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Michael Chandler has worked his whole career for a fight against someone like Conor McGregor.
Later this year, he will finally have that opportunity.
Chandler and McGregor will serve as coaches on the upcoming season of The Ultimate Fighter, which will run weekly on ESPN beginning this May. They will then fight, a bout that could forever change Chandler’s career.
“Fighting Conor, that’s always been my goal,” Chandler says. “This is going to be the biggest fight of 2023. This is even bigger than Jon Jones, this is Conor McGregor.”
Chandler (23-8) has only won two of his past five UFC fights, but each encounter has been appointment-viewing. There was the debut win against Dan Hooker, followed by a bout against Charles Oliveira that appeared destined to go Chandler’s way in the opening round until the clock quickly struck midnight in the second. He also put on an all-time classic at Madison Square Garden against Justin Gaethje that ended in defeat, delivered one of the most vital victories ever when he kicked Tony Ferguson in the face, and put forth another phenomenal showing, again in defeat, against Dustin Poirier this past November at MSG.
“Look at my record: a couple ups, a couple downs, but always entertaining,” Chandler says. “I asked for the toughest guys and the biggest fights right away. I told [UFC EVP] Hunter Campbell in our first meeting, ‘I want to be a good thing for your organization, and I want to prove I am who I say I am.’ Now am I undefeated in the UFC or the UFC champion? No, I’m not. Have I won every fight? Absolutely not. But I’ve fought all the toughest guys and people want to watch me fight.
“Conor chose me for a reason. I’m a tough matchup for him, but Conor is hungry. He knows I’m unbreakable. That’s the fight he wants, which speaks a lot about him.”
McGregor (22-6) is a name recognized across the globe. Working alongside him on The Ultimate Fighter, especially with the show airing on ESPN, will allow Chandler to reach a whole new audience.
“I have always thought a fight against Conor would be the biggest opportunity for me, but embedding myself in The Ultimate Fighter, that could be even more valuable,” Chandler says. “It allows me to be seen in a different light. I do not want to coach after my career is finished, but I am motivated about what I can do here. These young fighters, their futures are in my hands. I’ll truly be fighting for them to get that UFC contract. And we’ll have an absolutely huge platform to do it on ESPN.”
A fascinating subplot to the Chandler-McGregor showdown will be the manner in which McGregor chooses to attack. He has a penchant to prey on his opponents’ weaknesses, a notion that has undoubtedly crossed Chandler’s mind.
“I’m going in with an open mind and open spirit,” Chandler says. “We’ve seen a couple different versions of Conor. One that is brash, loud-mouthed, and in your face, and we’ve also seen a very respectful Conor. He could come at me completely nonstop, or he could be more respectful—though even a respectful Conor is a linguistically dangerous individual. A lot of guys shell up at that, but I’m secure in my own skin. People are going to see a different side of me, standing up to a guy who is known for mentally and verbally breaking somebody.”
The fight itself should be extremely captivating. McGregor last fought in July of 2021, when he suffered a brutal leg injury that ended his bout against Poirier. He has added even more muscle to his frame since then, and Chandler will be ever-conscious of the lights-out power in McGregor’s left hand.
“You know exactly what you’re going to get when that cage door closes,” Chandler says. “You’re going to feel something. Conor thinks he’s going to go out and smash somebody, and I’m here for it.”
There may even be title implications at stake. Once this fight finishes, there are plenty of reasons to believe that the winner will be thrust into a title bout.
“People are going to skip weddings, skip bar mitzvahs and birthdays, and they’re going to make sure they watch this,” Chandler says. “So if I find a way to dispatch Conor, then I’m right there in the title picture.”
Business Picking Up in UFC Heavyweight Division
Serghei Spivak dominated Derrick Lewis this past weekend, taking a giant step closer to the top five.
Suddenly, the top five is a crowded place in the UFC heavyweight division. It will be interesting to see the new rankings this week, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Spivak jumps all the way from No. 12 to No. 5. Above him will remain Ciryl Gane, Stipe Miocic, Sergei Pavlovich and Curtis Blaydes, but there is an argument to be made for Spivak jumping Tai Tuivasa and Tom Aspinall.
Since Jon Jones has not had a heavyweight fight yet, he is not listed in the rankings. His future, on paper, is secure: Jones will fight Gane for the heavyweight title in March, and the winner of that fight will then make his first defense of the belt later this year against Miocic.
After that, the field begins to open. Pavlovich against Blaydes could be a title eliminator bout to decide the next opponent, and Spivak vs. Tuivasa would also make an exciting fight. Aspinall had an incredibly bright future before suffering a knee injury this past July, but he is another threat when healthy.
It has been a minute since this was the case, but there is finally a lot of momentum building around UFC’s heavyweight division.
Ward’s Win Far More Significant Than His Record
Brennan Ward’s victory on Saturday was a triumph of the human spirit.
Ward manhandled Sabah Homasi at Bellator 290, winning in the second round via TKO. It marked Ward’s third straight win since his return to MMA following a nearly five-year absence as he battled addiction. He made fairly quick work of Brandon Bell a year ago in his return bout, then defeated Kassius Kayne by TKO in June. The matchup against Homasi, Bellator’s eighth-ranked welterweight, served as Ward’s toughest test yet. Despite taking some vicious shots to the face in the opening round, Ward’s all-out assault was simply too much. In fact, with the type of damage Ward was dishing, this fight could have been stopped 30 seconds sooner.
What comes next for Ward? If he can defeat the right opponent, he could put himself in title contention. A win against Jason Jackson, for instance, would go a long way.
The fact that Ward is even in this position is remarkable. He is someone, from his own account, who made reckless decisions that should have cost his life. But Ward has been blessed with another chance, and clearly, he is making the most of it.