Despite a one-year layoff, UFC lightweight Michael Chiesa is looking to face the most difficult available opponent for his Octagon return.
Chiesa (14-2) has been out of competition since April 2016 due to a back injury. At the time he went down, the UFC was looking to book Chiesa against the absolute best of his division. There were discussions of a potential fight against Khabib Nurmagomedov, and Chiesa was actually booked to fight Tony Ferguson, before getting injured in July.
With his back fully healed, Chiesa is looking to fight in late March or April, and he wants a matchup consistent with what the UFC was offering him one year ago.
"It's all about a fight that makes sense," Chiesa told ESPN's 5ive Rounds podcast. "You look at the landscape and a lot of the ranked guys are booked right now. Or they're coming off a loss.
"I've always been good friends with Nate [Diaz] and Michael Johnson. I think the Eddie Alvarez fight is a good fight that makes sense -- a couple Italian guys throwing down. I've got nothing but respect for the guy. He's a former champion. I'm in this sport to test myself. I want to see how far I can take this thing. This guy has been a champion of my weight class for a long time."
The division is in a bit of a fluid state, as McGregor has laid low since winning the title. The UFC has already announced an interim title fight between Nurmagomedov and Ferguson for UFC 209 on March 4 in Las Vegas. Chiesa said he intends to start training and dropping weight now so that he'll be available in case one of them suffers an injury.
When the dust settles at lightweight and McGregor returns to unify his title with the interim belt, Chiesa said he does not see the Irish star staying at the top for long.
While making sure to give McGregor credit for winning the UFC's lightweight and featherweight championships, Chiesa said the lightweight division is littered with bad matchups for McGregor.
Chiesa said he would heavily favor Nurmagomedov and Ferguson over McGregor and that Diaz would "100 percent" win a trilogy fight.
"Sooner or later, Conor is going to have to come out and fight," Chiesa said. "Whether he's taking this hiatus himself or the company is putting him on ice, who knows? But I don't see him staying champion.
"I know he's good. I'm not knocking him. We have to recognize the guy can f---ing fight. But you have to look at the guys coming up in the lightweight division. Tony Ferguson and Khabib, you have to fight the winner of that fight. I mean, dude, you're good, but you're going up against a guy who is 24-0, multiple samba world champion, or a guy that would be on a 10-fight win streak."
"Conor is good, but I really don't think he's a true lightweight," Chiesa continued. "That's what I'm saying. With the landscape of this division, I don't see Conor ending his year as champion. And you put me in there, I'm going to drag him to the ground and beat him too. I'm a huge lightweight. I'm as big as Nate or bigger, and we saw how many problems Nate gave him."