Michael Chandler on 'dangerous' bout vs. Justin Gaethje at UFC 268, potential Conor McGregor matchup

Former Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler previews his Nov. 6 fight versus Justin Gaethje at UFC 268 inside Madison Square Garden in New York.

Video Transcript

KEVIN IOLE: Hey, everybody. I am Kevin Iole, and welcome back to Yahoo Sports. I think UFC 268 is going to be an unbelievable show, just unbelievable. Top to bottom, this card, main card, preliminary card, early prelims, this one is going to be a bomb at Madison Square Garden. And one of the fights I think everybody's talking about is my next guest, Michael Chandler. He will be fighting Justin Gaethje, the human highlight film. How can this not be the fight of the year? I don't know. Mike, what do you think? Are we looking at fight of the year in this one?

MICHAEL CHANDLER: I do think so. You know, the goal is for every fighter to not make it a fight of the year because you want to go out there and make quick work of your opponent, collect your paycheck, kiss your wife, and move on to the next one, take a little bit of time off. But you always got to be ready to settle in for a 15-minute war against anybody, let alone Justin Gaethje. As you said, the human highlight reel.

So it's a dangerous fight, it's an exciting fight. It's, you know, regarded by many as the people's main event. You've got two world title fights on the card as the co-main and the main, but this is a fight that a lot of people are excited about. I'm excited about it. I'm sure Justin Gaethje is excited about it. I think we are perfect opponents for one another, to go out there and get a bonus, put on a great show, and may the best man win.

KEVIN IOLE: You know, I've heard a couple of people refer to Gaethje as crazy, right? And you know, don't want to fight him because he, you know, he just never stops coming. How do you view him? I mean, you know, is crazy you an up word to describe him as a fighter?

MICHAEL CHANDLER: You know, I think crazy is becoming more and more normal. You know, I think if you want to do anything in life, you've got to be a little bit crazy. It's kind of what I say. You know, I just came out with some merch, I put "stay dangerous" on it. And the way that I describe it is, if you want to accomplish anything in life of some real gumption, of some real weight, that's going to make people feel something, you've got to be a little bit dangerous. You got to live a little bit dangerously. You've got to you got to embark on the danger of rubbing people the wrong way and not being everybody's cup of tea.

I think crazy is kind of the same way. I think when people say things like, I'm willing to die in there, I want to go to a deep places, deep dark places. I love to pull out the darkness, I love to break people, I love to hurt people. Most of the time that's all blunder. But when Justin Gaethje says, I think he truly believes it. And that's a scary opponent, it's a dangerous opponent, it's opponent that wakes me up a little bit early.

I've woken up before my alarm more times this training camp ready to hit the ground running to get my day started more than I have in my entire career. And that's what you want in an opponent. You know, for many years I fought guys that I was supposed to beat in the first round. And if I didn't beat him in the first round, it was a failure. This is not one of those fights. Coming over to the UFC, I've not had any of those.

You know, so it's a fight that excites me, he's an opponent that excites me. We are very much cut from the same cloth in a lot of different ways. There's a lot of mutual respect even if we're not talking about how respectful we are of each other's skills and are of each other's abilities. But come November 6, we both got a job to do. We're both going to try to get our hand raised and may the best man win.

KEVIN IOLE: Let's talk about what brought you into this position, because instead of defending the title against Dustin Poirier in December, you're here fighting Gaethje in November. And it was like this close to being the UFC champion. Well, you know, you lost to Charles Oliveira in May and in an unbelievable fight. You know, you talk about great fights, that was one of them, right? What happened? I mean, you know, did you think he had that fight won? And you know, is that one hurt more because of the things you did and how close you came to pulling it off?

MICHAEL CHANDLER: Yeah. I mean, it's a double-edged sword. It's a little bit bittersweet being that close to victory, that close to, you know, the ultimate goal in mixed martial arts, which is becoming the number one guy in the world. It's a tough pill to swallow, but it also reinforces in people's mind, my mind, you know, the media's mind that, man, this dude's one of the top guys in the entire world. And I get another opportunity to right that wrong or get back on the winning track against Justin Gaethje here in a couple of weeks.

But you know, only those who risk are really free. Only those who put themselves out there in the middle of an octagon in front of millions and millions of people and dare the embarrassment, dare the shame, dare the insecurity and the pain of losing a fight like that are really the ones who are doing the greatest things in life, putting yourself out there. So just getting the opportunity to fight for the world title, being that close, it was very bittersweet. But it also reminded me that I am here to stay.

