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UFC 303 first look: Biggest questions, early bets, predictions for McGregor-Chandler

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UFC 303 first look: Biggest questions, early bets, predictions for McGregor-Chandler

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published on Jan. 14 and updated on Sunday following the official announcement of the fight between Conor McGregor and Michael Chandler at UFC 303 on June 29 in Las Vegas.

Conor McGregor started off the year claiming in a post on X that he would fight Michael Chandler at International Fight Week on June 29. Now, the fight has been confirmed by the UFC, and there’s plenty to talk about in this fascinating matchup.

The fight will be a five-round contest at welterweight. McGregor is 2-1 at 170 pounds, including two iconic matches with Nate Diaz (1-1) and a win over Donald Cerrone in 2020. Overall, McGregor has lost three of his last four fights, including a first-round KO to Dustin Poirier in July 2021, his most recent fight. Chandler hasn’t fought at 170 pounds in 13 years. Chandler too has lost three of his last four matches, including a loss to Poirier in his fight in November 2022.

Andreas Hale, Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim offer up their initial reaction to matchup becoming official. Plus, UFC fighters Dominick Cruz and Megan Anderson analyze the matchup and betting experts Ian Parker and Reed Kuhn explain their early best bets.


Finally, McGregor vs. Chandler is official. What’s your biggest question about this fight?

Raimondi: How much does McGregor have left in the tank? The man was a supernova at his best from 2014-16. He singlehandedly lifted the sport of MMA with his work — in the Octagon and on the microphone. He became the UFC’s first real crossover celebrity and remains the biggest star in the promotion’s history. But how good can McGregor still be in the cage in 2024? He has exactly one victory in the last eight years and is coming off a catastrophic broken leg that has kept him out since 2021. The UFC doesn’t necessarily need McGregor to fight at a high level; its business is booming regardless. But the sport is much more interesting with “The Notorious” knocking opponents out and apologizing to no one for it.

Hale: Will the wait be worth it? Although the act of beating McGregor has had diminishing returns over the years, the return on investment for the UFC and whoever stands across the Octagon from him remains exponentially high. This isn’t a fight. This is an event, something the UFC hasn’t had in some time. Also, good for Chandler waiting this out. His bank account will thank him later.

Okamoto: Does McGregor still want to fight? That’s the question. He says he does, and I believe he does — at times. Chandler wants to fight. We know that. Chandler is living a professional lifestyle around the clock. As we all know, McGregor tends to bounce in and out of that professional lifestyle. McGregor loves the money, the attention and, genuinely, the art of fighting. But does he love it and want it badly enough to make the sacrifices and focus it will require? We’ll know the answer one way or another when this fight starts.

Wagenheim: Any chance the UFC Performance Institute has a time machine to transport us back to McGregor’s prime? That Conor was a must-see. The Conor of today is no more than a turbulent spectacle. I’m not completely uninterested in seeing what happens between him and Chandler, but it’ll be like tuning in to NASCAR for the crashes. We just watched UFC 300 and its full night of athletes competing at the highest level. I’ll take that any day over an accident waiting to happen.


Early best bets

Parker: Take Chandler to win if you can get him at even money or plus odds. Regardless of weight, if you can get Chandler at even money or plus odds, the value is with him. If Chandler wrestles, that skill, along with his power and explosiveness, can make him a nightmare matchup for McGregor.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Chandler is extremely hittable and McGregor is known for his precision, but which version of McGregor are we going to see? He has been inactive for quite some time and despite what some may believe, ring rust is very real. And, with the fight happening at a heavier 170 pounds, I believe the extra muscle will negatively impact his speed. Will the inactivity of McGregor catch up to him? Or will he come back and take over the sport yet again?

Kuhn: Lean McGregor to win. Chandler spends two-thirds of his Octagon time on his feet instead of leveraging his NCAA Division I wrestling base. And as long as he’s standing, his poor head strike defense is a huge liability against McGregor’s accurate long-range game.

At 48%, Chandler’s power head strike defense is the worst of any ranked fighter, let alone within the highly competitive lightweight division. McGregor’s team is smart, and they may have picked Chandler as an opponent for this reason. Though Chandler also likes to swing for the fences, he’s suffered more knockdowns than he’s scored. Extended time at range against McGregor isn’t favorable if Chandler’s eating at least half of all headshots.

However, that doesn’t mean Chandler is a pushover. We could see him exploit McGregor’s wrestling, thereby nullifying McGregor’s best weapons. But still, the combination of McGregor’s accuracy and power with Chandler’s defensive holes creates a lean toward the Irishman getting back into the win column.


What does a win do for Conor McGregor? What about a loss?

Anderson: Without a doubt, McGregor needs a win here more than Chandler does. It’s hard to call yourself the best in the world when you don’t have a win over anybody the public would consider among the best in the world, in recent memory. McGregor’s last big win was in a title fight against Eddie Alvarez in 2016. Since then his only win was over Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone.

A win for McGregor, at least for himself and his fan base, legitimizes the idea that he can still compete with the best in the sport.

