Michael Chandler likes to use the slogan: “See you at the top.” And in just his second UFC fight, he was indeed near the top of one of the promotion’s most iconic divisions. In the first round of his fight with Charles Oliveira on May 15, 2021, at UFC 262, Chandler had Oliveira in serious trouble and was about to claim the vacant lightweight title.
Oliveira, however, rallied and won the title in one of the big fights of the year with a second-round stoppage.
Chandler remains near the top of the division despite a 2-2 record, leaving some to wonder why the former Bellator champion was given so many opportunities. At the UFC 262 news conference, legendary lightweight Tony Ferguson broke things up when he said the only reason Chandler was fighting for a title in his second UFC fight was “Dana White privilege.”
White, the UFC president, and just about everyone else laughed at Ferguson’s sentence.
Now, 18 months later, after a devastating knockout to the head of Ferguson, Chandler is back in another big fight. He is 2-2 in the promotion, but on Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York, he will fight Dustin Poirier on the main card of UFC 281 in a fight he believes a win will position him for another title challenge.
His position has, predictably, caused much grumbling from his colleagues and many in the fan base.
But while we can tell if a potential win over Poirier that would give him a 3-2 record in five UFC fights is good enough to give him a second title shot for later, there’s another reason why Chandler gets so many opportunities. It’s not Dana White privilege or white privilege, it’s what he does with those opportunities.
If fellow lightweight Justin Gaethje is the most exciting fighter in UFC history, Chandler is not far behind him. When the bell rings to start a fight, Chandler flies out of the parachute at top speed, throwing punches and kicks.
He fights at an insane pace and there is rarely a silence. The fans are often pulled out of their seats. And while he always swears to tone it down a bit, he admits it’s hard and it’s just in his nature to fight with all weapons at all times.
“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” Chandler told Yahoo Sports of his efforts to fight more conservatively. “I think the way I fight is working. It works more often than not, you know? So, you know, there are times when I want to take my foot off the gas and be a little bit more of a veteran. And I think you could see that in this fight. Don’t quote me on that, but we’ll see what happens.”
A reporter jokingly challenged him to that answer, saying, “I don’t believe anything you say in that regard.”
With a laugh, Chandler agreed.
“I like to start quickly, and then maybe we’ll get used to it a bit,” Chandler said. “But we will get off to a quick start as always.”
That style of fighting is close to White’s heart, and it has clearly helped the UFC increase its fan base, so there are others who like it too.
So rather than any privilege, it’s because Chandler accepts any fight presented to him and then fights like a rabid dog defending his territory.
In Poirier, however, he faces one of the greatest lightweights not only of this era, but of all time. Poirier also likes to fight at a fast pace, but he is smart, versatile and skilled.
Poirier is generally able to dictate the way the fight goes, which will be a riddle that Chandler must solve in order to win on Saturday. And although they have exchanged many harsh words, there is a lot of mutual respect and admiration.
“I have a lot of respect for Poirier,” Chandler said. “I mean, there’s no question that who he is and his body of work speaks for itself. So, you know, this was a fight I wanted when I joined the UFC. Right when I got into the UFC I wanted it, you know, like my first fight [but it] didn’t come out. Now we are here, two years later it becomes reality.
“So yeah, man, the guy has been fighting or beating the who’s who of the lightweight division for now, what, for the past 10 years. You know, he’s had 28 fights or so in the organization in the UFC. So obviously he’s a ton more tenure than me. And I’ve come in and made quite a bit of noise in the past two years, and I want to add Dustin Poirier to my resume and hopefully raise my hand.”
If he does, expect the talk of White privilege to bubble up again, because if someone beats Dustin Poirier, a title shot can never be far behind.