighters, including the target of the former two-division champion’s ire, new lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Authorities said McGregor found a hand truck and whipped it toward a window where Chiesa was seated as shattered glass flew and cut his head. The incident ultimately removed him from a scheduled UFC 223 fight against former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis.
“It was just crazy, man,” Chiesa said of the attack, which led to the former champion’s arrest and an active prosecution believed to be headed for a plea bargain next month. “It was just a crazy situation to be involuntarily involved in.”
Chiesa wanted the pay-per-view bout badly after missing 14 months before the Lee loss with a serious back injury, but a New York State Athletic Commission checkup found damage, and an official close to Chiesa said that in addition to the glass embedded in his head, pieces also fell out of his shoes when he returned to the fight hotel that day.
The decision to scrap that fight “was totally out of my hands. When the dust settled, I went back to the hotel, started cutting weight and going through the process to compete, and then they pulled the plug,” Chiesa said.
UFC president Dana White said he would take care of those affected by the melee, and Chiesa-Pettis returns on Saturday’s UFC 226 pay-per-view at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
“I don’t have any quarrels. I’m not up in arms at the UFC,” Chiesa said when asked if he was effectively compensated. “I’m very happy to be in this position.”
Chiesa, 30, said he wants to produce more entertainment like the battles he engaged in to win five bonuses in 10 UFC fights.
“Anthony’s ranked below me, but he’s a former world champion,” Chiesa said. “So this is a great fight for me to test my skills. Anthony’s a great striker and ground specialist with broad skills in the octagon. I haven’t fought for a while and didn’t want a warm-up fight. I wanted to jump right back in the pit and I got what I asked for. I got Anthony Pettis.”
Chiesa has trained at the UFC’s deluxe Performance Institute for this bout alongside another pay-per-view participant, heavyweight Francis Ngannou.
The depth of this card, with heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic meeting light-heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier and featherweight champion Max Holloway pursuing a 13th consecutive victory in his defense against Los Angeles’ unbeaten Brian Ortega, gives Chiesa’s profile a boost beyond the one he received on the bus.
“It’s garnished me some attention, and a lot of attention I’m not fond of,” he said. “Ever since Brooklyn, I’ve had people writing me, calling me a snitch and a rat … there were about 12 cameras on the guy showing the same thing I saw … it’s unwanted attention.
“I feel I’ve always been a fan-friendly fighter. I step up and put on a show. It’s why I’m on the main billing. Me and Anthony have different styles but the same attitude: be exciting. Just because of the whole incident and the bus, that’s not what got me on the main card … what got me on the card is my skills and what I bring to the octagon.
“My path leads to a world title.”