On February 3, Dana White declared that Conor McGregor – one of the most popular, PPV-driving fighters the UFC has ever seen – will be returning to action in 2023. The first part was that he’d be a coach on The Ultimate Fighter, which underwhelmed some fans, but then, the UFC head honcho declared that he’d fight Michael Chandler after filming TUF 31, with Chandler on the opposite side of the show.
Now, the filming for TUF 31 appears to have concluded with a bang. White and Chandler have addressed the press to detail the final goings on of the show, its ups and downs, and all but confirm that the rivalry has, well and truly, heated up. A date is yet to be set for the highly anticipated bout, but it’s never too soon to look ahead when there’s action already taking place.
Clash at TUF 31 hits the headlines
For some more distant mixed martial arts fans, McGregor vs. Chandler has seemingly come out of nowhere and is a bit of an odd fight for the Irishman known as “Notorious” to return for. It all began after UFC 274 saw Chandler knockout Tony Ferguson. After that, he declared, “Conor McGregor, you’ve got to come back and fight somebody,” labeling himself as the most entertaining lightweight in the world to coax back the UFC star.
His calls to meet him at his biggest and “baddest” were heard by the UFC matchmakers and McGregor himself, it seems. To generate interest in the fight and – even though he won’t admit it – stoke a rivalry, White put them opposite each other for TUF 31. In a press conference concerning TUF filming, White said, “things started escalating,” “they don’t like each other now,” and that a lot went down between them on Friday (March 3).
On May 30, The Ultimate Fighter will return to screens, showcasing male lightweights and bantamweights on the ESPN show. Undoubtedly, if for nothing else, fans will tune in to see the final scrap between McGregor and Chandler. McGregor’s next opponent also commented to the media that there was “a lot of tension” and that while there’s mutual respect, he doesn’t “know if we like each other as much as I thought.”
For anyone interested in the return of Conor McGregor or to see if Chandler can take a real step forward after so many near misses in the UFC, TUF 31 is now must-watch TV. It’ll run from May 30 to August 15, which would suggest that their fight would take place in late August or September. The furthest the scheduled events currently go is UFC 290 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. While that’s the perfect place for this fight, it’s set for July 8.
Looking to McGregor vs. Chandler in 2023
Bar any serious injuries, McGregor vs. Chandler will be a headline fight at a numbered UFC event at some point in 2023. While McGregor has a colossal following and legacy, and Chandler has earned a firm reputation in the UFC, on paper, this is not only a close match, but one between two fighters in poor form. Both have lost three of their last five fights, and both lost to Dustin Poirier last time out. That said, Chandler is still active, while McGregor’s last outing was in July 2021.
It’s these factors that, on paper, have the two future opponents as very closely tied. In the UFC betting, both McGregor and Chandler are out at -110 each. It’s a strange situation to be in, and one that shows that even the oddsmakers are in flux. By comparison, Kamaru Usman is at -240 to defeat the +190 Leon Edwards, and Max Holloway is the -155 favorite to beat Arnold Allen at +130. Both are close contests, but the odds swing one way.
Undoubtedly, after TUF 31 airs and a date is settled, the odds will begin to move toward one of the fighters. Right now, the fact is that people don’t know enough about what either fighter is set to bring at the presumed welterweight class. As McGregor reportedly hasn’t entered into USADA testing yet – which is required for six months before a fight takes place – a fight can’t take place until September at the earliest. So, there’s plenty of time for McGregor to get fighting fit again and for fans to then judge the results.
Conor McGregor vs. Michael Chandler might not have a date yet, but rest assured, the UFC is already building up this fight, and it will almost certainly take place in 2023. As it stands, it’s tough to pick a winner.