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UFC 281, The Morning After: Michael Chandler throws it all away

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It’s a remarkably frustrating morning to be a Michael Chandler fan. For the second time in three fights, baffling in-fight decisions have cost Chandler otherwise winnable fights, and this second loss effectively eliminates any chance of a second run at the title.

Before we go any further: Dustin Poirier fought well at UFC 281 last night (Sat., Nov. 12, 2022) inside Madison Square Garden in New York, New York. He does what he always does: throw heavy leather and be ridiculously tough. There is no quit in “The Diamond,” and he once again came out on top against an elite Lightweight. None of the following is a knock on Poirier, diss to his skill set, or implication that Chandler definitely would’ve won with a smarter gameplan.

Back to the frustration: part of it is personal. When Chandler joined UFC’s roster, I deemed it too late a move. In my view, his best chance at capturing UFC gold was somewhere around 2012 ... not nearly a decade later. Then, he starched Dan Hooker and came within inches of smashing Charles Oliveira, too.

Against my better judgement, a spark of hope ignited.

UFC 281 fully extinguished that small flame. It physically hurt to watch Chandler play into Poirier’s hands so thoroughly (watch highlights). Any time he stunned Poirier, Chandler would completely lose himself in the moment, throwing himself at his wounded foe with little thought. When has this ever worked against Dustin Poirier? He’s a genuine master at holding himself together in a firefight, remaining standing, then landing crushing blows as his foes try to catch their breathe.

Poirier has done it time and time again, yet Chandler ran full speed into that exact scenario in the closing moments of the first round. Given a few more seconds, he was getting stopped in the first frame because of his own awful choices.

The larger piece of frustration is that Chandler so obviously knows better. Chandler is not dumb. He is no rookie. At one point in the first, he flurried on Poirier and wisely scored an effortless takedown along the fence. Had he controlled Poirier for some time then played keep away when Poirier did work out, he easily wins the round.

That was the path to victory! Occasional flurries, heavy body kicks, and well-timed takedowns was the way.

Instead, Chandler tried to jump on a submission and allowed Poirier up, then immediately tried to brawl while tired. Why?!? Chandler proved he could safely control Poirier for long periods of time in the second round. He’s done it numerous times throughout his Bellator career, drawing criticism for some boring, hold-em-down-at-all-costs style wins.

It really feels like Chandler fully bought into his most entertaining man at Lightweight persona. True enough, it’s been hugely entertaining for fans, and Chandler has surely grown his star significantly as a result of his adjusted approach. It’s also true that Chandler’s chances of capturing UFC gold as a 34-year-old signee were never that great in the first place. Maybe his antics will even get him the Conor McGregor fight, a more profitable booking than any title strap.

I don’t begrudge Chandler for reinventing himself and putting on incredible fights. He’s still a remarkable athlete with a considerable will to win. Obviously, I will still happily tune into any Chandler fight.

For long-time fans of “Iron” Mike, however, it does sting to see Chandler toss aside his best hopes of becoming UFC champion.

For complete UFC 281: “Adesanya Vs. Pereira” results and play-by-play, click HERE.

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