After years of speculation, fantasy scenarios and what ifs, Michael Chandler is finally a UFC fighter. And after serving as a back-up fighter for UFC 254’s Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Justin Gaethje main event, “Iron” Mike also has his own fight booked.
In just three days, Chandler, a multi-time Bellator MMA lightweight champion, will make his octagon debut. When he steps in against the rugged Dan “The Hangman” Hooker at UFC 257, Chandler (21-5) will hope to have a UFC career more reminiscent of Eddie Alvarez than, say, Will Brooks, fellow 155lb champs who made the jump from Bellator to the UFC. Alvarez won gold again. Brooks, needless to say, did not.
Chandler, of course, is well acquainted with both parties. But he’s looking forward, not back, as he enters UFC 257 on Saturday.
“I think you couldn’t have scripted it any better for the first chapter of my UFC career,” Chandler told media outlets including Cageside Press during a virtual media day for UFC 257 this week. While the back-up opportunity made it seem like a longer process than it really has been, “to be the co-main event on what could be the biggest card of the year, for my first fight in the UFC, fighting a top five opponent, a perennial top lightweight in Dan Hooker, a guy who’s going to bring it— this fight’s got Fight of the Night written all over it.”
The only thing bigger than being the co-main event on a Conor McGregor PPV, Chandler added, “is actually being in the cage with Conor McGregor on a Pay-per-View. So when things go well on Saturday night, that could be what’s next, and I could check off both those boxes in 2021.”
For now, Chandler said simply that he’s “humbled by the opportunity,” and feels great that the UFC “wants to put me in this kind of position. I’m here to stay, and I’m here to get that gold.” The first step in that quest starts Saturday, Chandler noted.
There’s been a lot of attention on Khabib Nurmagomedov’s rather vague announcement this past Saturday that he might, maybe, return to action. Dana White hyped that up to something along the lines of LeBron James choosing a team, but the announcement fell flat given there was a non-answer. Still, the possibility remains that Khabib has a fight left in him. Asked if he was invested in that story, Chandler explained that “You’ve obviously got to keep the main thing the main thing. And the main thing for me is my career, my match-ups. Whoever signs on the dotted line, whoever steps in the octagon with me.”
MMA is a “what have you done for me lately business,” Chandler continued, one where you’re “only as good as the last fight. So I have to do my job on Saturday night. If I don’t do my job on Saturday, what Conor’s doing and what Poirier’s doing doesn’t matter. What Khabib’s doing doesn’t matter. What anybody is doing doesn’t matter if I don’t go out there and do my job.”
So that, first and foremost, is what Chandler is focused on. But that said, “I’m invested in [Khabib’s return]. Khabib is the greatest of all time. He’s the best lightweight on the planet. He’s undefeated, he’s looked unbeatable 96% of his career. Everyone’s interested in what he’s doing. I’m interested in what he’s doing.”
The former Bellator champ admitted that he didn’t necessarily deserve to fight Khabib right out of the gate in the UFC. He knew he’d need a win, and was maybe a couple of fights away from a title shot. But with Khaib’s suggestion that he’s looking to see something big from one of the UFC 257 lightweights, Chandler also suggested that “with a spectacular win on Saturday night,I could get the title shot. But it remains to be seen how this fight ends. So I’m invested, but not too invested. I’m invested in Saturday night and me going out there and finishing Dan Hooker.”
UFC 257 takes place this Saturday, January 23 at the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi. The main card airs live on PPV.