UFC 281: Michael Chandler explains rivalry with Dustin Poirier, predicts 'a mutual respect' after their fight

Michael Chandler, who is 2-2 in his UFC career and is coming off a viral KO of Tony Ferguson in May, tells Yahoo Sports' Kevin Iole that "fans are in for a treat" when he meets Dustin Poirier in the co-main event of UFC 281. The former two-time Bellator lightweight champion says he's wanted to face Poirier since signing with the UFC and breaks down what he needs to do to get his hand raised against him.

Video transcript

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KEVIN IOLE: What is up, everybody? I am Kevin Iole. Of course, that is the one and only Michael Chandler. He will be fighting at UFC 281 on Saturday, November 12, Dustin Poirier. What a fight that is going to be.

But I guess, Mike, I can say that about every fight that you have, because in four fights in the UFC, it's like holy [MUTED]. What are you doing? And every-- I know every time you say, well, I got to slow down. I got to be a little more cautious, and then it doesn't play out that way.

MICHAEL CHANDLER: Kevin, you can't teach an old dog new tricks. No. You know, I think, yeah, man. It's-- I just-- I love what I do. And I-- you know, I do think the way that I fight works out-- 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, be a little bit more-- be a little more of a veteran. And I think you might see that in this fight. Don't hold me to it, but, you know, we'll see-- we'll see what happens.

KEVIN IOLE: I don't believe a thing you say in that regard.

MICHAEL CHANDLER: Exactly.

KEVIN IOLE: I know that bell is ringing. You're going to be like a bull in the corner. When they freakin' open the gate, you're flying out.

MICHAEL CHANDLER: I do like to start fast, and then-- you know, then maybe we'll settle in a little bit. But we'll definitely start fast as always.

KEVIN IOLE: You're coming off a win May 7 against Tony Ferguson, that incredible knockout, right? It went viral that night, head-kick knockout. Tony did pretty well in the first round against you. Was the kick a result of adjustments you made in the corner, you know, knowing, hey, I saw what went-- you know, something didn't go right in the first round? Or was it just sort of part of the way MMA goes?

MICHAEL CHANDLER: I think it was, you know, somewhat part of the way MMA goes. I definitely downloaded and kind of-- kind of saw that his hands were out. You know, his guard was out a little bit, so there was a lane up the middle. And I do love to fake-- fake a-- fake a shot, come up the middle with a uppercut. But for some reason, I kind of-- kind of ducked down a little bit, threw that-- threw that front kick, and it landed right on the chin.

But, yeah, I think, as I said in the lead up to the Tony Ferguson fight, Tony Ferguson is a certified one-of-one talent in the sport. And he's hard to-- he's hard to compete or prepare for rather because there's nobody in my-- in my gym, there's nobody in the world that's going to be able to give you a Tony Ferguson look. And truthfully, Tony Ferguson looks a little bit different, and he's a little bit more quirky or a little bit more-- a little bit more of a tougher puzzle to solve every single time he steps into the cage.

So that first, that first round, I really just needed to get my feet underneath me and kind of see where the openings were going to be. And sometimes things just work out. That front kick worked out well.

KEVIN IOLE: You know, a lot of people-- I would think most people would say, in UFC history, Khabib is the greatest lightweight of all time. But, you know, I was talking to Dustin the other day. And when I was getting ready to interview him, I was just looking at some stats, and I noticed something that I want to bring up to you.

In his last 10 fights going into this fight, nine of the 10 he fought a current or former UFC champion. I don't think there's anybody that's ever done that. And I almost feel like, you know, if you take Khabib out of the picture, that might make him the greatest UFC lightweight in history. So do you feel like there's-- you're going up against this guy that is on top of the mountain, and you're trying to knock him off that spot?

MICHAEL CHANDLER: You're talking about Poirier?

KEVIN IOLE: Poirier, yes.

MICHAEL CHANDLER: Yeah. I mean-- I mean, I-- I've got a ton of respect for Poirier. 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. Didn't materialize. Now here we are, it materializing two years later.

