Issue 205

May 2024

E.Spencer Kyte breaks down the now cancelled UFC 303 showdown between Conor McGregor and Michael Chandler, exploring the comeback mechanics, Chandler's challenge, and the stakes for both fighters.

If we can't have the fight, we may as well breakdown what could have been. These two fighters were supposed to lock horns on Saturday, June 29, at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. It would have ended Conor McGregor’s 1,000-plus day absence from the Octagon when he stepped in to face Michael Chandler in their long-awaited showdown. Dana White announced McGregor is out due to an unspecified injury. It's important to note that this is the first time McGregor has ever withdrawn from an event for any reason in his entire career. We do not know when the fight will be rescheduled or if McGregor will ever step into the Octagon again. Suffice to say that a total cancellation would be a terrible day for any MMA fan.

Positioned opposite one another as coaches on the most recent season of The Ultimate Fighter, anticipation for the two men to share the cage has been present since they first began bickering with one another in the early days of filming, playfully exchanging predictions about how the fight would go down.

As the season played out without a fight announcement, the question began shifting from “When will they fight?” to “Are they going to fight?” as many wondered if McGregor was indeed intent on making another comeback. And would Chandler remain content to hang out on the sidelines, waiting on the Irish superstar? 

Though excitement for the bout waned as the wait grew longer, the announcement of International Fight Week as the date and the release of the trailer setting up the clash felt like a shot of electricity throughout the MMA community. The hypothetical matchup became official, and people could truly start diving into the matchup.

Fans hoped to savour the moment McGregor and Chandler finally stood opposite one another, ready to battle it out inside the Octagon. Even though we may not know when this day will come, it’s worth unpacking what makes this contest so compelling, what is at stake for each man, and dissect the different ways this bout hits for hardcore fans and casual observers.


Conor McGregor hasn’t fought since July 10, 2021.

The last image of McGregor inside the Octagon is of him sitting against the fence, fire in his eyes, his face flush with anger as medical personnel tended to his broken leg.

His last win came on January 18, 2020, against Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in a pre-pandemic main event that lasted 40 seconds and felt like it took place a millennia ago.

His last significant victory came back at UFC 205 in New York City, when he made good on his promise to replicate his success in Cage Warriors and become the first man to simultaneously hold UFC gold in two divisions by knocking out Eddie Alvarez and claiming the lightweight title.

That fight took place in November 2016 — before he fought Floyd Mayweather, launched and sold Proper No. 12 Irish Whisky and opened The Black Forge.

Before landing on Forbes’ list of the highest-paid athletes in the world, before three losses in four fights, before the Road House remake, before becoming a part owner of Bare Knuckle FC. Before all of the drama that has overshadowed his incredible exploits in the cage.

In fighting years, it has been eons since McGregor was at the pinnacle of the sport, and every time he’s set to return, the excitement builds because everyone remembers who he once was and wonders if he can ever get close to being that person again.


Let’s get one thing clear for the folks that have only been around for McGregor’s post-Mayweather run of fights: at the end of his three-and-a-half-year march from the beginning of his UFC tenure to his win over Alvarez, Conor McGregor was the best fighter on the planet.

He stormed through the featherweight division, dominating future champ Max Holloway, future rival Dustin Poirier, and perennial contender Chad Mendes before dethroning Jose Aldo in 13 seconds, ending his decade-long unbeaten run. It wasn’t a fluke. McGregor got under Aldo’s skin to the point that he made the unflappable Brazilian make a colossal mistake and made him pay for it with a clean left hand.

When he faltered against Nathan Diaz in their impromptu first meeting, he maniacally committed to winning the rematch. He even put his lightweight title ambitions on hold to get even with Stockton’s favorite fighting son first.

After drawing level with Diaz, he returned to his original mission, waltzed into Madison Square Garden dressed to the nines, and took out Alvarez in many that honestly didn’t get talked about enough, given how thoroughly he beat the lightweight champion. He hurt Alvarez less than a minute into the fight, and from then on, it wasn’t a question of whether McGregor would win but how quickly.

A little over three minutes into the second round, referee John McCarthy mercifully halted the one-sided beating, and McGregor made history.

