Happy Friday and welcome back to TGIFighting. We'll get you set for this weekend's MMA action and react to the news of the day. Let's get it on.
Exclusive Interview with Michael Chandler: Lightweight Challenger Talks Past, Present, Future and Charles Oliveira
Sometimes you work all your life to become an overnight sensation. That's Michael Chandler for you.
Back in his college days, Chandler (22-5) walked on as a wrestler at the University of Missouri. If you know anything about wrestling, you know that's a lot of work to put in when you're not guaranteed a reward. Not only did he make the team all four years, he earned All-American honors in his senior season.
After dedicating himself to MMA, Chandler, now 35, racked up an 18-5 record in Bellator that included three stints as the promotion's lightweight champ. In September, Chandler moved to the UFC and announced his presence with extreme prejudice, taking out a good fighter in Dan Hooker (20-10) in under three minutes.
To the surprise of some, a title shot immediately followed, and this Saturday Chandler faces all-time UFC submission record holder Charles Oliveira (30-8 [1 NC]) for the vacant lightweight belt at UFC 262 in Houston.
When I spoke to Chandler in an exclusive interview this week, he seemed almost preternaturally confident that, although he's a new name on the national landscape, his deep experience gives him the tools to meet all these new challenges, most notably Oliveira.
To put it mildly, you shot to the top pretty quickly in the UFC. What did you make of the public reaction to your quick win over Hooker and your quick nod for the title shot?
Chandler: There were a lot of people who weren't familiar with my body of work, and all of a sudden they saw this new guy, this brand-new guy. Obviously, I won that first fight in dominant fashion, which made me an overnight success of sorts. I'm fighting for the title now, so maybe people thought I burst onto the scene, but they didn't see the last 21 years of work. I've dedicated my life to hand-to-hand combat since I was 13 years old. And now here we are. Everything's coming to fruition.
You're still early in your UFC tenure, but how would you compare your time in Bellator to your time thus far in the UFC?
Chandler: Yeah, it may be too early to really judge, but my goodness, [the UFC] is absolutely 10 times bigger, better, more fulfilling, and I'm a 10-times happier person. That's not any knock on Bellator, but the UFC just does it bigger and they try to build the sport. That's the kind of guy I try to be too, just be a great ambassador for the sport, push myself as an athlete, and push myself as a figurehead outside of the cage.
Oliveira may be the most dangerous grappler in the entire UFC. What did you do to stay mindful of and prepare for that?
Chandler: I work every day to be a well-rounded mixed martial artist, but I think more than anything this fight is going to come down to tenacity and willingness to get into a firefight and push harder than your opponent. I think that's what it really always boils down to. The skill sets are there. I can knock him out just as easily as he can catch me in a submission. I can submit him just as easily as he can knock me out. I'll be mindful of not getting into those weird or precarious positions where Charles Oliveira can make a very fast submission.
Conor McGregor (22-5) and Dustin Poirier (27-6 ) square off in July. The winner of that looks like a layup to face this Saturday's winner. McGregor causes a sideshow wherever he goes. Do you welcome that carnival atmosphere or is it more of a distraction to be dealt with?
Chandler: Yeah, I'd welcome that fight with Conor, if he wins. I welcome the hype, I welcome the pressure, I welcome the trash talk. I welcome all of that because truthfully I've been outside the UFC looking in for a very long time. So just coming into the UFC now over the last eight months, my growth and maturity and willingness and ability to shoulder all the obligations I think is better than most. I think it's one of my strengths and I think it won't do anything except make me better.
What are the chances this Saturday's fight goes the distance?
Chandler: I think they're very slim. Truthfully, I don't think Charles Oliveira has 25 hard minutes in him like I do. I've had that experience, I have that confidence. A lot of the time as fights go on you'll see my opponents get a little tired as the damage takes its toll. The damage will take its toll in his mind as well as his body. And eventually I'll look for the finish or find the finish and get that belt wrapped around my waist.
Tony Ferguson In One Number
What's left of Tony Ferguson?
It's a simple question that faces Ferguson (22-5), the inimitable lightweight looking to regain his mojo in Saturday's co-main event against Beneil Dariush (20-4-1). There's not a ton of shame in Ferguson's two-fight losing streak, first to a former interim champ in Justin Gaethje (22-3) and then to Oliveira. But he took an inordinate amount of punishment in both—how he never hit the canvas in the Gaethje fight I'll never know—and Saturday will be a litmus test for that famous chin.
There's one simple stat that tells the tale on Ferguson, good and bad: significant strikes absorbed per minute, or SApM.
According to official UFC stats, Ferguson's SApM sits at 3.94. That's high. Oliveira and Dariush both sit a full strike per minute lower.
Ferguson's SApM is far lower than that of Gaethje, who sits at an ungodly eight, and other known lightweight aggressors like Donald Cerrone (36-16 [2 NC]), who clocks in at 4.49. Light heavyweight Jiri Prochazka (28-3-1), who recently distinguished himself as a true berserker with a wild spinning-elbow knockout of Dominick Reyes (12-3), absorbs 6.8 SApM.
The point here? Ferguson gets hit a lot, but contrary to popular belief he's not a unidirectional brawler always letting his jawline lead the way. If he can stay out of a firefight with Dariush—and stay clear of Dariush's elite grappling—he has a good chance to win. Ferguson is at his best when his skills, not his pride, are leading the way. We'll see on Saturday who he's listening to these days.
Farewell to a Legend
When I spoke to middleweight GOAT Anderson Silva (34-11 [1 NC]) last fall, he came across as a man at peace with any and all of the roads in front of him. In retrospect, despite his coyness at the time, one of those roads was retirement, and at age 45 and with a solid legacy as one of the best to ever do it, Silva recently rode into the sunset.
Make no mistake: going winless in eight of his last nine contests surely hastened the decision. So many legends have a hard time letting go. But Silva deserved to go when he wanted, and at this stage he had less than nothing to prove.
"For me, there's a huge special secret," Silva told me. "It's how much do you love your job? You make something special for yourself if every single day you love what you do. Sometimes there are good days, sometimes bad day. It's not just what's inside the sport, but what's inside your life."
Amen, Champ. Happy trails.
Stone Cold Lead Pipe Lock of the Week
We roared out of the gate but we've stumbled of late. But we must stay astride our steed! We can and we will!
For UFC 262, let us venture down to the deep undercard, where as of Thursday morning women's flyweight Gina Mazany (7-4) is a -200 favorite, per DraftKings, to defeat Priscila Cachoeira (9-3).
Cachoeira is an ardent headhunter, but she won't have an answer for Mazany's wrestling, which is reinvigorated after a move down to flyweight. (She also trains at Xtreme Couture, which certainly can't hurt.) The Brazilian could score a flash KO, but Mazany should get on her grind and get a safe if less-than-thrilling victory.