So yeah, man, the guy has been-- 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-- made some pretty loud noise in the last two years, and I want to add Dustin Poirier to my resume and hopefully get my hand raised.

KEVIN IOLE: I think that there is something that, you know, you have in common that I think. You know, and both of you are resilient. You know, you get hurt in fights, and you come back. He gets hurt in fights, and he comes back.

And there's a special something inside of guys that have that ability to do that. When you know that about a guy, that, you know, hey, you might hurt him, but he has that ability and you've seen it in past fights to come back, how does that change your approach?

MICHAEL CHANDLER: You know, I mean, at this level, everybody-- everybody has some inkling of that. You know, a guy like Dustin Poirier is at the top of that mountain, the resilience mountain, if you will. But every single guy that you fight is so tough. But everybody has a chink in their armor, and everybody has their night. Some nights are just not our night.

You know, you've covered this sport for so long. And you've seen fights that just didn't materialize the way that you thought they were going to because, you know, some guy had a bad night, and another guy had a good night. So that's why we love it.

That's why you love the sport. That's why us fighters love it. That's why the fans love this sport. But yeah, I think-- I think, just like I said in the lead up to the-- to the Justin Gaethje fight, we're cut from the same cloth, you know?

KEVIN IOLE: Right.

MICHAEL CHANDLER: Me and Dustin Poirier are cut from the same cloth. And truthfully, you know, it almost just comes down to, hey, I've put the last 12 weeks in. I've done everything right. I've left no stone unturned in my preparation.

I've done every single thing right to get to that cage door closing and that-- that bell ringing for that round one. And you just got to leave it up to chance, leave it up to the way it's supposed to go. And you just got to hope that you can make the right decisions, split-second decisions inside of the performance to get your hand raised.

KEVIN IOLE: There-- you know, there's been a little bit of bad blood between you. I asked him this, too. Two of the nicest guys in the UFC, and yet there's this kind of this, you know, this heated rivalry. And I guess it kind of started with you.

You know, you felt disrespected by him, I guess-- what you referenced before. Why is that? I mean, you know, I don't know Dustin to be a disrespectful guy. So why-- you know, why would nice guy Mike Chandler be upset at nice guy Dustin Poirier?

MICHAEL CHANDLER: Yeah, man. I think ultimately, it's all just rooted in, you know, Dustin Poirier trying to climb the same mountain that I am. You know?

KEVIN IOLE: Right.

MICHAEL CHANDLER: We're trying to get there. We're trying to get there faster than the other guy. We got the same goals in mind, the same work ethic in mind, the same reasons why we fight, really. And ultimately, I think Dustin-- Dustin was one of those guys that if you put-- you put-- if you put a Mount Rushmore up of the guys that I respect the most in the-- not just in my division, but in the entire sport, he would go up on my-- my Mount Rushmore.

And I've also had more interactions with him than I have other guys, and very cordial, respectful interactions. But then after some of the things that he said and after some of the things that I said, I think both of us kind of scratched our head and said, you know what, I don't know if I like that guy as much as I thought I was going to. Now ultimately, here we are about to fight. And I rest assured the fans are going to be in for a treat.

I know Dustin Poirier has put his best foot forward. I know I've trained, and I'm going to put my best foot forward. And whoever gets the W, you know, win, lose, or draw, there's going to be a handshake and a hug and a mutual respect after our performance at Madison Square Garden.

KEVIN IOLE: What is your take? You know, Dana White has been pretty clear that Alex Volkanovski is going to get the next shot at the championship now held by Islam Makhachev. And I guess I want to ask you about Islam in a second.

You're, you know, a life-- a lifelong lightweight. You've been in the division now. Do you have a problem with somebody coming from another division and leapfrogging? And, you know, do you feel like a case could be made that the winner of Chandler versus Poirier should get it ahead of somebody who's on a 20-something fight winning streak like Volkanovski?

MICHAEL CHANDLER: You know, I think when you talk about changing weight classes, I do think, you know, if there's a clear number-one contender-- and I do think I become that when I beat Poirier-- and also a guy like Islam, who his first title defense would be against a guy 15 pounds lighter than him. You know?

