LAS VEGAS – Michael Chandler is more confident than ever that the next time he steps in the octagon, Conor McGregor will be the man standing opposite him.
Chandler (23-8 MMA, 2-3 UFC), a former three-time Bellator lightweight champion and UFC title challenger, has been pushing to be the man who welcomes McGregor (22-6 MMA, 10-4 UFC) back to competition for more than a year. It hasn’t materialized to this point as “The Notorious” tries to rebound from a broken leg in his July 2021 trilogy fight with Dustin Poirier, but a notable progression happened this week.
UFC president Dana White told ESPN on Thursday that a showdown between Chandler and McGregor is “likely,” and that was music to Chandler’s ears. Now it’s just about locking down the details, and Chandler’s ideal situation would be a clash at International Fight Week in July.
“Obviously Dana’s on board with it, I think the UFC’s on board with it – I do think Conor’s on board with it,” Chandler told MMA Junkie on Friday. “We’ve seen our interactions in the past. You’re not going to see me out here badmouthing him, mother-effing him, and tweeting him and all that stuff. That’s not my style. I’ve always been respectful of Conor. I’ve always said the sport of mixed martial arts is better when Conor is in it, so let me be the other guy on the other side of the octagon.”
The biggest hurdle to getting McGregor back in the cage at this point appears to relate to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). McGregor is not currently in the testing pool, and according to a USADA statement, he is likely going to be required to undergo six months of random testing before he’s cleared to fight.
After some unusual social media posts from McGregor hinting that he might be using some banned substances to fully heal his injured leg, there’s been lots of speculation – and much outrage – that he’s not playing fair. For Chandler, however, all of that is irrelevant. He said he doesn’t care what McGregor is doing, and carries the belief that if they step in the cage, everything will be sound.
“Let’s be honest: I fought outside the UFC for most of my career,” Chandler said. “I’ve never once been worried about if a guy has been using anything whatsoever. I will say it’s just downright false that USADA – are people going to scrutinize things and look at things through a microscope and comb through it with a fine-tooth comb and say, ‘USADA could to this better, USADA could do that better’ – absolutely. But overall, we can be tested at any time, any place, anywhere. Our whereabouts are on our phones at all times. Is it a perfect system? No. Will it ever be perfect? Absolutely not. Do I have any concerns whatsoever, absolutely not.
“Then also the guy comes back and he’s six months in the USADA testing pool getting tested six times, 12 times, five times, two times – it doesn’t matter. He’s in the pool for that amount of time, six months is half a year. It’s a long time. So, I have no concerns. I’m not that worried about it, honestly. I’ve wished Conor a speedy recovery from the beginning. It’s not like he sprained his ankle. It’s not like he broke his hand, it’s not like he broke his nose. The guy shattered his leg. So I hope he’s doing well on it, hopes he’s recovering well. He looks big, tanned and jacked and I would love to fight him at 170. Let’s do it.”
From a strategic standpoint, Chandler said trying to attack McGregor’s previously snapped leg would be a “fool’s errand,” and he doesn’t plan to stray far from the approach that’s led to multiple Fight of the Year contenders during his UFC tenure. Chandler intends to throw caution to the wind once more, and envisions an electric contest.
“People think it’s going to be the fastest-paced, craziest first round of all time (and) I definitely think it will be,” Chandler said. “The way that Conor McGregor starts fights, the way I start fights – it’s a car crash in the middle of the octagon. Hopefully at T-Mobile Arena here in Vegas in July. It’s going to be huge, it’s going to be awesome and I believe it’s going to happen. Things are moving in the right direction, so let’s make it happen.”
Chandler has previously stated a fight with McGregor would do “staggering” numbers on pay-per-view. He reiterated as much now that’s closer to reality, and although it might not break the UFC record of 2.4 million buys set by McGregor’s fight with Khabib Nurmagomedov, he fully believes it would be a seminal event in the sport’s history.
“Over a million? Yeah. We crush it. We blow past 1 million. Easily,” Chandler said. “You look at Conor’s numbers, he’s always doing over a million, it doesn’t matter if he’s fighting anybody. He could be fighting a cold and he’s doing over a million. You fight me? I think the most exciting guy in the UFC right now. Most momentum, must-watch TV. Can’t-miss pay-per-view, butts in seats. Hopefully, it’s here in Vegas, International Fight Week.
I don’t know when it’s going to be. But just the build up, the lead up and battlegrounds of epic proportions. I want to win the title, I want to be the No. 1 guy in the world, but I also want the brightest lights, the biggest stages, the biggest opportunities and the best opponents. And Conor McGregor is the biggest opponent that this sport may ever see, ever. We’ll see if it happens.”