Michael Chandler is down but not out following a loss in his first attempt at becoming UFC champion.
Just one fight into his career with the promotion, the former Bellator mainstay was granted a shot at the vacant lightweight title after Khabib Nurmagomedov announced his retirement last year. Chandler made the most of the opportunity with a fast start in his fight against Charles Oliveira on Saturday as he blasted the Brazilian with a left hand early that led to him nearly earning a first-round finish with a guillotine choke.
Later in the same round, Chandler buzzed Oliveira with another powerful punch that put the Brazilian down on the canvas and he followed up with a flurry of shots in an attempt to end the fight. Oliveira found a way to survive to the final horn and then just 19 seconds into the next round, he staged a dramatic comeback by blasting Chandler with a perfectly placed left hook that led to the stoppage.
“First off, hats off to Charles,” Chandler said about the fight when speaking at the UFC 262 post-fight press conference. “Hats off to Charles for surviving that first round, surviving that barrage. Secondly, a huge thank you to the UFC for this opportunity. I just saw Dana [White] and Hunter [Campbell] and those guys back there, I really feel like I’m living a dream. Win, lose or draw.
“But here we are. Got a busted-up eye and another loss on my record. But I’ve come back from worse. Felt like everything was clicking in there, just got caught. Zigged when I should have zagged. Here we are talking to you without the belt on this table but we’re going to keep moving forward.”
While Chandler almost put Oliveira away on two separate occasions in the first round, he did have to fight through a harrowing moment of his own when he allowed the fighter with the most submissions in UFC history to take his back.
Chandler eventually exploded out of the position to escape Oliveira’s grappling attack, which showed that he had no fear going to the ground with such an experienced Brazilian jiu-jitsu expert.
“I loved it. I loved to be able to show that I could stay composed against the best grappler on the planet,” Chandler said. “I somewhat kind of let him take my back, I like to let guys take my back, get that one-on-one, I spun around and got into his guard just like I always do in a lot of positions. One of those deals where I didn’t feel I was in danger at all but that was kind of dumb because you’re always in danger if Charles Oliveira has your back but I feel comfortable in that scenario.
“Should I have let it get there? Probably not. But it’s part of it and fought through it, we wrestled through it, we anti jiu-jitsu’d through it. Turns out I lost on the feet and not on the ground.”
After nearly finishing the fight in the first round, Chandler was quick to engage in an exchange with Oliveira at the start of the second, which is what ultimately led to his downfall.
Despite the outcome, Chandler has no regrets regarding his game plan because he did exactly what he was supposed to do but Oliveira just got the better of him.
“You can never get too aggressive. Aggressive is my style. Aggressive is me. Aggressive is who I am,” Chandler said. “It’s the fight game. It’s four-ounce gloves and you zig when you should have zagged and before you know it, Charles Oliveira’s getting the belt wrapped around his waist instead of yours. Here we are.
“I’ve been here before after losses. The sport moves quickly. I am still world class. Anybody next to get me in line for the title again, I believe I can beat them and beat anybody in the top-five.”
One criticism that Chandler had regarding Oliveira before they clashed at UFC 262 was his past tendency to struggle in the face of adversity. Throughout much of his UFC career, Oliveira was known as a tremendous frontrunner, who could pour on the punishment when he was leading the charge but he struggled when things didn’t seem to go his way.
Oliveira dispelled that reputation on Saturday night as he survived an early onslaught in the first round to then storm back and finish Chandler in the second.
“He showed that he had the gall to get through that,” Chandler said about Oliveira. “He got dropped, got hurt. I was on top of him. He’s really long and he did a really good job of tying me up so I couldn’t rain down too hard of punches or elbows. He definitely got through some adversity tonight.
“He showed tonight that he is tougher than a lot of us thought he was. Hats off to him. He is our champion now at 155 and I’m coming for that belt again.”
While the result didn’t go his way, Chandler is far from finished chasing the title and he won’t wait too long to start putting in the work to begin that climb back up the ladder.
His first commitment for now is spending time with his wife and son at home but the former Bellator champion fully intends on challenging for UFC gold again one day soon.
“I’ll be back in the gym this week,” Chandler said. “I’m not going to be sparring and doing all that stuff but I’ll be back in the gym this week. I’ll be putting in some miles this week. I never take a rest. We’ll see what happens next. We’re going back to the drawing board.
“I will be champion. I will be UFC champion by the time my career is up. I got a taste of it tonight. Fell short. But as I said, every young man falls but every young man gets back up.”
As far as answering his critics, Chandler didn’t seem to pay much attention to those who said he got the UFC title shot too early in his career with the promotion or that he somehow didn’t earn it by only having one win under his belt inside the octagon.
A quick look at his overall resume should have answered those questions but Chandler was proud of what he did in the first round against Oliveira to prove he belonged in there with the best that the UFC could throw at him.
“I was at home in there,” Chandler said. “If you don’t think I’m world class, that’s fine, do your thing. I think the people who understand the sport, the people who’ve seen my resume, who’ve seen my body of work, who’ve seen what I’ve done in the sport, the things that I’ve come through just like every man has in this sport, then you know I’m world class. You know I can hang with these guys.”