Michael Chandler: Wait for Conor McGregor frustrating, but also blessing in disguise

The long wait for Michael Chandler to compete is likely coming to an end when he meets Conor McGregor in a showdown more than a year in the making.

When Chandler signed on to coach opposite McGregor on The Ultimate Fighter 31, he and just about everyone else in the world assumed their fight would take place a few months later. That didn’t happen, but there was still hope the fight could take place before the end of 2023.

That time came and went, as well, as McGregor delayed his return to the UFC’s anti-doping program, which required six months of testing before an athlete in his situation can compete again. Then, the UFC severed its relationship with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

Unless there’s another hiccup, McGregor should be cleared to fight by UFC 300 in April. It’s unclear, however, whether his announcement of a fight with Chandler on June 29 during International Fight Week will come to fruition; the UFC has not confirmed his return and the bout with Chandler.

Regardless, by the time they meet in the octagon, Chandler will have sacrificed at least 19 months of his career waiting for McGregor. He admits there were times when he neared his breaking point.

“I’m not going to lie to you and say there weren’t moments of frustration,” Chandler told MMA Fighting. “Moments of, ‘Screw it, fight somebody else!’ That’s what everybody was saying I should do for months now.

“But I signed my name to this contract, made this commitment. I want to fight Conor. He wants to fight me. It’s just not on everybody’s timeline.”

As difficult as it was dealing with the constant delays and rumors about when McGregor may be ready to compete again, Chandler started to look at all sides of his situation. He was definitely upset that the fight took over a year to make official, but he also took advantage of the time off as best as he could.

Best known for all-action bouts that have earned him bonuses in four of his five UFC appearances — including a 2021 Fight of the Year with Justin Gaethje — Chandler puts a lot of wear and tear on his body every time he performs. Because he’s been so active since signing with the UFC, he has rarely been afforded many breaks in his schedule.

That’s where he’s able to look at the McGregor ordeal with a bit of a silver lining around what appeared to be a rather dark cloud.

“For every moment of frustration, there was a moment of realization,” Chandler explained. “Having a year off now, letting my body heal, not taking damage. Spending time with my family, enjoying the holidays. I’ve missed so many holidays, so many birthday parties, so many things and big events. Being able to pick up my son from school and drop him off, and going to sporting events and all these different things, plus still get my fix of training and becoming a better fighter and athlete, but also taking stock in being a better father and a better husband. Being there, being around. I’ll look back on this year as being the best year of my life thus far.”

At 37, Chandler has often said he’s not in the UFC for a long time, but for a good time. Still, nearly two years off probably cost him at least two or three fights.

That being said, Chandler knows it will all pay off in the end, and he hasn’t just been sitting around doing nothing while waiting on McGregor. He’s still been training and preparing, but now he’s finally got a date to focus all his energy.

“I’m not an idle hands kind of guy,” Chandler said. “You put me on ice for a year, I’m not going to just be sitting on my hands. So we’ve continued to work on my body, my mind and my soul, and my spirit as an athlete.

“Yeah, we didn’t win any fights, we didn’t get our hand raised. Heck, we didn’t even make any fight paychecks. But I’ve been blessed with great people around me and a great passion for life. This last year has exacerbated that. This hiatus has been well needed, truthfully. It’s just going to set me up for a huge, huge stage in 2024.”

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