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Michael Chandler wants to ‘put a stamp’ on UFC debut by finishing Dan Hooker, possibly ‘entice’ Khabib Nurmagomedov to return

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Dustin Poirier. Tony Ferguson. Charles Oliveira. Justin Gaethje.

At one time or another, those are all names that were tossed around as former Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler prepared to make his UFC debut, but he had a surprisingly difficult time actually securing an opponent.

After months of waiting, Chandler finally signed to fight Dan Hooker at UFC 257 on Jan. 23, but he admits it was a strange road to travel to book his first fight inside the octagon.

“At the risk of making Dan Hooker feel like he was the last possible option, obviously we worked on some other things,” Chandler revealed when speaking to MMA Fighting. “Since the day that I signed, Oct. 24 was going to be the date. It was offered to [Dustin] Poirier, it was offered to [Tony] Ferguson, lo and behold they both turn it down and I become the backup [for Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Justin Gaethje], which is completely fine. Then we shifted our focus to this card, Jan. 23, months ago and the name, the opponent was going to be Tony Ferguson.

“For some reason, he didn’t want to be on this Jan. 23 card. Basically he said no, said nothing, I was home, I wasn’t in fight camp and he calls me out on short notice to fight him in December. He takes a short notice fight against Charles Oliveira. He loses to Oliveira. Oliveira’s now No. 3. Then we shifted gears. Hooker’s always one of the names that was thrown around and now it’s finally booked and I’m glad it’s booked. He’s ranked No. 6, he’s in the upper echelon of the top 10. It’s a good introductory fight to show the UFC fans who I am. Go out there, get a win on the biggest card of 2021.”

Of course, Chandler signing with the UFC and immediately being booked as the backup for the lightweight title fight between Nurmagomedov and Gaethje didn’t sit well with some of the veterans of the division. Others have taken shots at Chandler as some kind of B-level fighter because he’s coming to the UFC from Bellator.

Hooker managed to take a couple of pot shots of his own during UFC 254 fight week but none of that really bothered Chandler because he’s never taken trash talk too seriously.

Instead, he points to Hooker as a fighter who was more than willing to welcome him to the UFC and that’s more than he can say about a lot of other lightweights in the rankings.

“Truthfully, that was the one silver lining — Dan Hooker actually saying my name,” Chandler said. “Dan Hooker saying he would fight me. I think Paul Felder was the only other guy who said he would fight me. Everybody else either say no when the fight was offered to them or just stayed quiet. That’s not a knock on anybody. I didn’t expect for me to come in, being the new guy, being the guy that came from Bellator and everybody expecting or saying I deserved a guy in the top five. All I can do is make the best decision I can with the information that I have and the UFC wants to get me one of the top guys. They want to see where I stack up in the lightweight division and all of those names were thrown around.

“We settled on Dan Hooker. He actually stepped up and said he wanted to fight me and I welcome that. I welcome all the trash talk. All the belittling. All the name calling. But it really doesn’t matter. Once you step in that cage and the octagon door locks, it’s going to be 15 minutes of may the best man win and I’m excited to go out there and test my skills and I’m ready to go out there and prove that I deserve to be in the upper echelon of the UFC lightweight division and a guy who should be stepping into a title shot in 2021.”

Because Chandler’s debut fight against Hooker will take place on the same card where Conor McGregor will make his return to action against Dustin Poirier in the main event, the 34-year-old former NCAA All-American wrestler knows all eyes will be on UFC 257.

That gave him even more motivation to stay the course when the UFC was trying to secure him an opponent because Chandler fully understands how to take advantage of the spotlight afforded to him.

“You want to be on that card,” Chandler said. “Plus the UFC wants another 155-pound fighter on that card in case there is an injury, in case there is a positive COVID test. Who knows what’s going to happen. In the era of the coronavirus, it’s always good to have the main event have a backup fight, if you will, and I could get tapped for that. But for now my focus is on Dan Hooker and getting my first UFC win inside the octagon.”

Considering Hooker has gone five rounds with Poirier and Paul Felder in his past two fights, the New Zealand native has proven his toughness time and time again.

If anything, Chandler welcomes a war with Hooker in order to get a win but he prefers adding another highlight reel knockout onto his resume while hopefully catching the attention of another lightweight expected to be in attendance during UFC 257 fight week.

“I want to put a stamp on my introduction for who I am to the UFC fans by finishing Dan Hooker or dominating him,” Chandler said. “It really puts me in a position to where maybe I get the winner of Conor-Poirier or I get the next title shot against Khabib.

“I think if I go out there and showcase my wrestling skills, too. I mean there’s no doubt I want to go out there and knock Dan Hooker out, but I also want to show the world my wrestling skills. I want to put a stamp on good old fashioned American wrestling. Maybe I can entice Khabib to come back for the U.S. American wrestling versus Russian Sambo and see if he can get to 30-0 and beat me — if he can.”