Michael Chandler has quickly built a reputation in the UFC for putting on some of the most exciting fights in the promotion. But after falling to Dustin Poirier in his most recent outing, his chances of becoming champion took another significant hit.
When he first signed as a free agent following an illustrious career in Bellator MMA, Chandler was laser-focused on winning a UFC title to cement his legacy as one of the greatest lightweights in mixed martial arts history. He’s since racked up four post-fight bonuses in five appearances win the UFC, however he also sports a 2-3 octagon record, with all three losses coming against fighters now sitting ahead of Chandler in the rankings.
UFC welterweight Matt Brown knows a thing or two about the expectations that follow a reputation for fan-friendly fights, but that comes at a cost — as Chandler has discovered.
“He needs to fix his strategy,” Brown said about Chandler on MMA Fighting’s The Fighter vs. The Writer. “In my particular style, that’s just how I fight. That’s how I beat guys. I go in, I wear them out, I make it a tough fight, kind of a Dustin Poirier kind of thing. We go in, we make it dirty, make it grimy, and guys get worn out and overwhelmed by it.
“Now Michael Chandler, we get the feeling — at least me and you and the people watching — he doesn’t have to do that. He is fighting for the fans. There’s basically two different ways to fight. Do you want to fight for the fans or do you want to fight for yourself and win?”
With his pedigree in wrestling and a potent ground-and-pound game, Chandler has shown dominance over opponents in many past fights without engaging in back-and-forth wars.
Of course, Chandler has been in plenty of battles as well — including all five fights in the UFC — and that led to UFC president Dana White comparing him to boxer Arturo Gatti, whose career was defined by putting on jaw-dropping, action-packed wars.
Brown understands the comparison, but as a longtime boxing enthusiast, he also remembers that Gatti was a slugger who could absorb a tremendous amount of punishment but faced tremendous odds when going up against the best of the best throughout his career.
A perfect example came in 2005 when Gatti faced off with 28-year-old Floyd Mayweather, who unleashed an absolutely savage beating while out-landing Gatti 168 to 41 en route to a merciful sixth-round stoppage once the towel was thrown in by Gatti’s corner.
“Floyd pieced him up easily,” Brown said about the fight. “That’s exactly it. Gatti never developed those skills. That’s sort of the difference with Gatti and Chandler. I think Chandler, as much of a compliment as it is to be compared to Arturo Gatti, [with] Chandler we see the ability to go out there and win titles. I think most of us assume, we don’t know for sure, but we assume he probably could have beaten Dustin Poirier with a smart strategy. But he’s playing Dustin Poirier’s strategy. He’s playing Justin Gaethje’s strategy when he does that.
“When he goes out there and wings it like that. Does that mean you’re going to lose every time? No, because it works for him a lot of times too, but what you’re doing is you’re playing those guy’s game. Take them out of their game if you have the ability to do that. A lot of guys don’t have the ability to do that. There’s guys that’s kind of what they’re stuck with.”
If Chandler is resigned to being an entertaining fighter willing to throw caution to the win every time out, he’ll remain a staple on pay-per-views and continue earning praise for his performances, but that might cut down on his chances to become a UFC champion.
With eight post-fight bonuses of his own, Brown appreciates Chandler’s style, but he also believes the former Bellator champion could be the best lightweight in the sport if he chose to fight a different way.
“What do we remember Gatti for? The wars. What do we remember Mayweather for? Not any wars,” Brown said. “We remember him for piecing people up. That’s my whole criticism here. Not to knock on Michael Chandler, love the dude and love his style and love everything about him. It’s his career, he can do whatever he wants. But what I see is the ability for him to go out there and be that dominant champion, and he simply chooses not to.
“He chooses to be Arturo Gatti when he could be Floyd Mayweather. Whether that’s right or wrong, we’ll have to see if he ever changes up his style, but that’s what it seems to me is his own choice.”
Brown points the same finger right back at himself for falling into those tendencies throughout his own career, where he often times got dragged into those epic wars.
Perhaps that’s exactly the legacy that Chandler wants to leave behind, but Brown believes he could accomplish a lot more if he wanted.
“People love winners more than they love brawlers or anything,” Brown said. “I could knock myself for this, too. I probably could have settled down many times and just picked people apart or used a little bit of wrestling, but that’s what people are going to remember in the end — the winner. That’s why people talk about Floyd so much, because he keeps winning. What does Floyd talk about all the time? How he wins. That’s all he brings up. That’s what people are going to care about.
“If you have the ability to do it and you’re saying you want to be a champion, then go do that. You don’t have to please anybody. Now if he wants to just go out and please the fans, that’s fine too. We love that. You’ll keep getting top billings on pay-per-views. You keep putting on f****** amazing fights, Michael. We love that. But you’ve got to kind of decide your strategy and what you want to get out of this.”