“People think that we’re in there making decisions like me making the decision to pick up this pen,” Chandler said Monday on The MMA Hour. “It’s not the same when you’re actually inside the confines of MMA and you’re fighting for your life. You’re reaching for things, you’re grabbing for things, you’re grappling. A lot of it is muscle memory.”
Poirier called Chandler a “dirty motherf*****” after submitting him in the third round. Afterward, the former interim champ doubled down on his words and said Chandler intentionally tried to cheat with a fishhook mid-fight.
Chandler said it was absolutely his intention to reach down and grab Poirier’s chin while in back control. It wasn’t to intentionally foul his opponent, but he said that’s part of being a fighter. Despite your best efforts, you sometimes mess up.
“When I take a guy’s back, and I’ve drilled it a million times, I take a guy’s back, reach down, grab the chin, lift the chin, and then go for the choke,” Chandler continued. “So yes, do I think I need to apologize? I don’t think I do. Do I think it was something that people could say, ‘Hey, that was dirty,’ or ‘that was illegal,’ yes, I could definitely see what you’re saying. But 31 fights, you know my reputation. I’ve got a good reputation in this sport. I love the sport. I don’t cheat the sport. I don’t cheat to win.
“This one was just unfortunate circumstances and a chain of events that I wish didn’t happen, but they did, and also, that’s why we have referees there. That’s why the referee was there with his eyeballs on every single exchange to let you know if you’re doing something consciously or subconsciously, on purpose or not on purpose.
“But yeah, it doesn’t feel good [to be called a dirty fighter]. I don’t like to hear that, because, whatever, there are going to be people that say things no matter what, be accused of things win, lose or draw. ... But I love this sport, and I would never cheat. It is what it is and I can’t change it, aside from I’ve been here 31 fights and I love the sport and I would never cheat intentionally.”
Chandler points out the very clear signal Poirier gave him mid-fight that he was in the wrong and added it was a just response to what had just happened.
“He did bite my finger, which isn’t cheating, because my finger shouldn’t have been in his mouth,” Chandler said. “I think that’s when I realized, ‘OK, that’s not the chin,’ because he’s biting down on my hand, and obviously, that’s when I let go.
“It’s somewhat funny. I would never call it funny or downplay it, but it is just like, when you think of the stuff we go through as mixed martial artists, and even him being down there, I would have done the exact same thing, whether I thought his hand was in my mouth or not.”
Of course, Poirier didn’t see the humor in the situation. It only contributed to a testy post-fight exchange that left both fighters feeling a little bit unresolved about the result of the fight. Rather than settling things in the cage, there was still some bad blood in the air.
With the benefit of hindsight and time to cool down, Chandler has let go all of those feelings. He gives Poirier props for beating him at UFC 281 and has nothing but respect for “The Diamond” as a person and a fighter. Of course, he’d like the opportunity to beat him in a rematch, and he believes that 10 future fights would have 10 future outcomes. As for Poirier, he hopes there’s no continued rivalry, but he can’t control his one-time opponent.
“I’m not going to say I don’t care,” Chandler said. “I have a tremendous respect for every single guy that I’ve ever fought, and I have a tremendous respect for anyone that’s in our line of work. The next time I see him in person, I’ll go up and shake his head and say what’s up. We’ll see how he reacts. I don’t know.
“My guess is, I think we’re all high-strung at times. We’re all coming down from these victories or defeats. Then again, I could be wrong. Either way, I have no ill will toward him. I’m not going to lose any sleep over that, whether our relationship is contentious or not. But it’s unfortunate. I have a ton of respect for him. He beat me fair and square. He was the better man that night, and if we do it again somewhere down the line, it will be an even better storyline.”