Michael Chandler and his signing with the UFC after spending years under the Bellator MMA banner was one of the biggest stories in mixed martial arts last year. With his signing came a lot of questions, particularly surrounding who would be welcoming him into the Octagon for his first fight.
Chandler, a willing competitor who wanted to jump into the deep end of the lightweight division shortly after his arrival, had a short list of names he thought would be perfect candidates to meet him and at the top of said list was Tony Ferguson. Chandler had a specific reason for wanting Ferguson first, which he further explained in a recent interview with Brett Okamoto of ESPN.
“I wanted to fight Tony Ferguson,” said Chandler. “Tony Ferguson was my No. 1 choice because I thought he was the scariest guy in the division. The boogeyman.”
While a fight between Chandler and Ferguson was said to be in the works for the co-main event of UFC 254, it never materialized and both men went in completely different directions for the time being. Chandler served as the back-up fighter for the main event of the same card between lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and former interim champion Justin Gaethje. Ferguson still competed on the card, but did so against Charles Oliveira in the co-main event instead.
Not getting the fight with Ferguson was disappointing for Chandler, who also spoke about what went wrong while in the midst of negotiations to make it happen.
“I will never judge someone’s management or someone’s decisions,” said Chandler. “Like I said, we are all extremely busy. We got stuff going on inside the Octagon and outside the Octagon. We’re fathers, we’re sons, we’re businessmen. We’re doing all kinds of other stuff, especially when you get into that upper echelon of us top guys in each weight division.
“But, the Tony Ferguson situation was definitely mismanaged. I mean we had the opportunity for him and I to step inside the cage in January, inside the Octagon on this card, [and] Tony says no. Then he takes a relatively short-notice fight against Oliveira after calling me out and I say no. I needed three weeks, four weeks off after this nine-month long training camp that I did. So, my opinion of him doesn’t change. It’s just unfortunate. It’s unfortunate that I’m not fighting Tony Ferguson right now, but I went through that for about a day or so. Then, it was four other different names with [Dan] Hooker being one of them.”
Chandler has now shifted his focus to his upcoming opponent in Dan Hooker at UFC 257, where he hopes to come away with a victory and a number next to his name by the following Monday morning. For Chandler, beating Hooker is just one step he needs to take in order to get closer to a championship opportunity, which he believes will happen in 2021. Once he gets that first UFC win, he can revisit the other names he accepted before — Ferguson included.
UFC 257 is set to take place on Jan. 23 in Abu Dhabi and will be headlined by the rematch between former champion Conor McGregor and No. 2 ranked Dustin Poirier.