Cruz: Conor can’t lose. We’re prizefighters and he’s already won all the prizes. So, he’s already won. Nobody loses this fight. This is a win-win. Normally one guy loses the fight and loses the purse — that’s just how this sport goes. But if you lose the fight, and don’t lose the purse, what did you actually lose?


What does a win do for Michael Chandler? What about a loss?

Anderson: A win doesn’t do much for Chandler. Other than what it means on paper and the big payday, it doesn’t do anything for him in terms of moving any closer to a title shot. Even with a win, Chandler already has losses to most of the guys ranked ahead of him (Charles Oliveira, Justin Gaethje, Dustin Poirier). If he wants to keep competing he needs wins, but that’s about it.

As someone who was actively competing before coaching opposite of McGregor on the last season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” a loss in this fight would affect his standing in the division but it wouldn’t be as impactful as a loss would be for McGregor.

Cruz: A win for Chandler likely retires him. If he wins and doesn’t retire there are a lot of people below him in the rankings who are really tough matchups. On the other hand, as I mentioned earlier, this matchup doesn’t do anything negative for either of the parties involved.

Even if he doesn’t win the fight, Chandler can’t lose this fight. If he loses, no matter whether he gets stretched in the first two seconds or goes to a decision, he still gets millions of dollars. That isn’t a loss, it may hurt his pride and ego but that’s it.

We can’t look at this as a regular UFC fight. This is a superfight.


Fill in the blank: The buildup to Chandler-McGregor at International Fight Week will be _____?

Cruz: Expensive. I think the UFC is going to put a lot of money into this. If this fight happens at International Fight Week, it will have been nearly three years since McGregor has fought. That’s a big deal.

International Fight Week makes sense for McGregor’s return because Conor is an international star. The UFC’s mission is expansion and having Conor helps with expansion into the international market. That’s the future.

Anderson: Entertaining. When you look at all of Conor’s prefight buildup, it’s not always the politically correct way to go about things, but it’s certainly entertaining. And both guys know how to cut a hell of a promo. The hype for this fight will be something fans won’t want to miss.


What’s your bold prediction for Chandler-McGregor?

Cruz: McGregor will take a different approach to get into Chandler’s head. Often during the build-up to his fights, McGregor can talk trash to affect his opponent, but Chandler plays such a nice guy that talking trash to him can be hard, even for McGregor. It will be interesting to see how he responds to Chandler’s nice demeanor. How do you beat down on someone who is willing to make fun of themself?

Anderson: This fight isn’t going the distance. Both fighters are explosive and athletic but neither of them has great cardio. They gas out because they spend so much energy doing the things they do well and both have been out of competition for over a year. These guys are good for a short amount of time, but after they have to go two or three rounds, you can see them start to wear down.

Hale: I’m with Megan, because Chandler is his own worst enemy. He could grind down McGregor with his exceptional wrestling and put a beating on him with some vicious ground and pound. He could test his gas tank out with his superior cardio against a man who hasn’t gone the distance in a fight in almost eight years, and he was dead tired in that fight against Nate Diaz. But, no. That’s not what Chandler does. Instead, he’ll stand and trade, play right into McGregor’s wheelhouse and get knocked out. I hope I’m wrong though, and Chandler showcases his ability to be a “mixed martial artist”.

Raimondi: Chandler will keep things standing. Like Andreas said earlier, Chandler was a standout wrestler at the University of Missouri and has used his wrestling effectively in MMA. But Chandler also can’t help himself. He’s an action fighter and prides himself on how exciting he can be in the cage. Conventional wisdom would be that Chandler will take McGregor down and use his advantages on the ground against the Irishman, a precision striker with knockout power. That won’t be the way Chandler wants to win this fight. He’ll want to knock McGregor out or, at minimum, have a war on the feet with the former UFC double champion. Look for Chandler to go right into McGregor’s wheelhouse and try to beat him at his own game.

Okamoto: Nate Diaz will show up. Historically, McGregor and Diaz don’t like it to appear that they care what the other is doing. Other than a McGregor tweet here and there or a Diaz quote when he’s specifically asked about McGregor in an interview, they tend not to talk about each other that much. But Diaz will box Jorge Masvidal on June 1, and regardless of the result, it will be obvious to everyone that when that’s over, it’s time to finally do McGregor vs. Diaz III. At the very least, I believe Diaz will be in Las Vegas when McGregor fights Chandler. It stands to reason, to me, that he’ll find his way into the building.

Wagenheim: The unthinkable occurs. In his prime, McGregor would have pieced up Chandler like he toyed with Chandler’s running mate, Eddie Alvarez, back in 2016. But we haven’t seen prime McGregor since he outclassed Alvarez nearly a decade ago. Will Conor’s vaunted timing and precision be off a beat at this point? Will Chandler’s 20-month layoff dull his sharpness, too? With so many variables at play, I’m left to rely on the one constant in all phases of McGregor’s career: chaos. So, I predict that after an entertainingly unhinged buildup, the fight never happens. (Why? Watch and find out!)

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