When Michael Chandler first signed with the UFC as a free agent, he named several dream opponents, including former interim lightweight champion Dustin Poirier.
Nearly two years after he joined the promotion, Chandler might finally get his wish.
All signs are pointing toward two of the top 6 lightweights in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings clashing before the end of the year, and while nothing is official yet, Chandler can’t help but get excited about the prospect of testing himself against somebody as proven as Poirier.
“You know it’s going to be fireworks,” Chandler told MMA Fighting. “One thing you can’t say is that Dustin’s ever been in a boring fight, or I’ve ever been in a boring fight, so it’s going to be fireworks whenever it happens.”
The possible matchup came together after Chandler and Poirier had words in the crowd at UFC 276 during International Fight Week back in July.
Despite a video featuring them going viral on social media, Chandler insists he wasn’t seeking any kind of altercation with Poirier but the nature of the situation forced him to react.
“I just heard some shouting, turned around, and realized it was Dustin kind of pointing at me,” Chandler explained. “I could tell he was talking to me. It caught me completely off guard. I’m not there to get in verbal or physical altercations or any kind of controversy ever. That’s not my nature. Quite frankly, I shy away from it. I’m kind of a pacifist by nature in a lot of ways, except when I go out there and get paid for it inside the octagon.
“The security guards were kind of trying to pull us away, but I’m like, ‘I have to go see what he’s saying’ because it was far away, music’s playing, lights are flashing everywhere, you could hear the crowd noise, so I couldn’t understand what he was saying. Got over and got close, and he said his piece and he’s got a problem with me.”
While Chandler maintains that he doesn’t have any kind of personal grudge or animosity toward Poirier, he believes the genesis of their supposed rivalry really boils down to comments both made in various interviews after he first arrived in the UFC.
“I do think it stems back from him saying, ‘Instead of fighting Chandler, I’d rather go sell hot sauce,’” Chandler said. “I took that as a slight, obviously, but since then accidentally really in one interview, I forgot to mention his name inside the title picture.
“But that was because at that time he was talking about retirement, he was talking about never making 155 again, he was talking about going up to 170. He was campaigning hard for the Diaz fight. So in my mind, he had already left the lightweight division. I think that’s what kind of set him off or made him not too happy with me, but I’m not really worried about it. I respect him as a fighter. I respect everybody that I’ve fought.”
It was after a loss to Charles Oliveira this past December that Poirier confessed his doubts about continuing at lightweight. He contemplated his future after falling short in two bids to become undisputed UFC lightweight champion.
Whatever doubts existed, Poirier has seemingly exorcised those demons as he’s started looking for a fight in recent months. But Chandler still wonders what’s driving “The Diamond” these days.
“I wake up every morning thinking about being a UFC champion,” Chandler said. “I’ve had one crack at it. Dustin’s now had a couple cracks at it. He’s talked about going up to 170. I think it’s hard for him to make the weight. I think he’s talked about retiring. He’s talked about passion, he’s talked about desire, does he have it any more? He’s talked about fighting Nate Diaz. We all know what going after a fight against Nate Diaz [means]. It begs the question — does he truly believe he’s one of the best in the world anymore?
“I think he’s one of the best in the world but he’s also had a couple Conor [McGregor] fights, he’s got a little bit of money in the bank, he’s getting older, it’s hard for him to make the weight, he’s talked about going up to 170. These are all telltale signs that I think this is the right time for me to fight him and the wrong time for him to fight me. That’s no disrespect against him. I want to compete against him. I compete against anybody in the top 5 that’s going to get me towards a title shot.”
Whether Poirier is fired up to make another run at the belt or careening toward the latter part of his career, Chandler still expects a barnburner when they finally meet. A huge reason Chandler sought the Poirier fight is because of their fan-favorite styles. But he also likes his chances to add another legend to his growing list of accolades.
“I’ve always loved the Dustin Poirier fight, and it’s not because he’s not a great fighter,” Chandler said. “It’s not because he’s not extremely skilled. I’ve just always watched him from a far and thought he’s good, but I do think I beat him.
“I think I’ve got his number. I think I’m the guy inside of that fire that will continue to put it on him, and he won’t be able to finish me – he won’t be able to put me away. I’ll match him cardio for cardio, strike for strike, wrestling for wrestling, grappling for grappling and then it comes down to a battle of wills and I think I win that battle. I think I truly do.
“He’s a good boxer. Southpaw. Counter striker. I think I can match him punch for punch. I’ve always done very well against southpaws. I’ve never lost to a southpaw. As a matter of fact, I’ve knocked out every southpaw that I have fought. I like fighting southpaws. Power shots all day long.”
Right now all signs are pointing towards the highly anticipated fight taking place before the end of the year, though if Chandler has a choice, he’d like to close out 2022 in spectacular fashion.
“If I had a preference, I’ll tell you I want December in Vegas,” Chandler said. “I’ve been signed with the UFC dang near two years, and I haven’t fought in Vegas yet. I want to fight in Vegas. I want to feel that fight week in Vegas.
“Because I’ve seen it from afar, I’ve been at fight week, but I’ve never actually fought there in Vegas for the UFC or any organization for that matter. I want to experience that.”