It’s not often that a 34-year-old makes a high profile debut at the UFC.
But Michael Chandler is no ordinary 34 year old.
As a three-time lightweight world champion in Bellator, he’s been one of the hottest traits outside of the premier organization of MMA for several years.
When he signed in the second half of 2020, the UFC’s already stacked division took on another legitimate standout talent.
At the time, Khabib Nurmagomedov was not retired, Conor McGregor allegedly, while a crowd of high-ranking fighters were calling for a shot at the gold.
Chandler traveled to Fight Island in Abu Dhabi last October as an alternative in case something should happen to Khabib or his opponent Justin Gaethje. He wouldn’t be called that night – but he had one of the best seats in the house to watch the man he thinks the GOAT go to a 29-0 record and get emotional in the middle of the octagon seconds withdraw later.
At this point, the 21-5 Chandler thought he would never get a chance to face the Dagestani, but an announcement from Dana White last week left the door open for Khabib’s return. Nothing is set in stone, but the man who still holds the light gold isn’t averse to stepping back on the canvas – if someone gives him a reason for this weekend.
“It felt like half an announcement,” said Chandler Sports360. “It feels like he’s still happy with his decision to retire unless something really attracts him. I don’t know if I’m going out there and if the fight is an opportunity for me to showcase my wrestling. Khabib is the greatest of all time. He has looked unbeatable in so many ways over the past 12 years.
“We all, including Charles Oliveira who looked great against Tony Ferguson, me, Dan Hooker, Conor and Poirier, all have the ability and skills to go out there and do a spectacular job.
“When Khabib comes back I would love to be the guy he’s chasing 30-0, but I would also love to face the winner from Conor and Poirier. I signed with the UFC, not just to get signed, but to win the title. I will get there by all means and a win on Saturday night is the first step. ”
And that first step is impressive in the form of kiwi, Dan Hooker. After losing a decision against Dustin Poirier, Hangman is determined to return to the profit column – and what could be nicer than derailing the Chandler train before it leaves the station.
The American doesn’t take anything for granted, however, and is firmly focused on a fighter he has great respect for, but who is confident of getting out at UFC 257 – and the beginning of a new chapter in an already successful career.
“I’m ready to go out and do it. After this weekend there will be a lot of clarity in the lightweight division after I’m done after Conor and Poirier fought. We’re going to find out what’s wrong with Khabib – whether he’s coming back or not, and we’re going to figure out the next steps.
“I come from humble beginnings. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs and I’ve taken my bumps, but I’ve always got up, dusted myself off and kept moving forward. I think where I am now is evidence of that. “I’m a guy who has never given up and has never lost faith in my calling. I think I was brought to this earth to do great things in this sport. I’ve been outside the UFC for a long time, now I’m on the biggest platform in the sport and the story continues. ”
If you turn the clock back to 2014, you will lose Chandler in three defeats after spending most of two years without a win.
It became a defining moment in both his life and career. Moving to the question of whether a paycheck was at stake, he hit the odds in the face and made the stellar career for which he is known.
“They’re just human, we tend to think about worst-case scenarios. There were moments when I wasn’t sure if I was going to get cut or if my dreams of being the best in the world were really going to be foiled. I’ve been without a win for 688 days and that’s a long time to feel no win or success and to have no success in competition.
“No matter how dark things look, there is always something to hold on to, and for me it has always been my unwavering belief in my calling why I got drawn into this sport – and being surrounded by phenomenal people. You never fail until you stop trying, as long as you never stop, the story is never over.
“Those chapters of failure, pain, and loss really made me the champion I am today. I’m in my twelfth year of this great career that I’ve enjoyed and I still think the best is yet to come. ”
Michael Chandler competes against Dan Hooker in the UFC 257 co-main event on Abu Dhabi’s Fight Island this Sunday morning – the main ticket starts at 6 a.m. in the United Arab Emirates.
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