All eyes will be on the UFC lightweight division on Dec. 11 when Charles Oliviera looks to make the first defense of his 155-pound title against Dustin Poirier at UFC 269.
By then, more than a year will have passed since Khabib Nurmagomedov retired in the cage at UFC 254 and threw the doors to the top of the division wide open. Oliveira filled that vacant spot with his dramatic come-from-behind victory over Michael Chandler in May, but after testing the Brazilian’s skills inside the octagon, Chandler couldn’t help but predict Oliveira’s reign to be short-lived when asked to pick a winner for UFC 269’s main event.
“I think Dustin Poirier,” Chandler said recently on The MMA Hour. “I think they’re both complete fighters. I think Oliveira has shown over his last couple of fights, especially the fight against me, his hands have come along. He is basic and he hits hard. He hits harder than we think. His grappling is obviously always been on-point, but I just think Dustin Poirier is a little bit better in every area. I think Dustin Poirier’s cardio [is better]. I think Dustin Poirier’s ability to get him hurt and finish the fight, like I wasn’t able to do, is second to none. I think Dustin Poirier wins that fight by a third or fourth-round stoppage.”
Chandler, 35, will have his own problems to deal with first. The former Bellator champion is slated to meet Justin Gaethje in a battle of top contenders on Nov. 6 at UFC 268. A win will likely push Chandler back into the title conversation prior to Oliveira vs. Poirier.
It’s an important crossroads for Chandler’s career — and one his opponent knows all too well. Gaethje, too, is coming off a failed UFC title challenge in his most recent fight.
Chandler’s setback may have been more painful though. He snatched defeat from the jaws of victory against Oliveira just 19 seconds into the second round at UFC 262 after nearly finishing Oliveira in the closing moments of Round 1. After being seconds away from achieving his dream of winning a UFC world title, Chandler admitted that the road back to UFC 268 hasn’t been an easy one, even if he’s ready to make the climb all over again.
“Man, pain. Crying. Falling short. Embarrassment. Less than,” Chandler said. “That small voice inside my head that has always told me that I’m a small guy from a small town who was taught to do small things, because that’s what I was raised up into. That’s the people that I was around. I came from a community where not a lot of people believed that they could go outside those county lines and go accomplish crazy, audacious, big things. And that little guy from that little town is still in here — I’ve just gotten really good at duct-taping him to the basement of my mind and putting a roll of duct tape around his mouth.
“But man, he creeps back up. He creeps back up often. And he definitely crept back up right after May 15th, on May 15th. I stayed up until 4 in the morning that night. My wife was sleeping next to me and I was laying in my hotel room and I was up until 4 or 5 in the morning, didn’t even barely sleep, I was just tossing and turning and just, it was hard. But this is why we do what we do. This is why the fans love this sport. ... There’s a reason why the ‘Rocky’ franchise is one of the most successful movies franchises of all-time. It wasn’t because Rocky always won. It’s because Rocky always came back with complete disregard to previous setbacks and future opposition.
“So it was ups and downs for months at a time, but man, I made peace with it and it was an awesome opportunity that I got. And now I have an even bigger opportunity to come back from that loss. The setback is just a springboard for the comeback.”