Michael Chandler makes his highly anticipated debut on Saturday in the co-main event of UFC 257, as he takes on No. 6-ranked lightweight Dan Hooker.
Chandler (21-5) made his mark in Bellator, going 18-5 in the promotion with 13 coming by stoppage, and was a three-time lightweight champion. He beat two former UFC 155-pound champions, Eddie Alvarez and Benson Henderson (twice). He enters his first UFC fight, having won back-to-back contests by knockout.
Before he steps into the Octagon for the first time, Chandler talked with DAZN News. We discussed making his UFC debut, guys turning down fights to face him, being the 'invader', and if the UFC has spoken with him about the possibility of stepping in if either Conor McGregor or Dustin Poirier are forced to pull out of the main event.
(Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
DAZN: Welcome officially to the UFC. You have a big fight coming up UFC 257 out in Abu Dhabi against Dan Hooker. When you hear Mike that you officially got a fight and you're going to be competing in the Octagon, what goes through your mind when you keep hearing this?
Michael Chandler: Finally. I shouldn't say finally. I think this process has felt a lot longer to the fans, to the media, and even to myself at times than it really has been. I signed with the organization in mid-September. I had the fight offers for (Dustin) Poirier and (Tony) Ferguson right away, and those never transpired.
I ended up being the backup in October (at UFC 254 for Khabib Nurmagomedov-Poirier fight). I took a couple weeks off (and) went right back into training camp for this January bout. It seems like I've been signed with UFC for a year.
That's really a good thing because that's a testament to me coming over the heights and the emphasis put on myself and fighting in the UFC now. I'm just excited to finally go out there and compete.
DAZN: We know everything that led up to you getting the fight with Dan. Do you find it flattering that guys were turning you down, or do you find it a little irritating in the fact that these are the best guys in the world then, and they're turning you down?
MC: Of course, there were days where it was irritating. But overall, in general, the overarching feeling was I get it. I completely get it. These guys have earned the right, just like I think I've earned my right to be in the UFC and be here and fight a top-five guy. They've earned the right to turn down the guy who has been on the outside of the organization, even if I was a champion in another organization, even if I got two wins over former UFC champions. None of them wanted to be the first guy.
That's completely understandable. This is a business and a what have you done for me lately business in every sense of the word. These guys in the upper echelon of the biggest, most hyped, most energized division in the UFC right now are the lightweight division. They have the right to turn the fight down against me. So quite frankly, the reason I'm fighting on January 23 is because Dan Hooker said yes when every single other guy in the top five besides Conor, as the fight was never offered to Conor or Khabib.
DAZN: In a way, you're the 'invader' coming into a new territory. You came from Bellator, so you're coming from a different organization. Do you feel like you're invading a new territory in a weird roundabout way?
MC: Yeah. I think it's just the UFC is uncharted territory for me as a promotion. Listen, we got four-ounce gloves, shorts, underwear, a mouthpiece, and a cup, and we're fighting to the same rule set once that door closes. You go out there, and you get into a physical altercation under the unified rules of mixed martial arts with the exact same thing I've been doing for 12 years. It's just much, much bigger, and these guys are considered the elite, and they should be.
When you talk about the names in the top five, top six of this UFC lightweight division, half of them are already Hall of Famers. They're awesome guys. To have my name thrown in the hat with the best division and the most electrifying division in the world right now in sport is awesome. I do feel like a guy who's just coming in. I just needed to get that first win. I need to get that first fight. Thank God we are here.
DAZN: I feel like this right now is tailor-made for you. You were the backup to what was one of the biggest cards of the year back in October, and now you're kicking off 2021 in what is likely to be one of the biggest shows of the year with Conor headlining. Do you feel like the stars are aligned perfectly for you here to make your UFC debut?
MC: Yeah, I do. Honestly, aside from the letdown, that obviously, I wanted to fight October 24, and I wanted to be the co-main under Khabib-Gaethje and all the guys saying no, which may[SM1] or may not be looked at as a bad thing, to be honest with you. It's kind of a good thing that I'm being shown that much respect in a roundabout way. You talk about a UFC debut, a co-main event on the Conor McGregor card, on 'Fight Island', UFC 257, it doesn't get any better than that.
That's how my career kind of always has been. God has had me in the palm of his hand, every single aspect of my career, even when bad things happen, good things always came from it. It's orchestrating itself in a perfect light, in a perfect fashion, in the perfect way. I'm excited for Saturday night for, hopefully, my best performance.
DAZN: Has there been any indication from the UFC at all if something happens to Conor or Dustin and they had a positive COVID test that you would be the guy to step right in and compete in the main event?
MC: (I'm) not really worried about that. But I will say, it hasn't been communicated to me, but it's obviously the default position of the UFC, especially if Poirier goes down with COVID or whatnot and that they're going to keep Conor on the card. I just saw an interview Conor did talking about me and Hooker being the co-main event, and if Dustin fell off that Conor would gladly face either of us.
So I think Hooker and I both know we're in that position. It would be a very, very interesting scenario to see who would end up getting that slot, and I would just pray that it would be me.