First look: Biggest questions, early bets for McGregor-Chandler

Conor McGregor started off the year claiming in a post on X that he would fight Michael Chandler at 185 pounds at International Fight Week on June 29. Now, the fight has not been confirmed by the UFC, but there’s still plenty to talk about this fascinating matchup — should it take place.

ESPN asked Dominick Cruz, Megan Anderson and Din Thomas for their thoughts on the potential matchup and betting experts Ian Parker and Reed Kuhn explain their early best bets.

What’s your biggest question — outside of whether the fight will happen — around Chandler vs. McGregor?

Cruz: What weight class will this fight take place at? Right now we don’t know anything about McGregor because he’s been out of action for so long. When a fighter has an extended layoff, there are so many unknowns and, in this case, each of them adds intrigue to this matchup. What’s the timeline for this fight? When will it take place? And so many more, but the biggest question is what weight class will they fight at?

There’s no way to know what weight McGregor wants to fight at. If he decides he doesn’t want to cut weight, and he thinks it will benefit him to fight Chandler at 185 pounds, he can do that. Or, conversely, if he thinks it will hurt Chandler to have to cut and make weight, then McGregor will do that. And McGregor is going to choose this at whatever time he thinks plays best in his favor because he has the power to do so.

Thomas: When will McGregor sign the fight contract? McGregor is going to play mind games for as long as possible to get an edge over Chandler. He likely won’t disclose the conditions of the fight until he feels that Chandler is unprepared.

Anderson: How much longer is McGregor’s star power going to drive the UFC? His name value is what is keeping him atop the UFC. Considering his lack of action (and wins) over the past five years, it’s clear that all this is driven strictly by the strength of his brand. Will that still be the case if doesn’t win this fight?

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?

Thomas: Don’t be surprised if this fight happens at lightweight. Conor has looked for advantages throughout his career — he will wait as long as the UFC allows him to before deciding on a weight class. McGregor could let Chandler think the fight will be at 185 pounds for a while, then a month away from the fight decide he wants to fight at 155 pounds instead.

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.

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 if this fight happens? He has been inactive for quite some time and despite what some may believe, ring rust is very real. And, if McGregor actually takes this fight at 185 or even 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.

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