The memory of that run — 10 fights, nine victories, one loss avenged; seven stoppages, three titles, two-division champion — is at least in part what has always fueled interest in McGregor’s various returns.

When you’ve seen someone perform at an otherworldly level the way he did — calling his shots, delivering on his promises, entertaining at every turn — it’s impossible not to hold onto some kernel of belief that they can dial it back up or discover it again. It’s even more difficult to avoid with McGregor because the man such built do much of his legacy on setting out his targets, telling everyone what he’s going to do, and then doing precisely that, so when you promise a return to form, it’s hard not to believe him, even if only a little.


“I’m only now coming into my own,” and that “records and jaws are getting smashed” on June 29, as McGregor did on X recently, is one thing, but actually getting out there and doing it is another thing altogether.

“I would pose legacy questions: how do you want to be remembered, and what do you want to be remembered for?” suggests Eric Nicksick, head coach at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas, when asked how he would try to get the best out of McGregor as he prepares for his return engagement with Chandler. “You’ve done so many great things in this sport, but your legacy is in question because of the antics, because of this and that, so I think you play to that kind of thing with him.

“It felt like when he got into the sport, that was his motivation — to be the greatest to ever do it, to carry all these belts, do this and that — and that narrative changed with time and money and status.

“That would be my approach with him if I were (John) Kavanagh or someone close to him in his camp. How do you want to be remembered in this sport? Do you want to be remembered as this and that, or do you want to be remembered as one of the best to ever do it?”

Tyson Chartier, leader of the New England Cartel, said that he would look to the past to draw the fire that propelled McGregor to previously unreached heights back out of him ahead of his latest return to action.

“You’ve got to figure out what you can do to tick that box that puts the chip on his shoulder to keep them hungry coming in,” offered Chartier, who serves as the head coach for UFC stalwarts Calvin Kattar and Rob Font. “And with the camp, I think you have to try to keep a sense of normalcy as best as you can.

“I like that Conor has kept a lot of his coaches. Maybe the camps aren’t in the same rooms they used to be in because they’re traveling, but he hasn’t fought in a long time, and if you’re Kavanagh, you get back to your roots and do the camp in the same room as when he was on the climb, with some of the same people, similar schedules, and focus on ‘This is what got us here, so let’s go back to this.’

“Maybe that will resonate a little more than trying to have these crazy camps with thousands of cameras around and a bunch of distractions,” Chartier added. “You’ve got to try to reel him in a little bit.”

Despite the extended layoff, consecutive losses to Poirier, and unflattering 1-3 record over his last four outings, there are always still those lingering “what if” questions with McGregor.

What if he is focused? What if he is committed to a real return? What if he does get back to being even 80 percent of the guy who essentially ran roughshod through Holloway, Poirier, Mendes, Aldo, and Alvarez enroute to making “Champ-Champ” status something everyone with title ambitions is now chasing in the UFC?

Even if history suggests not to get too excited, it’s almost impossible not to feel a slight twinge of anticipation because regardless of what happens inside the Octagon, Conor McGregor fight weeks are plenty entertaining in and of themselves, and then what if he goes out and lamps Chandler?

Comeback stories are captivating, especially when the majority of people don’t believe you can.actually make it all the way back.


Michael Chandler is the perfect opponent for McGregor to return and face on every level.

Though not the global superstar his Irish counterpart is, Chandler has been a part of enough thrilling battles, even in his relatively brief UFC career, to establish himself as a known commodity and magnetic draw outside of the hardcore set.

From knocking out Dan Hooker in his debut and battling Charles Oliveira for the vacant lightweight title soon after to his knock-down, drag-out contest against Justin Gaethje and Poirier on consecutive years at Madison Square Garden, the Missouri native has been all-action through his UFC run and should bring the exact same approach to his clash with McGregor at what we hope will be an unspecified future date.

But he will also be someone who can hold his own with The Notorious one throughout the preamble to this event.

As much as McGregor can rock the mic like few others before him or since, Chandler is quick-witted, sharp, and always comes armed with a couple of catchphrases and speeches cribbed from professional wrestling superstars that can get the crowd hyped. These will allow him to go bar-for-bar with his impending opponent during the various press engagements that are sure to take place if these two ever do clash.

