Michael Chandler was in serious trouble after the first round of last night’s UFC 274 match against Tony Ferguson.
Ferguson returned to his old, elusive self in the initial moments of the conflict between the two lakas, cutting off Chandler and dealing some significant blows, especially to his right eye. Chandler finished the round with a swing after doubling the extraction with his ground-and-pound, but there was already swelling under his eye.
“My vision was affected,” Chandler said. “Tony is awkward and long. He delivered those punches from strange angles and eventually caught me. My eye ached between rounds. ”
At the time, Chandler’s dreams of UFC fame seemed to have evaporated. Chandler, the former face of Bellator, seemed to arrive a few years too late in the UFC after signing in September 2021, spending the peak of his career outside the Octagon.
After an impressive win in his UFC debut against Dan Hooker, successive defeats by Charles Oliveira and Justin Gaethje followed. It suddenly felt to Chandler that an impending market correction was coming; no doubt he was skilled enough to be great at Bellator, but a defeat by Ferguson – who got into a fight after losing three in a row – would be a devastating result. Defeat would force him to fall to the bottom of the Top 10 rankings, interrupting any attempt to compete for the title or even win a fight that defines a career against Conor McGregor. But before too much doubt crept into Chandler’s mind, he was on his feet again.
And then the second round began.
Chandler stepped toward Ferguson, spotted the opening, and scored against an opponent with a front kick that looked more like an attempt to score from a 60-yard game.
Ferguson was cold.
Only 17 seconds in the round, the fight was over.
Chandler seized the moment, nearly deflecting Ferguson’s head.
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“It’s just the opposite of the way I planned it,” Chandler (23-7) said in an interview with Sports Illustrated after the victory. “The distance did not seem perfect to me. I just threw something in the middle and it fell. Then I felt the shock and saw it fall apart.
“I never, ever, thought I would hit the front and knock him out. But here we are. ”
The range of the blow was noticeable at the same time, a dangerous shot that had with it the potential to cause significant damage. The moment was further exacerbated by Ferguson who stabbed his head as he fell on the mat. When Ferguson was overturned, he was knocked out with his eyes still open, which was one of the scariest moments in the sport, although it was encouraging to see him eventually fight for the final decision.
“When I hit, a moment passed over me,” Chandler said. “I started with my coups, my celebrations. Then I looked up and saw that Tony was still on the ground, and then I decided to calm down. My heart is Tony for a speedy recovery. ”
For Chandler, there is now a world of possibilities. He returned to the mix for the vacant lightweight title. He records better post-fight interviews than ever and has truly piqued the interest of fight fans. As for his future, all signs point to a showdown against McGregor, the icon of the sport.
At this stage of his immense popularity and power, McGregor only accepts fights against opponents who can sell a fight with him. Rare are those who fit that description, and since McGregor probably believes he possesses the kind of power that will knock out former three-time Bellator lightweight champion, this is suddenly the perfect time for McGregor to make Chandler his dance partner for his next match.
“I soon became that guy, the one who was going to put my asses in the seats, sell pay-per-views and bring it to the cage,” Chandler said. “It simply came to our notice then. I’m just the type for it and I want to fight the best on the biggest possible platform. That’s why I’m here.
“My eyes are on the title, but if that doesn’t happen, Conor makes a lot of sense. We’ll see what Dana and the boys come up with. “
Ferguson’s knockout has opened a new life for Chandler, and he is ready to seize the moment.
“I feel the best I’ve ever had,” Chandler said. “I have a beautiful wife and two boys to fight for, which gives me even more confidence to ask God for the best for my life. I feel like I’m right where I need to be. I love fighting for the UFC and I will do everything I can to win that title. ”
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