UFC 274: Michael Chandler 1-on-1 with Kevin Iole

UFC lightweight contender Michael Chandler goes 1-on-1 with Yahoo Sports' Kevin Iole to discuss his upcoming three-round fight versus Tony Ferguson at UFC 274 on May 7 in Phoenix. Although he's lost back-to-back fights, Chandler fully expects to finish Ferguson and sees big fights for himself on the horizon against the likes of Nate Diaz, Dustin Poirier and even Conor McGregor.

Video transcript

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KEVIN IOLE: Hey, everybody. I am Kevin Iole, and UFC 274 is on Saturday in Phoenix. And there is a great fight card on hand for you, two title fights at the top. And I'll tell you what, a fight that's not a title fight but it's going to be a wild match is the one that I'm going to do right now, talking to Michael Chandler. He is going to be fighting Tony Ferguson in what should be, I guess, a typical Michael Chandler fight, right, a crazy fight. How you doing Mike?

MICHAEL CHANDLER: Yeah, Kevin. Thanks for having me. Yeah, you know, that's-- it's just ingrained in me, man. You know, some guys try to make changes. And obviously, I've shown that I can fight like a veteran. I can fight smart and sharp. But I can also pull out the dog in me, as we've seen a couple of times.

So man, when you're fighting a guy like Tony Ferguson is, he is as unpredictable as they come. He is a certified one of one talent. So I don't have any training partners that I can actually train with that can actually emulate Tony Ferguson. So that adds an extra wrinkle of intrigue to the fight. So I'm excited to go out there and compete, man, and can't wait.

KEVIN IOLE: You know, in the main event, Justin Gaethje is fighting Charles Oliveira, two guys that you fought in your last two fights. Is it going to be a little bit melancholy, knowing it could be you? In either one of those cases that could have been you in there, beating Oliveira last year, you know, in November, beating Gaethje. You came close in both cases, but, you know-- and you had chances in both cases and lose it. How tough is that going to be to see that?

MICHAEL CHANDLER: Man, it will a little bit I guess. But man, I just-- I don't know, I love this sport. I do. I love the opportunities that the UFC has given me since signing with the organization. I came in and told Hunter Campbell, I want to be a good thing for your organization. I'm going to say yes. And I'm going to go out there and put on great performances. And I believe I've tried to do that every single time.

I've fallen short a couple of times. But I will dispatch of Tony Ferguson a couple of fights before the main event and hopefully be sitting there cageside watching what could be my next opponent. There's not an MMA fan, combat sports fan alive that doesn't want to see me rematch Charles Oliveira or especially Justin Gaethje in a five-round title fight.

So I've put myself in a position to possibly get that. If not, I think Connor's coming back. He needs an opponent. So there's some big fights for me, maybe jumping up to 170, fighting Diaz, fighting Poirier, seeing what happens. There's a lot of different fights on the horizon that could happen. So it'll definitely be somber a little bit. But man, the best man won on November 6 and May 15 of last year, so I got to live with it.

KEVIN IOLE: You know, I almost think you talked yourself into fighting that crazy style against Gaethje, right. I mean, you're an aggressive fighter like he is. But it almost seemed like all the pre-fight talk got to you. Because you got in that ring and seemed like you had opportunities to maybe do some different things, but you went-- you know, you pretty much went balls to the wall the whole way. When you look back on the fight, is there anything about your approach you say, I wish I had changed a little bit?

MICHAEL CHANDLER: Yeah, I don't-- definitely don't think it was the lead-up. I definitely don't think it was the talk. I definitely don't think it was the mystique and the feeling surrounding you know a UFC card in November at Madison Square Garden, a card that felt historic. I mean, all those things could have subconsciously made a difference.

But I can tell you this, I had the game plan of going in there and fighting very smart, trying to get to his legs and take him down. But it just didn't happen. I think Justin Gaethje has underrated takedown defense, not necessarily just with his wrestling takedown abilities, but with his-- the way that he moves his body, dips his head, throws overhand rights and left hooks. I didn't see the openings like I thought I was going to. So the fight materialized the way that it did. And I could tell you this, when I landed those first couple of shots, got him hurt--

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah.

MICHAEL CHANDLER: --you start-- you know, you're like a shark smelling blood in the water. And you start to attack. And when you're at Madison Square Garden and people are screaming like the roof was about to come off, you can't hear your coaches. You can't hear a dang thing. And you let instinct take over. And then 15 minutes later, he got his hand raised. And I have no regrets. I can sleep well at night knowing I went out there and left-- and went out on my shield.

KEVIN IOLE: And you're kind of becoming like the Arturo Gatti of MMA, right. You know, Arturo Gatti, for people who don't, was one of the more famous boxers of the late 20th century, early 21st century. And he just fought these unbelievably great fights. And whether he won or lost, everybody went going wow after the fights. And that's kind of what you're doing.

