Afterward, UFC President Dana White called Chandler’s performance – and emphatic post-fight interview – possibly the best debut in the history of the promotion. Given the impact Chandler made, coupled with a huge win by Dustin Poirier over Conor McGregor in the UFC 257 main event, it appeared the two lightweights were on a collision course with the winner potentially crowned the new lightweight champion.
With reigning lightweight king Khabib Nurmagomedov retired and showing no signs of an imminent return, the UFC will undoubtedly look to move the division forward. But Poirier has shot down a fight against Chandler, calling himself the uncrowned champion at 155 pounds.
Poirier has since doubled down on a lack of enthusiasm to face the former Bellator champion, even if the UFC put the lightweight title up for grabs.
“I do think it’s a little bit weird,” Chandler told MMA Fighting when reacting to Poirier’s comments. “No matter what, who I was before UFC 257 is much different in the eyes of the fans, the media, the rankings than who I am now after UFC 257.
“With the dominant performance that I put on against a guy that I finished in two-and-a-half minutes that took him 25 minutes to win a decision against. But Dustin Poirier is a champion in his own right. I believe he should be one half of the lightweight title picture, and it just remains to be seen who it will be. Dana White came out right away and said, ‘Man, Chandler’s performance, Poirier’s performance, seems like it makes sense for those two guys to fight next for the title.’”
It’s impossible to look at the lightweight division and not rank Poirier as one of the two best fighters available to crown a champion now that Nurmagomedov is gone. Unfortunately, it appears he isn’t all that interested right now, going as far as suggesting the UFC book Chandler against Charles Oliveira for the lightweight title.
Chandler can’t pretend to know what’s going on inside Poirier’s head, so he won’t make any assumptions. But he also can’t force the former interim champion to fight him if unwilling.
“You hear Poirier talking about the trilogy fight with Conor, which we all know more likely than not will not be for the title,” Chandler explained. “So in one sense he says he wants to be champion, but then the other sense he’s talking about, let’s be honest, money fights, eyeball fights, pay-per-view fights. He’s talking about the big notoriety fights. So you’ve got to figure out which it is — do you want to be champion, or do you want to have the most eyeballs, make the most money?
“For me, given the landscape, or given if I was asked that question it’s not an easy decision necessarily, but I think I would lean toward getting that gold. Because with the gold comes everything else.”
Even before he made his UFC debut, Chandler paid homage to all of the top lightweights, including Poirier, whom he agreed to fight shortly after signing with the promotion.
Obviously the matchup never came together, but Chandler’s admiration for Poirier hasn’t changed even if it appears “The Diamond” isn’t interested in a possible fight.
“He can have his opinion,” Chandler said. “Even him saying I haven’t really earned it, I get where he is coming from. He has 20-something fights in the UFC, I have one. I have two-and-a-half minutes in the UFC essentially. I get what he’s saying, but I’ve earned my way in this sport over the last 12 years, over the last 27 fights. A lot of dominant victories, tons of first-round finishes, tons of exciting fights.
“We’ll see where the chips land, but I do know us top four are jockeying for a position and two of us should be fighting for that lightweight strap, hopefully this summer if not by the fall.”
Poirier’s stance about allowing the lightweight division to crown a new champion without him being involved may just be the heat of the moment speaking after many believe his fight against McGregor should have ended with a title belt being awarded.
If Poirier truly isn’t interested in fighting him for the title, Chandler will happily face the next opponent in line, but he’s not going to pass on an opportunity to compete for UFC gold if the offer is made to him.
“He said if they want Chandler to fight for the title, he’ll go sell hot sauce, and truthfully he might end up just being a hot sauce salesman for the next six months, because I think the title picture is going to move on,” Chandler said. “I’m not saying I’m going to be one half of it, but I do know life is about opportunities.
“Life is about saying yes. Life is about performance, especially in this industry. I’ve said yes to every opportunity. I’ve said yes at the drop of a hat with the UFC thinking, ‘Holy cow, this guy’s a little bit nuts for saying yes to this but I love it.’”
For all he accomplished during his Bellator career, including three different stints as champion, Chandler can’t make the top-ranked UFC lightweights recognize his overall body of work, but he’s also not going to put himself at the back of the line to appease anybody else.
“As I said, I’m here to make an impact; I’m here to make a statement,” Chandler said. “I did that at UFC 257 and now really all I can do is still feel somewhat like an outsider. I think to the UFC fans and to the UFC media and to the UFC brass and to the UFC staff, everyone has immediately adopted me as one of their own. Everyone has said, ‘This is the guy, this guy is legit, this guy is a contender that could win the title this year.’ But you’re not quite seeing that from the Poiriers, the Gaethjes, the Oliveiras, the top guys. You’re not seeing it from Khabib [Nurmagomedov]. You’re not seeing it from these guys, and that’s completely fine.
“I’m here to continue to earn it, continue to prove it but I know UFC title shots don’t happen very easily, so if I do get that opportunity, or if these other guys don’t take the opportunity, they could get passed up and the guy on the bill could be named Michael Chandler.”