I am one of the best guys in the world. And I think beating Justin Gaethje even more solidifies that and it puts me right in line for the title. So I've watched the fight a couple of times. I've cleaned up-- this is probably the first-- not the first training camp, but one of the training camps that I've really emphasized focusing on certain mistakes and inefficiencies and deficiencies that I have in my game, certain areas of weakness that I really need to work on. And I've done that in spades over the last four months. So now I'm excited to go out there and show the world who I am.

KEVIN IOLE: Have you been a guy historically in your career, Mike, who just when you train, you're just trying to improve yourself? Or have you been a guy that trained specifically for the opponent? Like you know, did you have a certain thing that you did because you were fighting Oliveira? And now is it different because you're fighting Gaethje?

MICHAEL CHANDLER: I think I'm an 80-20, if not a 85-15 kind of guy. I do spend 80% to 85% of my time just focusing on me. Where can I get better? Where can I clean things up? Where can I just become the happiest, the healthiest, and the hardest to kill? Because if I can make myself those three things, stepping inside the octagon, putting my best foot forward, I'm going to put on a great performance.

And I don't think there's a man alive that can beat me at 155 pounds. But it's a fight. He wants to win. I want to win. We're both extremely skilled. We're both at the top of the division. And stuff happens inside the confines of mixed martial arts. So we've definitely worked on a percentage of things, a small percentage of things that we know how Justin Gaethje fights.

We've watched some of his wins. We've watched some of his losses. Why he lost, why he's been so dominant, why he's been known as the human highlight reel. Because he goes out there and he's got a lot of great tools. He's got a lot of great heart, great cardio, great chin, great ability to battle back from adversity. So you know, we just we keep on trucking. We keep on trucking on the me train, making myself better.

And I got phenomenal coaches, phenomenal training partners at Stanford MMA. We've put together a great game plan. We put together a great training camp, strung together a great couple of months. And I think we're going to see a great performance by two guys who believe that they're going to have UFC gold within the next six months.

KEVIN IOLE: Is there are any advantage to you? Because maybe people forget this, but you were the backup when Khabib-- a year ago, Khabib fought Justin Gaethje. So you kind of had a training camp for him before, right? I know you were preparing for either eventuality. But certainly went-- is there any advantage to that because you just can refresh your mind, you have in your mind what the keys are?

MICHAEL CHANDLER: Yeah. You know, I mean, really, when I came to the UFC, I started watching a lot of film on all the guys in the top five. You know, especially Khabib because I thought I was going to come in, fight one fight, you know, beat somebody, and get that title shot, and make them 29 and Chandler. That's never going to happen how it sounds like. But you know, Justin Gaethje has been one of those guys.

His name has perpetually been on the short list of people that I was going to fight in all of these different training camps. Even up to the fight with Oliveira, before it got announced, Justin Gaethje was the guy that I thought I was going to fight. You know, I didn't know if it was going to be for the title or what was going to happen because we didn't quite know what was going to happen with Khabib and when he was going to retire when he did.

But I've been training to fight Justin Gaethje over the last year if not before that because I knew I was making a transition to the UFC even before I fought Benson Henderson. I knew I was going to probably end up in the UFC, and that's where I wanted to go. So all these guys are guys I want to fight. Every single guy inside the top 10 is a tough guy, a tough go, and I can fight my next 10 fights here in the UFC lightweight division, and every single one of them could be a main event or a pay-per-view or a world title fight. So there's no shortage of great opponents, and Justin Gaethje one of the top guys on that list that I've wanted to compete against.

KEVIN IOLE: You're really good at this, you know, discussing your fights, and I know you're doing a little bit of TV work now and everything. But I wonder this, do you get a little extra juice because it's New York, the media capital of the world, you know, Madison Square Garden, you know, the most famous arena in the world. You know, Muhammad Ali fought there, Joe Frazier, all the great, you know, George St-Pierre, you go down the list. And anybody really who's anybody in MMA and boxing has fought in the Garden. You know, being in New York and that spotlight, does that add a little extra to it?

MICHAEL CHANDLER: Yeah, I think it does. You know, I think this card, the card that the UFC has assembled for UFC 268 could be anywhere in the entire world. And the entire mixed martial arts world, combat sports world, even casual fans are going to tune in. But the fact that it is at Madison Square Garden, the fact that when we get boots on the ground Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and all the media starts rolling out with all their interviews, and there's extra paparazzi, and there's extra cameras, and there's extra ants answers to questions, and I'm sure there's going to be a big press conference.

It's just the stakes get higher and the platform gets bigger when things are, like you said, in the media capital of the world in New York City. You know, obviously, there's going to be some restrictions with the way the state of the world with COVID and whatnot. But it's still going to be a huge, huge fight week. So I'm looking forward to that. This is what I asked for. This is what I came to the UFC for.

