Michael Chandler may sport a 1-2 record in his UFC career, but he’s still optimistic he’ll have another chance to become lightweight champion by the end of the year.
A huge part of that confidence comes from Chandler’s performances in both victory and defeat. He starched Dan Hooker in his debut, was just seconds away from finishing Charles Oliveira to claim the vacant lightweight title, and then engaged in the 2021 Fight of the Year with Justin Gaethje at UFC 268.
With Oliveira expected to face Gaethje next, Chandler sees a couple of really interesting options available that could put him right back in the hunt for UFC gold. One of those names is former interim champion Dustin Poirier, whom Chandler sought out as a potential opponent when he first signed with the UFC back in late 2020.
“That’s what I wanted to do when I came into the UFC,” Chandler said on The Fighter vs. The Writer. “I wanted to fight all the top guys. Poirier was actually one of the guys that we asked for, and he declined at the very beginning, which I have no problem with that. He was in the top of the division and I was the guy from outside the UFC coming in.
“So he’s always been a name on the list. He’s a guy that I respect. A guy that I admire inside the sport of mixed martial arts. A guy who I would love to compete against.”
Just after his fight with Gaethje this past November, Chandler also mentioned former two-division champion Conor McGregor as a potential opponent for his next fight.
The always outspoken McGregor paid homage to Chandler for his gutsy performance against Gaethje, and it seems like that would be exactly the kind of fight to welcome back the Irish superstar once he’s recovered from the broken leg he suffered in his previous outing with Poirier.
“Obviously, Conor, I’ve spoken my peace about that,” Chandler said when addressing a possible fight with McGregor. “I think a fight between me and Conor would be absolutely huge. I want those big moments, those big fights, those kind of big legendary status type of platforms to continue to build my career on.”
Because Poirier and McGregor are both extremely high-profile opponents, Chandler knows a win over either of them puts him back on the fast track to title contention.
Given his history with Oliveira and Chandler, the former Bellator lightweight champion knows it wouldn’t take much to entice the UFC into booking either of those rematches once he gets back on track.
“You look at who the champion is Charles Oliveira — I’ve fought him and people would love to see me fight him again, obviously because the way that first fight was,” Chandler said. “Then the guy who will probably, most likely be challenging him is Justin Gaethje, who I obviously had a Fight of the Year with. Maybe with a little bit more thought about game plan and thought about winning, I would have actually won that fight, but I got caught up in the moment.
“Loved it, enjoyed my life so much inside there. I didn’t care if I won, I was just in there to be in a battle.”
Chandler understands that saying he didn’t care if he walked away victorious in the fight with Gaethje might rub some people the wrong way, but that was just the demeanor he carried into the cage that night. Make no mistake, he hopes he gets a chance to see Gaethje standing across the octagon from him again — perhaps this time with five rounds and a title on the line.
“It was the first time I got my hand grabbed by the referee and I didn’t care who got their hand raised,” Chandler explained. “I’m sure that upsets my big time supporters, the people who big time believed in me that I was going to become champion but all I can do is be led by how this is going and how I feel and I’m enjoying my life. I love my life and I love that this fight was part of my career. Part of my journey.
“There’s no doubt the vast majority of people were extremely entertained by that fight and would love to see me fight Justin Gaethje again. Maybe it will be for the title by the end of 2022. We’ll see.”