When the UFC first signed former Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler, the immediate hope was a fight with Tony Ferguson. That didn't happen, but Chandler finally has his UFC debut booked.
Chandler will make his promotional debut opposite Dan Hooker at UFC 257: Poirier vs. McGregor 2 on Jan. 23 on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi. He feels it is the biggest stage possible for him to make an immediate splash in the UFC.
As mentioned, it wasn't Plan A... or even Plan B.
The UFC inked Chandler and had intended for him to fight Ferguson on the undercard of UFC 254, which was headlined by lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and interim titleholder Justin Gaethje.
With all of the potential for COVID-19 and other issues to possibly upset the marquee match-up, Chandler and Ferguson would also serve as a back-up in case either Khabib or Gaethje was knocked out of the main event.
When the fight with Ferguson never materialized, Chandler ended up without a bout, but still traveled to Abu Dhabi, made weight, and was ready to be the sole fighter to step in. As it turned out, his services proved unnecessary at UFC 254.
Having made the weight cut, Chandler needed a bit of time for his body to recover, and for an opponent to sign on the dotted line.
That opponent has finally materialized in the form of Hooker, who wasn't Chandler's first choice for his UFC debut, but not because he thought Hooker was someone to overlook.
“Here’s what I would say, Dan Hooker wasn’t necessarily on the radar, on the highest rung on the radar, mainly because of the pecking order of the UFC’s rankings,” Chandler told ESPN's Brett Okamoto recently.
“Obviously, when I come in, the UFC wanted to give me a test right away, throwing around names like like (Dustin) Poirier, like Ferguson, like Gaethje, like (Charles) Oliveira; guys who are 1, 2, 3, 4 in the division. Obviously, aside from Khabib (Nurmagomedov), because he’s semi-retired right now, we’re not sure what he’s doing yet, but these were the names that we were talking about, these are the names that the UFC was trying to get me booked against, so it wasn’t that Dan Hooker wasn’t a formidable opponent.”
In fact, Chandler sees Hooker as one of the more dangerous opponents for him in the Octagon.
"Truthfully, he may be one of the saltiest, nastiest, toughest challenges both physically and with his attributes inside of the Octagon than any of them. I think I match up better with Poirier than I do Hooker. I think I match up better with Gaethje then Hooker. I think I match up better with Tony Ferguson than Hooker," said Chandler.
"At the end of it all, I signed with the UFC to get to the top. In order to get to the top, I have to get a fight. I have to get inside the UFC Octagon. It's been a rollercoaster of emotion to get this fight booked."
Though it has taken Chandler several months to get a fight booked, he is more than ready to make his move into the top of the UFC lightweight division. He's also more than happy to do it on the pay-per-view fight card that also features Conor McGregor's return to the limelight.
"(UFC 257) Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier... the biggest card of the year. It's going to be the biggest stage I could have possibly fought on, Dan Hooker it is, so let's go."
Dana White on why Michael Chandler and Tony Ferguson didn't fight in December
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