Following a 10-year career with Bellator MMA, the former two-time lightweight champion for the promotion opted to sign with the UFC after reaching free agency. It took some time to book his first fight but Chandler certainly made the most of it by knocking out Hooker inside three minutes into the opening round.
Afterwards, Chandler was just as impressive on the microphone as he served notice to each and every lightweight in the UFC that a new contender had arrived and he was ready to start checking names off his list as he sought the opportunity to become champion.
Little did he know at the time that he would only have to wait a matter of weeks as the UFC offered Chandler the chance to face Charles Oliveira with the vacant title up for grabs following Khabib Nurmagomedov’s retirement. While some groused that Chandler didn’t deserve the chance to compete for UFC gold with only one fight under his belt with the promotion, he was quick to point out an impressive resume that goes far beyond the octagon.
Add to that, Chandler promised the UFC he would give them the same answer every time they called to ask something of him, which included the title fight on May 15.
“The people that say yes, the people that are willing to step up, the people that are willing to put the work in and raise their hand when everybody else is covering their heads up, those people are usually rewarded for it and the UFC has done right by me so far,” Chandler said when speaking to MMA Fighting.
“It’s been a pleasure to be signed by the UFC. It’s been a pleasure since day one and I imagine it’s going to be even more of a pleasure after I get that UFC title strapped around my waist.”
Chandler has built his career around the willingness to step up to the challenges others may have balked at in the past.
He felt that after signing with the UFC when many of the top lightweight scoffed at Chandler as a possible opponent and then serving as a potential replacement to a title fight between Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje from this past October.
Rather than complain, Chandler just played the cards he was dealt and what resulted was a first-round knockout and a call asking him to step into a title bout in just his second appearance with the promotion.
“I have been a guy that’s said yes a lot when a lot of guys have said no,” Chandler said. “Pretty much everybody in the top five has said no to a fight against me except for Dan Hooker and I tip my hat and commend him for taking that fight Jan. 23. He’s a heck of a competitor, I know he’ll be back but I was glad to get the knockout that night.
“With Conor [McGregor] and [Dustin] Poirier doing their trilogy, we weren’t really sure where Justin Gaethje stood. I think it makes a lot of sense. Charles Oliveira as a competitor, he’s as tough as they come.”
When looking at Oliveira as an opponent, Chandler will be taking on an 11-year veteran of the UFC currently riding an eight-fight win streak including a lopsided victory over former interim champion Tony Ferguson in his most recent outing.
During his current run, Oliveira has finished seven out of the eight opponents and he holds the record for the most submission wins in the history of the UFC with 14.
“Charles is a salty, crafty veteran,” Chandler said. “He’s a guy who’s been inside that octagon dozens of times now. He’s been in the octagon a lot of times. He’s got a lot of experience. He’s great on the ground. He’s shown to be improving on the feet. He’s dangerous everywhere. This is a dangerous fight. This is an exciting fight.
“I feel like we’re going to see the best version of Charles Oliveira. Any time you get the opportunity to step into that octagon and compete for UFC gold, you’re going to see the best version of Charles Oliveira but you’re also going to see the best version of myself. This is what I’ve been working towards outside the UFC for 12 years and now for the last six months being signed with the UFC, working towards getting myself into the title picture, getting myself into title contention. Now here we are.”
Oliveira has been completely dominant while running through the competition to earn the title shot but Chandler can only promise that this will be the toughest test the Brazilian has faced in quite some time.
“So far the fans have only seen two and a half minutes of my performance. Wait till you see round 2, round 3, round 4 and round 5,” Chandler said. “I’ve been in those championship rounds. I’ve been in 25 minute wars. I’ve been in the deep, deep waters with championship level, high level caliber guys. Two former UFC champions — Eddie Alvarez, Benson Henderson. Guys that held belts in the UFC. I’ve been in knockdown, drag out wars. I’ve won Fight of the Year, numerous times. I thrive on that.
“If Charles Oliveira takes his foot off the gas at all, chances are he’s going to get finished. I don’t know how long he’s going to be able to keep his foot on the gas. I know I’m going to keep my foot on the gas for 25 minutes.”
In many ways, Chandler wrote the perfect beginning to his UFC career by leaving nothing but scorched Earth beneath Hooker after dispatching him inside the first round. Now as he prepares to compete for UFC gold in his second fight, Chandler can only hope he’ll pen a similarly spectacular ending this time around as well.
“I walk out into a packed arena in Houston, Texas, 19,000 red, white and blue-blooded Americans chanting my name, rooting for me,” Chandler described. “I go out there and I get in Charles Oliveira’s face immediately and he will realize and feel from the first exchange, from the pressure I put on him, he will immediately start to second guess himself. He will immediately start to overreact. He will immediately start to worry about his legs. I’ll go to his head. I’m going to go to his legs. I’m going to go to his body. I’m going to mix it up. A punch is going to land, he’s going to get his clock cleaned.
“He’s going to wake up to the bright lights of me standing on top the cage about to get my hand raised and UFC gold around my waist. That’s how it’s going to go. I predict it’s going to be in the first round. Then I predict a phenomenal end to 2021 and then we’re going to carry this baby on for a couple of years.”