It's-- you're not-- you're not-- you know, people have said-- and this is not necessarily my belief. When you're the champion, you're the champion, but a lot of people would say, you're not the champion until you've defended your belt. So, you know, Islam wins the belt, and then his first fight is against a guy 15 pounds lighter than him. Albeit, you know, the number one pound-for-pound guy in the world, Volkanovski, is no joke. And I think all of us would say, hey, that's a tough night out no matter what, even if you are 15 pounds heavier than him.

So ultimately I think there is a case to be made that the performance that I put on November 12 could thwart those plans, at least in my mind, or I would hope at least. But the good thing is, being a UFC lightweight, there is a-- there's no shortage of awesome fights on the horizon. And Conor's got to come-- got to come back eventually. So you might as well fight the most exciting guy, not just in the division, but [INAUDIBLE]--

KEVIN IOLE: Conor.

MICHAEL CHANDLER: Yeah.

KEVIN IOLE: You-- so you stole a little bit of my thunder because my next question for you was going to be, you fought Charles Oliveira and a fantastic fight for the title. You could have won the championship. He did win the championship in that fight. He just lost the belt. He wants to fight in Brazil.

If you win this fight and you don't-- you know, all we-- I understand. You're going to take a championship fight if you get it. But assuming that Dana sticks to what he said and goes with Volkanovski, would you be intrigued by Charles Oliveira? And is it too soon to come back to fight Oliveira, given when you're fighting Poirier?

MICHAEL CHANDLER: Yeah. When is that, February?

KEVIN IOLE: No, no. It's January 20-something.

MICHAEL CHANDLER: Oh, yeah, it's definitely too soon. I mean, I-- I leave-- I leave my family for too long, and being a dad and husband is more important than this whole fighting thing. So I'll definitely going to enjoy November, December with my family. But never say never in this sport. I am a guy who says yes more often than not, and I've been known to make decisions like that.

But Charles is definitely a guy that I want to fight again, you know. I thought I was going to fight him again for the title, but obviously, you know, the way that Islam beat him, he's going have to fight somebody before. But Charles is definitely a fight that I want. The Gaethje fight's definitely a fight that I want. Conor's a fight that I want obviously. So-- and obviously the Islam fight. I mean, the number one fight that I want is the title--

KEVIN IOLE: [INAUDIBLE].

MICHAEL CHANDLER: --especially if I go out there and dispatch of Poirier the way that I hope I can.

KEVIN IOLE: Let's wrap up with this. So, you know, obviously I know you want the title. You mentioned Conor, and Conor always brings this whole big-- you know, you know you're going to get a lot of money when you fight Conor because going to get a lot of pay per views and, you know, the whole 9 yards, you know, going into that.

But obviously, you know, Conor we found out recently is outside the USADA testing pool. That makes it six months. He's got to get in, so you have all that. Is it worth it to your career, given how injury prone he's been and, you know, knowing that, you know, they-- you know, you saw the testing pool issue, to wait for Conor because you get the big score? But you're not sure it's going to come or not. There's no guarantee with him.

MICHAEL CHANDLER: Yeah, for sure. I mean, all you can do is make the best decisions you can with the information that you have. And I would challenge the injury prone comment. I think you never quite know.

I think a lot of guys-- a lot of guys after the fact will say, oh, I had a broken toe, or I had this. I went into fight with this thing. I mean, Conor was pretty good and pretty vocal about all of his injuries that he had going into these fights. I think Conor has never pulled out of a fight--

KEVIN IOLE: [INAUDIBLE].

MICHAEL CHANDLER: --to my knowledge. And-- but, you know, you're also talking about a leg that got shattered--

KEVIN IOLE: Right.

MICHAEL CHANDLER: --about a year ago. So we don't know who Conor's going to be after that injury. But, you know, I think none of us really know Conor. I don't think the media knows, I don't think the fighters know, I don't think the fans know truly who Conor is.