This is the fight Chandler was always chasing, a fact made clear by his willingness to wait as long as it took for this pairing with McGregor to come together. While Nicksick and Chartier believe “Iron Mike” would beat the Irishman if he utilized his full arsenal of skills, they both wholly understand his decision to embrace being an action fighter with eyes on this type of opportunity.

“Skill-for-skill, I think Chandler should beat him if he were smart and tried to utilize his wrestling, but I think he has turned into more of a showman,” Nicksick said of the former Bellator lightweight champion. “I always go back to that high-crotch against Justin Gaethje: had he just taken him down, put him on his back, he wins the fight, but instead, he had to make this WWE-style spike him on his head, which ended up allowing Gaethje to scramble, get to his feet, and he ended up losing the fight."

“I wish I could have seen him go out there and a tactician because he’s so athletic,” began Chartier, offering his assessment of Chandler. “He hits hard. He’s got great wrestling; just see what he could have done if he went down the other path because then it would be fun to see him wrestle with the Makhachevs and Tsarukyans and those guys.

“I feel like he leaned into that ‘I’m gonna be an exciting fighter’ thing. I think he has all the tools to go out there and probably be a world champion, but since he came into the UFC, he’s almost more worried about being exciting.

“For me, it’s like you two paths to go down: I’m going over here and focus on wins, or I’m going to go over here and focus on being exciting and not stress the results. And it’s probably a pretty freeing feeling knowing you’re gonna go all-in on being exciting and make as much money.

“But I don’t know how that feels in 20 years when you look back on your career if you don’t have a UFC belt hanging on your wall,” added Chartier. "That’s for him to know.”


A fascinating piece to the impending clash between McGregor and Chandler is trying to discern what the legacy of each man is now and what kind of impact the outcome of their main event encounter will have, if any.

Things are a little more straightforward with Chandler, as the 38-year-old had an incredible run under the Bellator banner, where he was a three-time lightweight champion and former lightweight tournament winner, engaging in a pair of amazing fights with Alvarez, two bouts each with Patricky Pitbull, Will Brooks, Brett Primus, and Benson Henderson, and matchups with just about every other contender to pass through the 155-pound weight class during his lengthy tenure.

After being one of the best lightweights outside of the UFC for several years, he migrated to the biggest stage in the sport, made an immediate splash by knocking out Hooker, and challenged for championship gold in his sophomore outing, hurting Oliveira and chasing a finish in the first before getting finished himself early in the second.

Since then, he’s earned Fight of the Night honors (but also losses) in memorable battles with Gaethje and Poirier in NYC, with a highlight reel knockout of Tony Ferguson sandwiched in between.

In terms of the lightweights of his generation — guys that started in the late 2000s and early 2010s — Chandler likely falls somewhere between 8 and 15. He’s just outside the elite tier but in the same main event neighborhood as Gaethje and Poirier, Henderson, Alvarez, and others like Anthony Pettis and Rafael Dos Anjos.

A victory over McGregor doesn’t do much to change that. Maybe it slides him up a position in your hierarchy but getting the better of McGregor at this point in his career doesn’t carry the same weight and value in a legacy sense as beating him at the peak of his powers would have back in the day.


Figuring out what McGregor’s legacy is now and how it may changedepending on the outcome of this fight is a bit more complicated.

“I think right now, the rub that all the other fighters are getting because of him is still being felt,” Chartier said when asked about McGregor’s lasting legacy in the sport. “People are getting paid more money because he moved the ceiling.

“The guys that are climbing the ladder in some of these divisions, getting paid what they’re getting paid, is because he broke through those barriers. Obviously, Ronda (Rousey) had something to do with it, but he was the first guy to go superstardom to where everybody knows this guy, even if they don’t know what UFC stands for. He was the first guy to break onto that Forbes list of Top Paid Athletes.

“He’s had a tremendous impact on the business side of it,” he added. “You can cherry-pick certain negative things he’s been a part of, but he’s had a tremendous impact on what these guys get paid; you can’t dispute that.”

Nicksick had a nearly identical response.

