Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC
After a potential “Knockout of the Year” over Tony Ferguson in May, the former Bellator lightweight champion was a frontrunner to welcome McGregor back to the octagon. The Irish superstar targeted a return to the octagon before the end of 2022, posting training photos and videos to show just how much he had bounced back from the devastating injury after he recovered from a broken leg suffered in his previous outing against Dustin Poirier.
As days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months, Chandler realized McGregor probably wasn’t going to return until 2023. And with the former lightweight and featherweight champion preparing to film the new Road House remake in the Dominican Republic, it was clear the fight wasn’t happening any time soon.
“Truthfully, if there was a guarantee [that] ‘this fight is happening,’ I have no problem waiting a couple extra months into January, February, even March next year,” Chandler explained on The Fighter vs. The Writer. “But the sport of mixed martial arts, a lot changes every single day, and we’re also talking about the biggest combat sports icon on the planet.
“There’s rumors out there of him fighting Floyd Mayweather. There’s rumors of him never coming back. There’s rumors of him coming back before the end of the year. We don’t know when Conor’s coming back, so with that level of uncertainty, it would be really foolish to hitch your wagon to that fight.”
Chandler has said numerous times that a fight with McGregor is on his bucket list before he calls it a career. But sitting out for months as he continues to chase a second crack at UFC gold just doesn’t make much sense.
Instead, Chandler is now rumored for a showdown with former interim lightweight champion Dustin Poirier for a fight that could potentially take place in either November or December, although no deal is done just yet.
None of that means the 36-year-old lightweight couldn’t eventually draw McGregor as an opponent but as he continues his pursuit of the 155-pound title, that fight might just have to wait for now.
“Do I want that fight [with Conor]? Of course,” Chandler said. “Do I think that fight is going to happen eventually? Absolutely. But still, my No. 1 goal isn’t to fight Conor — it’s the win the title.
“My No. 1 goal is to be UFC champion. To be the No. 1 guy on the entire planet. I’ve got to get through somebody else in the top-five, get another win under my belt and then go fight Charles [Oliveira] or Islam [Makhachev], whoever wins that fight in October, probably in the first quarter of next year. I’ll be your champion in March, April, May of next year.”
As much prestige and financial gain that comes along with the McGregor fight, Chandler still holds winning a UFC title in higher regard. That’s been his mission since the first day he committed to MMA after his college wrestling career.
“Conor is the biggest fight ever,” Chandler explained. “Conor is a legacy kind of fight. Conor is a Hall of Fame kind of fight. It’s the fight that everyone remembers. Win, lose or draw, knockout or submission or decision, it’s a fight that everyone’s going to remember, but holding UFC gold and attaining my goal, reaching my goal of being the No. 1 lightweight on the planet [means more].
“I’ve been a champion in Bellator, but that didn’t mean I was the No. 1 guy. Was I top-10 guy, a top-15 guy, a top-five guy – I’ve been there basically my entire career ever since I beat Eddie [Alvarez] in 2011. I’ve kind of been on that cusp. Becoming the No. 1 guy in the world, that’s the goal. That’s the ultimate goal.”
Ideally, Chandler would love the opportunity to dispatch an opponent like Poirier before the year is over, claim the UFC lightweight title in early 2023 and then he could once again turn his attention to McGregor.
“I want that [UFC title] not just for myself but for my wife, for my two sons, I want it for my family, my mom and dad, who made all those sacrifices over all those years for me to get here,” Chandler said. “I want it for the fans and the people who have supported me since day one.
“So I can hoist it up and say we did it. Then the Conor fight after that. That would be the big one. It would be good.”
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