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UFC 268: Michael Chandler aiming for different result this time at MSG

Michael Chandler battles Dan Hooker at UFC 257

Michael Chandler battles Dan Hooker at UFC 257 at UFC Fight Island on January 23, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  Credit: Zuffa LLC/Chris Unger

The stage will be quite different for Michael Chandler’s second career visit to Madison Square Garden at UFC 268 on Saturday.

As in, there will be no stage with oversized screens for fighter introductions making a portion of the arena bowl unusable, as was the case for Chandler’s first fight here during Bellator NYC in June 2017.

This is the UFC, in New York, where another sellout is expected and every seating section most certainly will be utilized. Chandler is ready to embrace that energy.

"Everybody does talk about you've already been to Madison Square Garden before so it's nothing new. But really, every single time you step inside the UFC octagon, the sport has grown, the UFC has grown, if you're lucky and done well your platform has grown," Chandler told Newsday. "So, me fighting at Madison Square Garden when I was in Bellator is nothing compared to me fighting on this card, a card of this magnitude, the card that they put together for UFC 268 at Madison Square Garden. A much bigger platform and a much bigger opportunity."

Chandler (22-6, 1-1 UFC) will have a chance to put himself back in the UFC title picture with a three-round lightweight bout against Justin Gaethje (22-3, 5-3) on Saturday’s main card.

According to Chandler, the venue for this one won’t matter much to the fighters once the cage is locked, quipping Gaethje would fight as hard "in a shoe box in Alaska with nobody watching" as he would at MSG. But Chandler said he plans to better appreciate his trip to the iconic arena this time, especially after how his previous visit played out.

The former three-time Bellator champion was scheduled for five rounds in his first fight at the Garden — a Bellator lightweight title match with Brent Primus — but didn’t make it out of the first round. In a short contest not soon forgotten by the more squeamish of fight fans, Chandler suffered an issue with his left ankle as it consistently failed to hold his weight, collapsing under him repeatedly. The bout was paused by referee Todd Anderson to check on the injury, only for a cageside physician to halt the bout after inspecting the ankle. Primus was awarded a TKO victory, and the lightweight title, after just 2:22. Looking back, Chandler said that night remains a reminder of the sport’s randomness.

"It continues to reinforce in your mind that mixed martial arts is a crazy game, anything can happen" Chandler said. "I took a step back, rolled my ankle and pinched a nerve. Obviously my leg was targeted after that and I couldn’t move much on it and the fight got stopped."

In the moment, Chandler wasn’t pleased representatives of the New York State Athletic Commission, still with less than a year experience overseeing MMA events, halted a fight he felt he was winning even on one leg. In hindsight, he said he understands everyone involved has "equally important" and "very, very tough jobs," on fight night, and that experience didn’t sour him on the idea of fighting in New York again. If anything, that decision may have enabled him to be where he is now.

"They handled it how they needed to handle it in order to protect me, and I’m grateful for it because I could have taken a lot of damage in that fight being that hindered," Chandler said. "So here we are, Round 2, I get another opportunity to shock the mixed martial arts world and go knock Justin Gaethje out."

New York Sports