“I look at it like this: the neighbor at the end of the cul-de-sac just put their house up for $1.2M, and that raises the value of everybody else in the neighborhood,” offered the Xtreme Couture helmsman. “I think no matter if you like him or not, we all owe him a debt of gratitude because he literally raised the property value for everyone in the industry.”

While his impact on the business side cannot be questioned, and his standing as the biggest name in the sport remains intact despite not having fought in nearly three years and last earning a victory before anyone had heard of COVID-19, the back end of McGregor’s legacy in the cage still feels unwritten at this moment.

What he did on his run to “Champ-Champ” status is undeniable. Still, the way things have gone since has detracted from the enduring greatness of that stretch, and with each heralded return that hasn’t produced the types of performance and results McGregor has promised, he starts to become more of a “time capsule” standout, rather than someone deserving of being in the discussion amongst the all-time greats in the sport.

And make no mistake about it: the second he stopped Alvarez to claim the lightweight title, McGregor was on his way to being in that conversation, if not already a part of it. He’d gone 9-1 in the UFC, winning the interim and undisputed featherweight titles with stoppage wins over Mendes and Aldo, avenged his loss to Diaz. He tore through the defending lightweight champion like he didn’t have any business being inside the Octagon with him in just over three years.

Since then, he’s been more of a celebrity than a standout fighter, besting only Cerrone while constantly declaring a return to form ahead of each appearance.

Interestingly enough, however, McGregor can halt the erosion of his legacy and write a new final chapter if he can deliver against Chandler.

“The sport is better with a competitive Conor McGregor in it,” offered Nicksick. “The sport is better with him competing, but not just showing up — competing and winning fights — because if he’s on his game and he can go out there and beat Chandler, it puts him in a position where he can go fight Leon (Edwards) or Belal (Muhammad) at 170 pounds or go fight Islam (Makhachev) if he wants to fight at ’55.

“I think Conor is closer to re-writing his legacy; he’s two wins away,” he added. "If he beats Chandler, that puts him in a position where they can make the Islam fight, and for whatever reason, he’s able to beat Islam, then he’s right back into that “one of the greatest to do it” conversation.”


The differences in what this fight means for their respective legacies are apparent in the direction each of their careers can and likely will take if they win when or if they manage to fight.

Whether you feel he’s deserving or not, McGregor is likely to fight for UFC gold, as both featherweight champion Ilia Topuria and welterweight titleholder Leon Edwards have already made mention of a bout with him should they get through their impending bouts.

While it’s far less likely for Topuria — McGregor hasn’t competed at ’45 since besting Aldo at UFC 194 — the fact that a pair of sitting champions are still looking at the 35-year-old from Dublin, as the man they want to fight next speaks volumes about his drawing power, popularity, and the kind of payday that comes with sharing the Octagon with McGregor.

There is also the possibility that Makhachev targets a fight with McGregor as well, since there are obviously still simmering tensions between the two sides dating back to the Irishman’s rivalry with the lightweight champion’s teammate-turned-coach, Khabib Nurmagomedov.

Regardless of who it’s against, Chartier and Nicksick are again in lockstep regarding what comes next for McGregor with a win over Chandler at some point in the future.

“If he comes back and looks good, people will talk about him as a title contender again, in two divisions,” began Chartier. “If he comes back and looks terrible, we’re all gonna be like, ‘Okay, whatever,’ but people are still gonna call him out because they want that money.”

“I think so,” said Nicksick when asked if a title shot would follow should McGregor emerge victorious, acknowledging that a single win over Chandler shouldn’t be enough to elevate him into that position given the depth of talent at both lightweight and welterweight.

The close friends and standout coaches also see eye-to-eye on the direction Chandler’s career takes if he hands McGregor a third straight defeat when they finally share the Octagon.

“I think it gives him a good fight,” Chartier said of Chandler. “I don’t know if it warrants a title fight because he’s 1-3 in his last four, and his only win is beating Tony Ferguson. I think it lines up another fun fight. Maybe he can argue he gets a BMF shot against Max (Holloway); that would be fun.

“He’s put himself in that category already, same as with Gaethje,” he added. “He’s Gaethje-light, but he can go and fight Max for the BMF or something like that.”

