UFC lightweight Michael Chandler has denied Justin Gaethje’s claims that he was “seeking attention” with his vaccination comments.
Chandler has certainly been involved in more controversy and back-and-forth with his upcoming opponent than in his first two UFC fights. The former three-time Bellator Lightweight Champion made his promotional debut earlier this year at UFC 257. Against the always-tough and entertaining Dan Hooker, Chandler burst onto MMA’s biggest stage in style. A first-round TKO win over the New Zealander saw him immediately break into title contention.
After the retirement of the legendary Khabib Nurmagomedov, Chandler then faced UFC veteran Charles Oliveira for the vacant 155-pound belt at UFC 262 in May. Despite coming close to securing victory in the opening round, “Iron” was on the receiving end of an incredible comeback from “Do Bronx.” A second-round defeat saw his title hopes come crashing down for the time being.
With a matchup against former interim champ Justin Gaethje, Chandler has the chance to immediately stake his claim for a second crack at gold. But the blockbuster clash hasn’t always been set in stone. Discussion about whether the state of New York would require fighters to be vaccinated for COVID-19 left Chandler’s third appearance in doubt, especially after the 35-year-old claimed he wouldn’t be getting the vaccine “FDA approval or not.”
In response, Gaethje suggested his upcoming opponent was “seeking attention” by discussing the private matter in the public eye. But during a recent appearance on The MMA Hour, Chandler suggested that wasn’t the case because he made the comments during a small Instagram Live session.
“The funny thing about the vaccination thing was, I didn’t come out, I didn’t do one story to tell people about it, about the vaccine. I didn’t get on your show and start talking about the vaccine. I was in a private Instagram Live session with a couple thousand people or whatever it was. Five minutes after I hit ‘End Live,’ one of the MMA media outlets come out and said Chandler isn’t getting vaxxed, and then I got labeled an anti-vaxxer.
“I don’t personally have the vaccine right now. I don’t know if I ever will get the vaccine. Personally, I just believe that we live in the greatest country on the planet. I believe that this is the greatest country on the planet because of our individual liberties and our individual choices, especially when it comes to our bodies and our medical history and our health. So that’s where I stand on it. And it wasn’t a heel turn whatsoever. It was just the people who labeled me an anti-vaxxer obviously thought I was a heel, when really I was just answering a question.” (h/t MMA Fighting)
When specifically asked about the comments “The Highlight” made, Chandler suggested Gaethje would have been right in his assessment had the #4-ranked lightweight announced his thoughts on the vaccine on a show or interaction with the media.
“If I had hopped on and done a media tour about how I’m not taking the vaccine or if I was telling everybody that the vaccine was garbage or something, of course that would be me seeking attention,” Chandler said. “I was in a private Instagram Live, on my own IG Live with my followers and a couple thousand people that were asking questions about it — and then the article broke and came out. So that was the funny thing too, which, that’s completely fine, it’s a hot-button issue. It’s a hot topic right now. People are 100 percent against it, people are 100 percent for it, and then there’s a lot of people in between who don’t know what to think, so it’s just a huge issue on a world stage.
“So if I had done that, yes, I would be 100 percent OK with Justin Gaethje saying I was seeking attention. But the fact that it was on an Instagram Live and a media outlet picked up my words and put them out there, that shows you right there that it was a private [discussion], no different than me and you having a private conversation at a restaurant and someone overhearing it and then acting like, hey, since I have this huge platform I shouldn’t be talking about it. Well, wait a second, I was talking about it basically in a private forum.”
In the end, it appears that athletes traveling into New York for the purpose of competing won’t be required to prove that they’ve had the vaccination. Luckily for the fighters and the fans, that means the highly anticipated bout between Gaethje and Chandler looks set to go ahead. With the rules clarified, the Missouri native can’t wait to throw hands inside the prestigious Madison Square Garden.
“We’re all systems go for Madison Square Garden on November 6th,” Chandler said. “Obviously it’s just become a world right now where a lot of things are up in the air. You never quite know. You never know if you’re fighting at Madison Square Garden until you’re there, the event starts, and they call your name and you’re walking to the octagon. So that’s the state of the world that we live in, [but] as of right now, all systems go and I couldn’t be happier to fight in Madison Square Garden under the UFC banner. It’s going to be a huge show and a phenomenal card that they put together.”
Chandler vs. Gaethje joins a host of exciting bouts on what looks set to be one of the most stacked cards of the year. Headlining UFC 268 will be a championship rematch between welterweight king Kamaru Usman and the always-outspoken Colby Covington. In the other title rematch at the event, Zhang Weili will look to reclaim the strawweight gold from “Thug” Rose Namajunas.
With the likes of Luke Rockhold, Sean Strickland, Al Iaquinta, Frankie Edgar, Shane Burgos, and Edmen Shahbazyan all set to be in action, November 6 could well see one of the best pay-per-views of the year go down.
Who do you think will have their hand raised on November 6? Michael Chandler or Justin Gaethje?