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Michael Chandler guarantees ‘no way’ Conor McGregor returns without fighting him

Conor McGregor will fight again someday. And Michael Chandler will be waiting for him.

Saturday’s UFC 303 event was originally set to be headlined by McGregor and Chandler facing off in a welterweight bout, the culmination of a long rivalry that included numerous jabs on social media and in interviews, as well as a stint as opposing coaches on The Ultimate Fighter 31. But the June 29 booking eventually unraveled in deflating fashion, as McGregor first pulled out of a press conference in Dublin and then withdrew from the fight with a toe injury.

Currently, McGregor’s comeback from a three-year hiatus remains in limbo and he has been non-committal about making the Chandler fight happen.

Chandler isn’t discouraged by anything McGregor has to say about the matter.

“I didn’t even really think about it much,” Chandler said during a backstage scrum at UFC 303 in Las Vegas. “He tried to steal my tagline though, I see what he did there with the, ‘See you at the top.’ I’m not really that worried about it. Conor can’t— at this point, and I’ve said this publicly, I’m not letting him off the hook. For a while there, yeah, of course he would love to fight somebody other than Michael Chandler, with what I bring to the octagon.

“I think there’s no way he comes back to the UFC and doesn’t fight me. So if I do pivot, if there are other names being thrown out, if there are huge fights that I can go ahead and pivot and take, whenever he is ready to come back, his road back to the UFC goes straight through Nashville, Tennessee, and Michael Chandler — and that’s it.”

The severity of McGregor’s injury has come under scrutiny, considering his reputation for rarely pulling out of fights throughout his 16-year career. When McGregor revealed that the injury happened to his pinky toe, he received little sympathy, especially given his harsh criticism of other fighters who have been affected by injuries in the past.

Chandler declined to take shots at McGregor and his broken pinky toe, instead looking at how McGregor’s withdrawal reflects upon his own reputation.

“It also is just somewhat of a feather in my cap,” Chandler said. “If Conor was lined up against a lot of other guys, he probably would have pushed through and fought. But you don’t want to fight a guy like me with any kind of injuries. He’s going to come into the next fight, whenever it is, with bumps and bruises. Obviously, he was hobbling around on it and probably said, ‘I could fight, but I’m not fighting that guy.’ We’ll just figure it out as we go.”

Chandler has been out of action for some time as well, most recently having fought at UFC 291 in November 2022 when he lost by submission to Dustin Poirier. Though he hasn’t been cashing any fight purses, Chandler insisted he’s doing well financially based on business interests outside of UFC.

Other names have been suggested for Chandler, including past opponent Charles Oliveira and reigning “BMF” champion Max Holloway, but he said no formal offers have been made. He is certain that the McGregor fight will happen eventually, and when it does, it will arguably be the biggest feel-good moment of his fighting career.

“At the very onset of this process, that size of a fight with that amount of eyeballs, that’s what we’re striving to as mixed martial artists,” Chandler said. “We get into this sport to be the best and to be on the biggest stages under the brightest lights on the biggest platforms, and that checks all boxes.

“Now, especially with the storyline, with the intrigue, waiting in the wings, the buildup, the marination of this entire thing, yeah, I think it’s going to be very satisfying when I make true on my word to show up whenever the next date is and knock him out. It was going to be the second round and now he lit a fire under me, it’s probably going to be the first round.”

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