“At this point in his career, he realizes that the chance for him to get UFC gold is very slim, so he actually did the right thing by saying, “I can’t be champion, but let me make champion money, maybe even more, by calling out the ‘Red Panty Night’ guy,’” said Nicksick, offering more of an overarching career view than a singular “next step” for Chandler. “Now it’s ‘whether I win a belt or not, I’m in a position where I still feel like a champion.’”

One thing to consider with Chandler, in terms of what comes next, is that everything in this sport is fluid and dependent on being in the right place, at the right time, coming off the correct result, and a blistering effort against McGregor could be a potential catalyst for something even more significant. That said, how long can he wait? It's been a long time between drinks for Chandler, longer now that the fight is delayed.

Although he’s not in the same stratosphere as McGregor in terms of drawing power and name recognition, it’s not out of the question that one of these titleholders looking to face an established name rather than an unheralded killer turns their attention to Chandler if he beat McGregor.

It’s less likely than picturing McGregor getting a victory and a title shot. Still, a first-round stoppage and a well-placed callout could put “Iron Mike” on the shortlist to face Makhachev or Edwards next, should either or both retain their titles.


This match up was one of those instances where hardcore fans and industry personnel largely have a different level of interest in the matchup than Conor McGregor's disciples. 

Conor McGregor's fights are still a big deal to everyone outside the hardcore audience and even some within that demographic. He is one of a handful of combat sports athletes known and followed by the masses, and that has likely increased in the last year, given his role in the Road House remake with Jake Gyllenhaal.

McGregor jumps off the screen as Knox, a pumped-up psycho tasked with getting rid of Gyllenhaal’s Dalton, and regardless of its flaws, the flick pulled in a ton of eyeballs on Amazon, with a sequel already getting the green light from the studio.

Additionally, this is where being able to step outside the MMA bubble occasionally is vital because he’s pretty much the one fighter everyone could likely pick out of a lineup (and McGregor has given people a couple of those opportunities). A whole ton of people still believe him to be the best fighter in the sport on that basis alone, and they’re always going to show up or tune in to see someone like that compete.

It’s like how people who didn’t bother with The Masters (or golf in general) when Tiger Woods was sidelined but suddenly had to spend the first week in April seeing what was happening on Sunday afternoon at Amen Corner once this legend had a driver in his hand. 

Tell your friend who knows nothing about the UFC that Conor McGregor is fighting, and they’re bound to express interest. Now, think about how the same thing is happening in friend groups around the globe. You’ll understand why, regardless of results, standing within the sport, or anything else, this fight will generate more media interest, captivate a wider audience, and do greater numbers on pay-per-view than any other event the UFC has rolled out this year.

The contrast to that, of course, is how both Chartier and Nicksick view the contest, which feels like an accurate representation of what many, if not most, within the MMA industry and those who follow the sport fervently think about the impending McGregor-Chandler dust-up.

“I think we’re kind of interested to see what Conor does coming back, and Chandler has waited around long enough to fight him, so it’s gonna be a fun fight,” offered Chartier, adding that he is specifically interested in seeing how McGregor looks in the Octagon following his recovery from the leg injury that halted his last fight with Poirier.

Nicksick summed things up even clearer.

“There’s not a whole lot of deep intrigue for me other than I do root for Conor to come back after this type of injury, look the part, and be better; I do hope for that,” he began. “Nothing is going to surprise me either way. If these dudes go out and double-knock each other out, it’s not like, “Oh my god!”

“But there’s not a whole lot of intrigue for me, especially because of the opponent. If (Conor was) going out and fighting Arman Tsarukyan or somebody that is more of a title contender, then I’m like, “Okay, let’s see how he fares,” and it gives him a claim to challenge for the title.

“But him and Chandler is just a fun fight."

And at the end of the day, who doesn't love a fun fight? Despite all the factors described in this article to make the fight happen, there are also circumstances which often prevail, preventing it from doing so. We only hope, as fight fans, that we once again see McGregor in action and that both athletes get the fight they deserve. When it will be, only one man knows, and he's probably got a cold whiskey in his hand with a big grin on his face.