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Sports Illustrated Notebook: After UFC 274, Michael Chandler wants Conor McGregor

Chandler raises the stakes on a stacked pay-per-view card with his next opponent already in mind before taking on Tony Ferguson.

An explosive fight weekend has arrived.

UFC 274 is the centerpiece, but Friday also includes Bellator 280 and a 2022 PFL 3 card with matchups featuring Kayla Harrison (12-0) and Anthony Pettis (24-12).

Harrison is on a mission to become the best in the world, though Friday’s bout against an unknown in Marina Mokhnatkina (6-2) will not help her achieve any further notoriety. Pettis remains an exciting fighter to watch, and he should made fairly quick work of Myles Price (11-7).

Bellator 280 is headlined by heavyweight champ Ryan Bader defending his title against Cheick Kongo in Paris, France. The afternoon start won’t help the Showtime rating, but it does extend the fight day for fans. If Bader retains, it will be particularly interesting to see if Bellator unveils his next opponent, which appeared to be Fedor Emelianenko before all the uncertainty in Russia.

Finally, there is UFC 274. This is an outstanding card, containing the past, present, and future of MMA. Once industry staples, Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone and Tony Ferguson  are both attempting to stave off the twilight of their career. Cerrone opens the main card against the dangerous Joe Lauzon (28-15 MMA, 15-12 UFC), who has hungered for a moment and platform like this. Cerrone (36-16 MMA, 23-13 UFC), after dropping his last five decisions, needs more than a good showing here–he needs a win.

Ferguson (25-6 MMA, 15-4 UFC) has been beat, decisively, in his last three fights. He also enters 274 in dire need of a win, which will be no easy task against Michael Chandler (22-7 MMA, 1-2 UFC), who has dropped his prior two bouts and, you guessed it, needs this victory. Stakes are high at 274, which has a real intensity embedded in it with two title bouts – Charles Oliveira (32-8 MMA, 20-8 UFC) defending the lightweight championship against Justin Gaethje (23-3 MMA, 6-3 UFC), and strawweight champ Rose Namajunas (11-4 MMA, 9-3 UFC) putting her belt on the line against Carla Esparza (18-6 MMA, 9-4 UFC) – as well as Mauricio "Shogun" Rua (27-12-1 MMA, 11-10-1) against Ovince Saint Preux (25-16 MMA, 13-11 UFC) in a light heavyweight bout. Rua (27-12-1) is coming off a loss to Paul Craig, while Saint Preux (25-16) has dropped his last two.

This is a stacked card from start to finish, and one of the most interesting fights – Chandler vs. Ferguson – takes place right in the middle.

• Michael Chandler plans to eviscerate Tony Ferguson at 274, and he already has his next opponent in mind: Conor McGregor.

"I think a fight between me and Conor is the fight to make once I get past Tony Ferguson," Chandler said. "That's a fight everybody wants to see.

"Now I'm hoping my next fight is a rematch with the winner of Oliveira-Gaethje. But if the UFC does have a momentary lapse of judgment and decides to give the title shot to someone else, I think my next opponent has got to be Conor McGregor."

McGregor-Chandler would be appointment viewing for fight fans. Of course, Chandler is undoubtedly aware that McGregor no longer appears to be the same fearsome force he once was, especially when he was competing in the featherweight division, and he is also returning from injury.

"Every single combat sports fan would be interested in that fight," Chandler said. "People are going to call me out and say I want the money fights, but really, I got into this sport for a couple different reasons: I wanted to fight the best guys on the biggest stage with the most on the line. Conor checks off all those boxes. I want to share the octagon with him one time. He's a guy I would love to fight next."

As for his prediction for the lightweight title bout, Chandler – whose last two fights were losses suffered against Oliveira and Gaethje – sees the champ retaining.

"Oliveira is convincing us more and more that he is our champ," Chandler said. "But Gaethje is a savage. Oliveira swings heavy leather.

"Both of those guys fight with a champion's spirit. I'd love a rematch with Oliveira, and when I fought Gaethje in November, we fought to break each other. I was knocked down and hurt, but this is the calling of my life. It was a blast, and even though I didn't get my hand raised, we created some waves that are going to be felt for years to come. So when it comes to picking a winner, I'm as wishy-washy as can be. I pick Charles, but I like Gaethje. Either way, I'll be sitting front row."

Chandler intends to snap his two-fight losing streak against Ferguson, a once-elite mixed martial artist who now appears to be in the twilight of his career.

"I lost three fights in a row earlier in my career, and I went 688 days without winning a fight," Chandler said. "Back then, it affected me much more. I sometimes forget that I lost my last two because, quite frankly, I failed while daring greatly. I lost to Charles Oliveira for the world title, and then I lost a fight of the year candidate to Justin Gaethje. But that didn't feel like a loss.

"When I started fighting, my goal was to finish every single fight. That's my goal against Tony Ferguson, too. Get in his face, apply pressure, and end this in a finish. It's no secret that Tony is a heck of a competitor and he is very hard to finish. I'll be looking for the finish early and often, but I'll also put together 15 minutes if I have to. People love a comeback, and that's what they're going to see from me at 274."

A former three-time Bellator lightweight champion, Chandler once defined the promotion. But, amid his intense training for Ferguson, he shared that he didn't have time to watch last month's Patricio "Pitbull" Freire-A.J. McKee title bout.

"I didn't see their first fight, and I didn't see the second fight," said Chandler, who lost to Freire in May of 2019. "I'm just focused on myself and my training. My best to both of those guys, and I hope they keep on crushing it."

The opportunity at 274 is Chandler's sole professional focus. He needs to defeat Ferguson to begin attaining his ambitious UFC goals, making Saturday's bout a must-win.

"I'm not just here to entertain," Ferguson said. "I'm here to make people feel something. I can't wait to go out there and compete."

• UFC 274 will be a night of champions.

Oliveira and Namajunas, in this writer's humble opinion, will walk into the octagon as champs, then exit with their title belts.

Gaethje is a dangerous opponent for Oliveira, and he needs to avoid making this an all-out strike-fest. It will be critical for Oliveira to use his striking to set up his submission, and I see him finishing Gaethje in the second round.

For Namajunas, 274 represents a shot at redemption. She lost to Esparza in the inaugural strawweight title bout in December of 2014, but Namajunas is now a far more complete fighter. She is both the present and future of UFC, and she will be too much for Esparza on Saturday night.

This story first published at UFC.com.