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Michael Chandler addresses high stakes in fight with Conor McGregor: ‘This is a must-win for both of us’

The Ultimate Fighter Season 31: Team McGregor vs. Team Chandler Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Michael Chandler didn’t sign up to fight Conor McGregor only for the attention and the paycheck he’ll receive for arguably the most coveted matchup in combat sports.

As nice as it may feel to stand under the brightest spotlight against the biggest star in UFC history, Chandler doesn’t want his résumé to just read that he fought McGregor, but rather that he beat the ex-lightweight and featherweight champion. He also acknowledges that with a 2-3 résumé since joining the UFC roster and McGregor sporting a 1-3 record in his last four fights, that both men can ill afford another loss if they hope to get back in the hunt for a title shot any time in the near future.

“I do think it’s a must-win for both of us,” Chandler told MMA Fighting. “I need to continue to stamp my name as one of the best lightweights in the world. Yes, I’m 2-3 fighting the best guys in the world, in the weight class. I came in, nobody’s had a stronger strength of schedule right away when they came into the UFC than I have, and that’s what I asked for. That’s what I wanted. That’s what I believe Conor saw in me. He needs a big dance partner to have the biggest fight possible, the biggest stage possible. This is a must-win for both of us.

“I have to go out there and beat Conor to continue to legitimize myself as a guy who should be in the UFC Hall of Fame, as a guy who can still go and fight for the UFC title in 2024. I am the guy who has to be on the biggest, brightest stage and perform to the best of my ability. That’s what I have to do.”

When it comes to McGregor, it could be argued that one more loss would be devastating to his career, especially after missing the past three years due to a broken leg suffered in his most recent setback against Dustin Poirier.

That may ratchet up the pressure on most fighters, but Chandler doesn’t necessarily see this as do-or-die for McGregor, even as he declares this as a situation where they both definitely need a win.

In his opinion, Chandler believes McGregor could have already rode off into the sunset with more money than he could spend in lifetime, but there’s something deeper that keeps bringing the Irish superstar back to the cage again and again.

“Ever since he fought Floyd [Mayweather], made eight figures, sells his whiskey company for nine figures or whatever it is, the guy doesn’t need to fight,” Chandler said. “He fights because he’s a natural born competitor and he loves this. He loves the high stakes, high demanding pressure scenarios that he throws himself into ,and every single one of those fights are big.

“I think it’s a must-win for Conor because I do think you can’t string together that many losses, but like I said, losses don’t define your career when you’re fighting the best guys in the world. We’re all in these fights every single time, but it’s a must-win for Conor, it’s a must-win for me, and it’s a must-see pay-per-view.”

Chandler does credit McGregor for taking this challenge when he could have essentially pointed his finger at anybody on the UFC roster and made his own fight.

That’s the kind of power only a star of that caliber enjoys, but McGergor still sought out an opponent like Chandler, who is well known for inflicting serious damage on everyone he fights — even those who may hold a win over him.

“The fact that Conor is taking this fight against me, a very dangerous opponent, a guy that doesn’t match up that well against him in a lot of people’s eyes, he wants to fight me,” Chandler said. “He’s the guy who said yes to fighting me. That right there is indicative of a guy who just is a competitor. The guy who wants to be thrown into the deep waters. The guy who wants to step into the lion’s den.

“He could have taken a ‘tune-up’ fight, as we call it in this industry. There are a lot of opponents who match up a lot better than me for him, yet he’s going to fight me, one of the most dangerous guys in the division.”

Right now, Chandler is watching himself coach opposite McGregor during The Ultimate Fighter 31 while anxiously awaiting a date and location for their fight. Chandler is staying ready and he’s confident that he’ll get the best out of McGregor when they finally clash.

“Ultimately a motivated Conor is what we’re going to see, I believe,” Chandler said. “I’m expecting the best Conor we’ve ever seen, because [this is] going to bring it out of him.”

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