Michael Chandler has a golden opportunity at UFC 257.
The former Bellator lightweight champion will make his Octagon debut against Dan Hooker in the evening’s co-main event in Abu Dhabi on Jan. 23, one fight before Irish superstar Conor McGregor returns for a rematch with Dustin Poirier in the card’s headliner. Such prominent placement represents a golden opportunity for Chandler, but he must first get past Hooker before making any future plans.
Hooker, who is coming off a memorable decision loss to Poirier in a five-round war at UFC on ESPN 12, has won seven of his last nine promotional appearances while establishing himself as a reliable action fighter in the process.
“He’s the tallest guy in the division, which isn’t that big of a deal for me. Obviously I’m not the tallest guy, I’m about average height. So I fight a lot of guys who are taller than me, and I’ve got numerous knockouts against guys that are taller than me,” Chandler told ESPN. “I have a knack for being able to close that distance, get inside and kind of ‘Mike Tyson’ guys, if you will. I think I’m gonna pressure on Dan Hooker and put him on his back foot.”
Chandler had hoped to face Tony Ferguson in his first UFC foray. Instead, Ferguson accepted a short-notice fight against Charles Oliveira at UFC 256 and lost a lopsided decision. Still, Chandler views Hooker as one of his toughest possible matchups outside of “El Cucuy.”
“I just see more holes in other guys’ games than I do a guy like Dan Hooker, who has looked really, really well aside from his loss to Poirier,” Chandler said. “He still looked phenomenal, he just lost that fight. Maybe it’s in my head. Maybe that’s me trying to stay sharp knowing I’ve got a very tough test ahead of me. I wanted to fight Tony Ferguson. Tony Ferguson was my No. 1 choice because I thought he was the scariest guy in the division, the boogeyman. To me, I think Dan Hooker’s probably the second scariest guy in the division.”
Should Chandler take care of business against Hooker and McGregor defeat Poirier, there’s a reasonable chance that the Bellator veteran could be linked with the “Notorious” one in the aftermath.
“You have to be real with the stakes at hand when you talk being in the same weight class, in the same organization, fighting on the same night as Conor McGregor, your name being right next to his on the bill,” Chandler said. “There’s gonna be a lot of compare and contrast…. Then our names get thrown in the mix right next to each other.”
Chandler does not necessarily buy into the McGregor hybe, but he does give the SBG Ireland representative respect for what he’s accomplished thus far in his career.
“I will say my view of Conor McGregor has changed over the years. I always said he’s better than we thought he was but he’s not as good as he thinks that he is,” Chandler said. “I think that’s still the case but that’s only because he’s one of the most mentally strong, devastatingly confident men in the entire world, definitely across this sport. We as his fellow competitors, we don’t give him as much credit as is due. I think he’s motivated. I think we’re gonna see the best version of Conor McGregor [at UFC 257].”
When all is said and done, Chandler ultimately wants the spotlight of a potential matchup with McGregor down the road. He’ll have a great chance to put himself in prime position for that come Jan. 23.
“Of course I want my name in that storyline, of course I want my name attached to his, of course I want that possible fight,” he said. “Do I think I match up extremely well against Conor? Absolutely. With my wrestling background, plus the power in my hands, plus my ability to mix up striking with the takedowns, plus my ability to push the pace — I think I’m a nightmare for Conor."