Michael Chandler loves to use the catch phrase, “See you at the top.” And in only his second UFC fight, he was, indeed, nearly at 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 on the verge of claiming the vacant lightweight title.
Oliveira rallied, though, and in one of the great fights of the year, won the title with a second-round stoppage.
Chandler remains near the top of the division, despite a 2-2 record, prompting some to question why the former Bellator champion has gotten so many chances. At the UFC 262 news conference, legendary lightweight Tony Ferguson broke the place 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 uproariously at Ferguson’s line.
Now, 18 months later, after a devastating head kick knockout of Ferguson, Chandler is in yet another significant fight. He’s 2-2 in the promotion but on Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York he’ll fight Dustin Poirier on the main card of UFC 281 in a bout in which he believes a win will position him for another title challenge.
His position has, predictably, caused plenty of grumbles from his peers and many in the fan base.
But while we can leave whether a potential win over Poirier that would give him with a 3-2 record in five UFC fights is good enough to earn him a second title shot for later, there is another reason why Chandler is getting so many opportunities. It’s neither Dana White privilege or white privilege, but rather, what he does with those opportunities.
If fellow lightweight Justin Gaethje is the most exciting fighter in the history of the UFC, Chandler’s not far behind him. When the bell rings to start a fight, Chandler flies out of the chute at top speed throwing punches and kicks.
He fights at an insane pace and there’s rarely a lull. The fans are often pulled out of their seats. And while he always vows to tone it down a bit, he concedes it’s hard and that it’s just in his nature to fight with all guns blazing at all times.
“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” Chandler told Yahoo Sports of his efforts to fight more conservatively. “I do think the way that I fight works out. It works out better more often than not, you know? So, you know, there's times that I want to take my foot off the gas a little bit, and be a little more of a veteran. And I think you might see that in this fight. Don’t hold me to it, but, we’ll see what happens.”
A reporter jokingly challenged him upon that answer, saying, “I don’t believe a thing you say in that regard.”
Laughing, Chandler agreed.
“I do like to start fast, and then, maybe we’ll settle in a little bit,” Chandler said. “But we’ll definitely start fast as always.”
That style of fighting is close to White’s heart, and it’s obviously helped the UFC increase its fan base, so there are others who like it, as well.
So rather than any kind of privilege, it’s because Chandler accepts any fight offered to him and then he fights like a rabid dog defending its turf.
In Poirier, though, he’s facing one of the greatest lightweights not just of this era but of all time. Poirier, too, likes to fight at a brisk pace, but he’s smart, versatile and skilled.
Poirier’s generally able to dictate the way the fight goes, which will be a riddle Chandler will need to solve to be able to win on Saturday. And though they’ve exchanged plenty of harsh words, there is plenty of mutual respect and admiration.
“I’ve got a ton of respect for Poirier,” Chandler said. “I mean, there’s no doubt that who he is and his body of work speaks for itself. So, you know, this was a fight that I wanted when I came into the UFC. Right when I came into the UFC, I wanted it, you know, as my first fight [but it] didn’t materialize. Now here we are, it’s materializing two years later.
"So yeah, man, the guy has fought or beaten the who’s who of the lightweight division for now, what, the last 10 years? You know, he’s got 28 fights or so in the organization in the UFC. So obviously he’s got a ton more tenure than I do. And I’ve come in and make some pretty loud noise in the last two years, and I want to add Dustin Poirier to my résumé and hopefully get my hand raised.”
If he does, expect the talk of White privilege to bubble up again, because if you beat Dustin Poirier, a title shot can never be far behind.