Michael Chandler can’t force anyone to fight him.
After signing with the UFC following a long and successful career as a multi-time Bellator lightweight champion, Chandler was hoping for a top-ranked opponent for his debut but several notable fighters showed little interest in welcoming him to the promotion. Eventually, Dan Hooker accepted the opportunity and Chandler made the most of his first UFC appearance by dispatching the veteran lightweight less than three minutes into the opening round at UFC 257.
Following that win, Chandler was immediately mentioned as a potential opponent for Dustin Poirier, who earned an impressive knockout of his own that same night when he finished Conor McGregor in the second-round in the main event. Afterwards, Poirier shot down a potential fight against Chandler and scoffed at him earning a title shot after only one win in the promotion.
Now less than three months later, Chandler competes for the vacant lightweight championship in the UFC 262 main event on May 15 while Poirier turned down a title shot in favor of completing his trilogy with McGregor later this year.
Much like he said previously when Poirier expressed little interest in facing him after his debut, Chandler once again holds no ill will towards the former interim lightweight champion, but at the same time he can’t help but point out the risks involved with taking a third fight against McGregor rather than going for UFC gold.
“Now that they’re both 1-1, now it’s a fight that Dustin can’t lose,” Chandler explained when speaking to MMA Fighting. “He knows he passed up on the title shot in order to take this fight.
“So there’s going to be a ton of pressure on Dustin to win this fight or else he passed up on a title shot that he might not get for a while. Taking another fight or two to get back to the title and it could be me and Conor fighting next, if Conor wins.”
McGregor requested an immediate rematch against Poirier after falling to him earlier this year and the UFC was more than happy to grant his wish considering the huge pay-per-view sales the January card produced.
Despite Poirier’s success in the rematch where he avenged a prior loss to McGregor from 2014, Chandler believes the Irish superstar still has a definite route to victory to close out the trilogy.
“I still lean towards Conor,” Chandler said. “I think Conor still has the power in those hands and I think you’re going to see Conor make some adjustments as we have seen, when he has taken losses, he’s always come back a better fighter. A more skilled fighter. A more prepared fighter.
“We’re going to see whenever that fight takes place. Either way, I’m excited to watch that one.”
At this point, Poirier is the least of Chandler’s concerns as he turns his attention towards Oliveira, who is currently riding an eight-fight win streak in the lightweight division.
While Chandler was more than happy to face whoever the UFC threw at him next, he can’t deny it was a happy surprise to get the call offering him a shot at the vacant lightweight title after retired champion Khabib Nurmagomedov gave up the belt.
“I wouldn’t say I saw it coming,” Chandler said. “I definitely saw it coming that Conor and Poirier are going to do the trilogy. It makes sense for Dustin. It makes sense for Conor to get that one back. It makes sense, it’s a huge fight in the lightweight division. It makes sense in a lot of ways for Dustin to forgo the title shot and fight Conor.
“But with that being said, the UFC’s got to move on. The UFC met with Khabib and Khabib said he was absolutely, unequivocally retired. He’s done. So the UFC had to make a decision. I don’t know what phone calls were being made, I don’t know if there were phone calls made to Dustin, made to [Justin] Gaethje, made to Oliveira, made to whoever. All I know is I got a phone call asking if I would be down to fight for the vacant title May 15 and I said absolutely. I didn’t care who it was against. That’s kind of how it played out.”
As soon as Chandler got the nod for the title shot, he returned home to Nashville, packed his car and began the drive down to Florida where he will conduct his training camp at Sanford MMA.
Much like he said ahead of his debut, Chandler didn’t really care who his opponent was going to be, but competing for the title in only his second fight for the promotion is a huge opportunity he doesn’t want to blow.
Assuming all goes well at UFC 262 in May, the 34-year-old veteran hopes that will put an end to his days calling out opponents or waiting to hear who is willing to accept a fight against him because everybody in the lightweight division will be gunning for the title.
Whether that’s Poirier, McGregor or anybody else at 155 pounds, Chandler looks forward to fighting all of them in the future.
“On my side of the fence, I respect and admire all these guys in the lightweight division,” Chandler said. “It’s the most electrifying division in the UFC right now. I’m absolutely pumped to be a part of it and now I get the opportunity to be the No. 1 guy. The guy with gold around my waist and I’ll be put into a position where nobody’s gonna want to say no to a fight against me. I want to fight all these guys. I want these guys to be on my resume with a ‘W’ next to my name and it will all happen in due time.
“You talk about Conor. You talk about Gaethje. You talk about Ferguson. You talk about these awesome competitors, tough guys, they’re going to put butts in arenas now that arenas are filling up. We’re going to sell pay-per-views. We’re going to do some great stuff and continue the legacy of the lightweight division being always, every year, the perennial best division in the UFC, across all promotions and across all weight classes.”