I believe I was underutilized for a very long time, and now I'm being utilized to the full extent of being on these huge platforms and having these huge opportunities. So it's what I was built for, what I was bred for, and why I came to the UFC. So having another huge platform, I'm forever indebted to the UFC for these huge platforms that they give us. And I think I wish a lot more fighters would focus on and realize in this short window of opportunity the platform that they are given by the UFC.

Even if you're on the prelims of this card, even if you're on, you know, the first fight of the night, you're fighting at Madison Square Garden in New York City. And those are the kind of experiences and exposure that can't be weighed out in, you know, your fight purse. You know, they can't be weighed out. These are things that perpetually move you forward in life.

KEVIN IOLE: Has it translated for you from a business standpoint into endorsements like, in other words, because you're in the UFC. And even more than in the UFC, but on, you know, the big shows like you've talked about that you've been on, has it translated to you getting other endorsements, money, outside the cage where you don't have to get kicked or punch in the head and you're still getting a check coming in?

MICHAEL CHANDLER: Tenfold, man. Tenfold just in the last 12 months. Because you know, it's all about attention. It's all about who knows you. It's all about your reputation first and foremost. And I think what I did in the way that I played my career fighting outside the UFC, always having a good reputation, always being the guy who was reliable and able to rely on, I had some great sponsors throughout my career.

And now I've carried those into the UFC, and I've gotten a bump in pay and bump in exposure and a deeper business relationship with a lot of them, plus a lot that have come to the table because they realize that as a UFC fighter, you are a much bigger asset than you are in any other organization. The reach that you can have, the social media influence you can have, the in-fight aspect of it, the actual times you compete under the UFC banner.

It's just big time. You know, it's-- I hate to use the word "big leagues" because that sounds like everyone else isn't the big leagues, but this is the premier organization. So you're on the biggest platform, which, you know, companies are smart. They know they want to hitch their name to the right people with the best reputations who are going to put the company in the best situation possible to be able to build their business. And I've done a pretty good job of that because of relationships.

And I had a lot of great relationships coming into the UFC. And then once the platform got to where it needed to be, then I was able to, for lack of a better term, "cash in on those relationships," and really use them for a bigger purpose. And that's what I've done really well over the last 12 months. And it's been really awesome to watch, and it's really expanded my mind.

KEVIN IOLE: As you were talking, something crossed my mind. And I don't normally ask guys about other fights, you know, when they have a big fight like you have coming up. But you know, I think your UFC debut, you were on the show with Conor McGregor sitting there. And you know, kind he trash-talked you as he trash-talks to everybody, sort of talk down to you and all that.

You know, he's kind of been on a losing streak, had some have some troubles, but you know, he's still an iconic figure in the UFC. Is he a guy that would be on your radar, you know, because you talk about all these opportunities, right? When you fight Conor, even if the stakes, you know, the belt isn't there or whatever else. Everything else is bigger. Because of that, would he be on your radar with a victory?

MICHAEL CHANDLER: Absolutely. You know, Conor is who he is whether he's on a five-fight losing streak or he's on a five-fight winning streak. Conor brings attention, Conor has built the sport, you know, whether people like to admit it or not. The sport without Conor McGregor is less of a sport. When Conor came in, he changed a lot of things about the game, unprecedented things about the game. So I think I'm a perfect opponent for Conor to come back. I'm just a short, stocky wrestler with an overhand. You know, like Chad Mendes or like some of these other guys, I'm sure I'm--

KEVIN IOLE: You did it before, right?

MICHAEL CHANDLER: I'm stiff and I'm short. You know, short wrestler with an overhand and all the different things that he kind of puts a lot of people in the same buckets. But I think I'd be a perfect fight for Conor to come back and fight whether I win this fight or if I fell short in this fight. I think Conor needs to come back and get a win.

Obviously, that fourth fight with Dustin, there's going to be some people that think that fight needs to happen. A lot of people think that fight needs to happen because of the way it ended. But you know, you look at my fight with Oliveira, if you want to ended that-- if you were to stop the tape right there and said, OK, make your prediction on who wins this fight. You say Chandler wins that fight 10 times out of 10.

So just because Dustin had a great first round, if you stop the tape right there, a lot of people will say that, you know, Poirier would win 10 times out of 10. But you can't count Conor out. Conor really is-- He's proven himself in this sport. His five-round fight Diaz, a couple of his other longer fights, and obviously, his power in his hands, man, he can finish anybody. So I think I'd be a great opponent for him so I'd love that fight.

KEVIN IOLE: A lot of good stuff coming up, and nothing better than on November 6, UFC 268, Michael Chandler against Justin Gaethje on the main card there. Could be, as he said, the people's main event. Mike, all the best to you. I always appreciate talking to you, and wish you the best of luck in the fight

MICHAEL CHANDLER: You got it. Thanks, Kevin. Appreciate you.