Tony Ferguson, now, is another one that kind of brings that type of attitude out in you. But Tony Ferguson is also coming off three consecutive defeats. So how do you anticipate that changes his approach to you? He knows how you fight, but he needs a win really badly. So how do you think that changes his approach to you?

MICHAEL CHANDLER: Yeah. No, it's interesting. You know, we talk about losses in this sport, and obviously, they happen because we're fighting the best guys on the entire planet at 155 pounds. There's no doubt about it, these are the toughest guys and the most talented and skilled guys at 155 pounds. So when you're fighting the guys that we have fought, his couple losses, my couple losses, when you're talking about fighting all the guys inside the top five, you're going to take losses. It's a coin flip. You could win. You could lose on any given night.

But I don't think-- I don't buy into this fact that Tony Ferguson has necessarily lost a step. I think you get-- you can find yourself on a run where you run into a couple of different buzz saws. And you could have won, but you lost. And it's just how it is in the UFC when you're fighting in the top of the division.

So I think maybe Tony Ferguson does have a little bit more of a veteran mentality, thinking about how he should approach this fight against me. We will see. It remains to be seen. But the good thing is I am trained. And I train with the best coaches and training partners. And I feel good in every position.

He's not going to be able to take me down. He's not going to be able to land the shots like he used to on a lot of guys. I'll take him down if I want to, or I will at least try and make it a gritty fight. And in typical Michael Chandler fashion, I'm biting down on that mouthpiece, and I'm going to be in his face for 15 minutes. And hopefully I go out there and get a finish.

KEVIN IOLE: One of your training partner, Gilbert Burns, had a great performance against Chimaev. But it wasn't enough. But when you see fights like that, right, and you see guys go out there and lay it all on the line, does that inspire you? Like you're training with this guy, you're seeing what he does, and then you see him go out there and fight that kind of fight, does that kind of motivate you to be next man up mentality?

MICHAEL CHANDLER: Yeah, I mean, any time I watch one of my training partners go into a fight, especially one like that where it was such a great fight, it's always great. It's always inspiring. But Gilbert's got a special place in my heart. I've known Gilbert for over a decade. And I've seen him come up. And I've-- and I can tell you this, I've trained around a lot of guys, from the East Coast to the West Coast and everywhere in between, Gilbert Burns lives a championship lifestyle, not just the training but the way that he lives his life and the way that he loves and serves his family. He is one of the greatest dudes in the sport. And I love him because of it.

KEVIN IOLE: I agree with you.

MICHAEL CHANDLER: So to be able to see him go out there-- and yeah, he fell short, but once again, we aren't necessarily always in this sport for the wins and losses. And the fans aren't always-- they always don't love you for the wins and losses. They love you because of the way that you make them feel. And Gilbert Burns and Chimaev went out there and made people feel something, just like me and Gaethje did last November.

Maybe I'm justifying a loss. It might sound like that. But, you know, when all is said and done, the legacy will be left, that certain guys left it all out there, certain guys always put their best foot forward and always put on a great performance and made people feel something. And I want to be that guy.

KEVIN IOLE: Hearing you say that makes me think of another question. I interviewed a boxer yesterday, Shakur Stevenson, one of the best boxers in the world. He's got a big fight coming up. And I said to him, what is more important to you, the belt or the money that comes with getting the belt? And he said, I want to be paid, baby, right?

Now, from your standpoint, obviously you're making your living. You're supporting your family by this. And we know the money is important. But I'll ask you the same thing. Is it the belt? Is it the money? Or the third-ish thing I'll put up in yours is, is it making that crowd go nuts?

MICHAEL CHANDLER: I definitely think crowd going nuts would be third on the list. I want the belt for the accomplishment and what it means to accomplish that and set out on a journey to have my sons see someday how I conducted myself and how I took a lot of wins, took a couple of losses, but ended up getting UFC gold, became the number one guy in the world.

And of course, I think the money obviously is always the number one most important thing, because that's how I actually feed my sons. That's how I take care of my wife and serve my wife and the way that we can live the life that I never dreamed of or never imagined I'd be able to. So I think it's definitely a tie between the belt and the money that comes with it, but.

Although I do fight in a fan friendly fashion, I don't think that is the most important thing until I get in there, because that guy can't be trusted. That Michael Chandler who straps on the gloves and bites down on the mouthpiece and the cage door closes, he can't be trusted. So he just goes out there and sometimes goes on autopilot, and blood is shed.

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah, I've talked to-- I want to tell people, I've talked to Michael Chandler away from the octagon, away from-- and he's a totally different guy than when that bell rings.

MICHAEL CHANDLER: Yeah.