But I think if we had to guess, I think he is a guy who loves the fight game. He loves what he-- or at least he has. So I think he wants to come back no matter what. And why shouldn't it be me?

KEVIN IOLE: I-- you know, I love what Conor has done for the sport to a degree. Like, I love the fact. You're right. He, you know-- when I said injury prone, I was referring to the leg and--

MICHAEL CHANDLER: Yeah.

KEVIN IOLE: --some stuff, but, you know, that was probably a poor choice of words because that's one--

MICHAEL CHANDLER: No, it's fine. Yeah.

KEVIN IOLE: --one specific incident. But, you know, I-- now, as he's become this big celebrity, he's-- you know, he's more like on the celebrity circuit, it seems, and getting into fights. But of course, he's delivered amazing fights, and he set a standard for promotion and set a standard for competition that I think a lot of you guys chase.

So have respect for him. But just kind of one of those things with him, you know, you don't know at this stage of his life is-- does he want it? Plus he's so massive that, like, you know, what-- when is he going to be able to make 155?

MICHAEL CHANDLER: Well, I sure would like to fight him at 170 more than 155. I can tell you that. So--

KEVIN IOLE: [INAUDIBLE].

MICHAEL CHANDLER: So we'll see. But yeah. I mean, ultimately, like you said, yeah, hat tip to Conor because a rising tide raises all ships, and he really has elevated the sport. And also, I think-- I think for a while, people tried to emulate him because that was the way that you get the most eyeballs. But then you see a guy like me who's somewhat the exact opposite, and I'm getting just as big and just as much-- much love.

KEVIN IOLE: Because you're a great interview, and you-- and you're honest, and you're open. Like, you know, and I think you're an example-- not everybody's going to have the wit that Conor has. And not everybody's going to have that, you know, kind of cleverness about them.

But, you know, if you're honest, and you're open, and you share your life, people are going to follow you and like you. And I think-- and then, of course, you deliver in the ring, which both of you guys do, right? That is kind of to me what-- you know, where-- what the secret is.

MICHAEL CHANDLER: Yeah. I mean, really, it all just boils down to authenticity, being-- being who you say you are and just being-- being transparent and being-- living your truth, you know? Whether you love Conor or hate Conor, whether you love any of us fighters or hate us, as long as we are living our truth, at least we're doing better than and putting our best foot forward than most people because most people live-- live a life of silent suffering by trying to be something that they're not. And--

KEVIN IOLE: Interesting.

MICHAEL CHANDLER: --I've always just wanted to be exactly who I am.

KEVIN IOLE: Well, let's finish up on this. I know you believe you're going to win this fight against Dustin Poirier. It's going to be a fun fight. We know that. How do you win it? Like, what does Mike Chandler need to do, and what will Mike Chandler do to defeat Dustin Poirier?

MICHAEL CHANDLER: Man, it's-- Dustin Poirier, he's not-- he's nothing flashy, but he's hard to beat, you know? Like when I talk about Tony Ferguson, I talk about a puzzle. He's a hard puzzle to solve.

Dustin Poirier is not a crazy-hard puzzle to solve, but I don't say that, that it's not a hard fight. But he is very brilliant with the basics. The best people among us a lot of times just have a ton of grit, great cardio, great athleticism, great perseverance. And then they're just brilliant with the basics.

He's very good at striking. He's very good in the grappling, in the grappling defense department. So I mean, he's-- there's not a lot of-- not a lot of places where you can exploit Dustin Poirier because he's got a wealth of knowledge and a wealth of experience.

But, man, I'm going to go out there, start fast, get in his face fast, hopefully make him second guess himself pretty fast, mix it up, do exactly what I need to do in all areas of mixed martial arts, and go out there and get my hand raised. I-- but I do think I get the finish.

KEVIN IOLE: Always fun talking to Michael Chandler. You can see him on November 12 in New York, UFC 281 again Dustin Poirier. I will be there ringside to see you, Bud. I look forward to it. Best of luck to you, and thank you so much, as always, for your time.

MICHAEL CHANDLER: Yes, sir. Thank you, Kevin. I appreciate it, man.