UFC 257 was shaping up to feature the winner of Conor McGregor-Dustin Poirier 2 to face the winner of Michael Chandler-Dan Hooker for the lightweight championship.
Chandler held up his end of the bargain, starching Hooker in under three minutes in the co-main event. After taking care of media obligations and getting his post-fight medicals completed, Chandler ran out into the arena of about 2,500 people to gather intel on McGregor and Poirier to humanize himself to the moment of being in there with both guys. What Chandler saw impressed him as Poirier stopped McGregor in the second round.
"His performance was great," Chandler told DAZN News. "Even though this is the fight game, Conor's performance was great aside from the fact that he took some leg kicks and the fact that he got finished.
"Conor, I believe, was in the driver's seat for that fight. He was taking some damage to the calf. Of course, he was eating a couple of shots. Whenever Dustin Poirier gets you up against the cage in that striking range, there's nobody that does it better. But I think Conor was in the driver's seat in that first round.
"I think there's some small tweaks and some small adjustments that Conor can make and that he will most likely make that will make it a more competitive fight in the trilogy."
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Poirier and Chandler looked to be poised to lock horns once UFC president Dana White came to grips that he'd be unable to convince Khabib Nurmagomedov to come out of retirement and compete for the vacant belt. Chandler was down for the idea, but Poirier had another idea in mind, and that was to face McGregor in a trilogy bout, which will occur at UFC 264 on July 10.
That still left Chandler in a prime position to fight for his first UFC belt. He'll get the chance on Saturday in the main event of UFC 262 when he battles Charles Oliveira.
While the former Bellator 155-pound champion is grateful for the opportunity in front of him, Chandler feels Poirier is putting all his chips on the poker table in hopes of winning the series against McGregor instead of taking him on for the UFC lightweight title.
"I even think Conor has the advantage. I also think mentally Conor has the advantage because now they're one and one. They both have finishes over each other. But the caveat is Dustin let it ride and put all his eggs in one basket and passed up on the UFC title shot to fight Conor McGregor. Now, of course, he might make more money.
"Of course, it's maybe a bigger fight with more eyeballs, but you still passed up on the UFC title. You lose this fight against Conor, I fight Conor next, and now he's going to have to go through Justin Gaethje again, or he's going have to go through another guy inside the top five to get the title shot."
When Poirer declined to face Chandler, the UFC could have easily gone the route of matching him and McGregor for the title. It wouldn't have been fair since McGregor hasn't won at 155 pounds since November 2016, but some could have been justified considering his stature in the sports world.
Or the promotion could have gone with Oliveira with Gaethje since the latter had just lost a competitive fight to Nurmagomedov at UFC 254. The UFC didn't choose either option. If they did, Chandler would have understood since he's had one UFC under his belt but would have been disappointed nonetheless.
"To be getting a UFC title shot is so hard," Chandler exclaimed. "If the fans don't quite understand how hard it is and how hard guys have to work to get that UFC title shot. That's why I completely understand, and that's completely warranted why people say I don't deserve it. That's completely fine.
"I haven't cut my teeth inside the UFC like some people have seen, as some of the fighters have seen. I'm willing to admit that. But all I know is I came in with my work boots on and my phone. When my phone rings, I answer, and I say yes.
"That's the fact of the matter, and I think I'm being rewarded for it. I've been in a lot of different fights where a lot of different people have gotten injured and pulled out of fights and all kinds of crazy stuff, not to mention the fact that we're still in the COVID era of sports, not to mention the fact that it could have been me getting passed up for it and it was Gaethje and Oliveira or Poirier and Oliveira.
"I'm glad it came together the way that it did. I'm glad that it worked out the way that it did. I believe it's going to be the best performance of my life."
According to Bet MGM, Oliveira is a slight favorite heading into UFC 262. Chandler relishes the role of once again being the underdog. It's been that way throughout his MMA journey. When he's lying in bed at night and thinking about UFC 262, Chandler sees the fight ending one way and one way only.
"I think I instill fear in him in the first exchange," Chandler predicts. "I think I get him backed up and on his heels and overreacting. I think I mix things up really well. I think I catch him with really hard shots. I think I finished him towards the end of the first round just like I did Dan Hooker."