KEVIN IOLE: So it's

MICHAEL CHANDLER: Well that's-- and that's what I realized a couple of years ago. I think the best thing that we can do as fighters is show both sides of ourselves--

KEVIN IOLE: Right.

MICHAEL CHANDLER: --and put ourselves out there. Because there's nothing better than coupling that crazy savage that people see on TV, with the blood coming down and the knockout you're getting, and you look like you want to literally kill somebody, rip somebody's head off.

But then counteract that with the joy, and the happiness, and the love, and the servitude, and just the zeal that you have for life. If you can live somewhere in between both of those extremes, extreme craziness and savageness and extreme joy, somewhere in between people get inspired. And people are more relatable. You're more relatable to people. And people say, well, he's just an average guy. I was just a small guy from a small town, High Ridge, Missouri, that never thought I'd be doing much. And here I am talking to Kevin Iole. So life is good.

KEVIN IOLE: You know, Mike, I wonder, your wife is a doctor, and you fight that style. Does she ever say to you, Michael, what are you doing? Because I'm sure it's got to be tough on her, watching her husband get punched and kicked in the head and seeing the-- and I'm sure she sees you come home from your days of training and you don't feel so good after having a rough day. What kind of pressure do you get from her about, hey, maybe tightening things up and being a little more defensive?

MICHAEL CHANDLER: Yeah. No, it's a funny story, actually. I didn't touch on this when you asked me the Gaethje question at Madison Square Garden. But when I got in the ambulance, Gaethje and I both went straight to the hospital to get checked out, obviously. And I didn't even have my phone with me. I used my training partner and friend Logan Storley's phone. Called my wife from the ambulance and apologized to her. Because I had just spent the last 8 to 10 weeks telling her, no, babe, listen. The only way I lose to Justin Gaethje is go out there and slang and bang with him. We're not getting into a war. I'm going to be smart, sharp, composed, and confident. So I had to eat my words, swallow my pride, call my wife and apologize.

But she's a trooper, man. I can tell you this, man, I would not be where I am without the love and support and just the servant heart that my wife has. She gives me the leeway and the freedom to be able to go out there and pursue my goals and my dreams, because she knows she can trust me to suck every ounce of this opportunity that I have out of this career for this short window of opportunity.

You know, there's going to be-- it's going to be-- the day is going to come very, very soon, sooner than we all would like to admit, that I'm going to be on your side--

KEVIN IOLE: Right.

MICHAEL CHANDLER: --of the interview station, on your side of the camera. And I'm going to miss these opportunities that I have. So I'm just trying to enjoy it. And my wife knows that in order for me to be selfless for my family, I have to have moments and seasons of selfishness, where she can take care of everything and she can even stitch me up and pull my stitches out when I need to, so.

KEVIN IOLE: There you go. Hey, let's wrap on this, Mike. How much longer do you want to do this? I mean, you've been at it a long time. You're a smart guy. You've got a lot of options in life, right. I know we talked this whole interview about your goals and what you want. How much longer are you going to give yourself to reach those goals before you go on and move to the next stage?

MICHAEL CHANDLER: It's a good question. I don't think-- as Chael Sonnen said, you don't wake up one day and say you're done with the sport. One day you wake up and you realize the sport is done with you. And--

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah [INAUDIBLE].

MICHAEL CHANDLER: --I don't want to be in that position. I've always said I was going to bury Sanders. And I'm going to walk away before people think I should. And they're all going to think I have a lot left in the tank. But I don't think that time is any time relatively soon. I think I have a lot left in the tank.

And honestly, I just turned 36 years old. I still feel phenomenal. And I think it's a testament to how well I've taken care of my body. And even if you look at my past, I didn't have a ton of fights. So at 36 years old I'm just now having my 30th fight, which isn't that many fights compared to a lot of the guys who are my age. Now, I could be wrong.

KEVIN IOLE: Alain Ngalani put it out, he just had a 60th win recently.

MICHAEL CHANDLER: Exactly, you know? So I feel like my body has held up extremely well. I still wake up in the morning extremely excited about what I get to do, especially the rejuvenation-- the rejuvenating nature of coming over and signing with the UFC as the stakes are higher and the lights are brighter and the platform is immensely bigger.

So I feel like I'm fighting on borrowed time already. So I'm enjoying it all. And I don't see an end in sight. But obviously, when it does happen, I'll continue to make an impact, speaking on stages, and speaking on microphones, and trying to share my story with the masses that you can do anything if you just put your mind to it.

KEVIN IOLE: No end in sight to his career, but unfortunately for me, and end in sight to this interview.

MICHAEL CHANDLER: Yeah.

KEVIN IOLE: That's all the time we have. Michael Chandler, Tony Ferguson next week, UFC 274. Mike, very good luck. Thank you so much for the great interview.

MICHAEL CHANDLER: Yes, sir. Thank you, Kevin.

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