Instead, a coaching opportunity with "The Ultimate Fighter" helped put the pieces in motion for a megafight later this year.
"If Hunter Campbell and Dana White have a momentary lapse in judgment and they give the title shot to someone else, I've got one dude on my mind," yelled Chandler after winning this past spring in Phoenix. "Conor McGregor, you've got to come back and fight somebody. I am the most entertaining lightweight on the planet.
"I want you at your biggest, I want you at your baddest and I want you at your best. You and me at 170 this summer, this fall, this winter. Holler at your boy!"
Chandler's request has been granted, as the duo will coach against each other on "The Ultimate Fighter" reality show, which will air on ESPN and ESPN+ from May 30 to Aug. 15, UFC president Dana White announced Saturday on social media. After the season, the coaches will likely fight at welterweight, with a date and location to be announced.
Big questions linger now with the fight tentatively in place. How do McGregor and Chandler match up with one another? What's at stake for the winner of the fight? Marc Raimondi looks ahead and breaks it all down.
Why now and this fight for Conor McGregor?
The now is easy. It's Conor McGregor, so the UFC wants him back in there as soon as possible. McGregor came out of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency drug-testing pool and must be back in it for six months before competing again, so his filming "The Ultimate Fighter" during that period of ineligibility is a genius move. The UFC gets to have McGregor on television to lift TUF ratings and promote the fight without having to set foot in the Octagon. It makes perfect sense.
This is the fight all three parties wanted. Chandler obviously wanted it and has said as much repeatedly. McGregor and his team have been in favor of it, too. While Chandler is an accomplished wrestler, he has shown the desire to stand and bang, which is the kind of return bout McGregor would want. Chandler is also relevant, having only lost to the top lightweight fighters in exciting matchups. If McGregor wins, a case can be made to throw him into another title fight, which maybe wouldn't be the case had McGregor fought and beaten someone like Tony Ferguson.
How do Conor McGregor and Michael Chandler match up?
It should be a battle. As noted above, Chandler is a great wrestler, but look at all his fights in the UFC. He'll keep the fight standing and trade -- and have success -- with anybody. Chandler was in Fight of the Year candidates with Justin Gaethje and Dustin Poirier and had the Knockout of the Year in 2022 against Ferguson. The guy has been instant action every time he has stepped into the Octagon, and most of those fights have come against elite competition. Chandler was probably one or two punches away from stopping Charles Oliveira and becoming the lightweight champion in 2021, lest we not forget.
McGregor probably would not want a straight slugfest. He's banking on his precise, accurate and sharp striking to take out Chandler early. There was once a time when Chandler's chin was considered suspect. He's more than proven in the UFC, though, that he can take massive shots by some of the hardest hitters in the division. With that said, McGregor has more power than anyone Chandler has faced before, even if the fight is at welterweight.
On the other side of things, Chandler has the benefit of his wrestling potentially being in McGregor's head, which would open the door for Chandler to take more risks striking. One more note: Chandler has become an excellent kicker under coach Henri Hooft at Kill Cliff FC. McGregor is, of course, coming back from a broken leg. It'll be interesting to see how much leg kicks are part of Chandler's game plan.
These are two of the best fighters in the world. What's at stake for the winner?
Conor McGregor appears to avoid injury in a video posted to Instagram after he was struck by a car while riding his bike in Ireland.
If someone said three or four years ago that Chandler would one day fight McGregor, most would have scoffed. Chandler lost the Bellator lightweight title to Patricio "Pitbull" Freire in 2019 and rebounded with a knockout over Sidney Outlaw in Japan. While Chandler was one of Bellator's best fighters, a matchup with the biggest star in the sport's history didn't seem in the cards. But Chandler never stopped working and knocked out former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson en route to free agency. He has been an incredible addition to the UFC with his class, professionalism and understanding of how to promote himself. Chandler has done everything the UFC has asked of him -- the promotion loves him -- and has only put on absolute banger fights.
This bout is a massive win for Chandler, whether he wins or loses. If he wins, Chandler would be thrust right back into the top of the lightweight pecking order as one of the biggest stars in the division. A title shot could be in the offing. For McGregor, a win over Chandler would be his best victory since he stopped Eddie Alvarez in 2016 to win the lightweight title. It would reinvigorate his career and show people he can not only come back from a devastating injury but also beat a top-tier fighter. Whatever his next fight would be, whether a title shot or against another big-name opponent, McGregor would be back in a big way. And that is good for business for the UFC.
How does 'The Ultimate Fighter' impact this fight?
It could be a great deal. From a promotional perspective, it gives all parties a chance to build this as a rivalry. Chandler has been very respectful of McGregor thus far and vice versa. How will the two coexist in close quarters in Las Vegas while filming the show? All eyes will be on the reality series, which will air all summer, to find out.
The two men will also gain a different knowledge of each other doing the show. There's no way around it. Right now, they are strangers and probably never talked or interacted with one another. That will change here in a few weeks, and those interactions -- or confrontations, if it gets to that point -- will help shape how the lead-up and the actual fight will go. Also, don't think both won't be getting training in during the show filming or that both fighters' coaches won't be keeping tabs on what the other is doing. It should make for fascinating TV and an exciting fight.