Conor McGregor-Michael Chandler fight to headline UFC 303 in June

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Conor McGregor officially — yes, officially, this isn’t speculation — has a locked-in date and opponent for his return to the UFC octagon after an absence of nearly three years.

UFC president Dana White said late Saturday night that a deal had been reached for McGregor to fight Michael Chandler on June 29 in Las Vegas. That’s during International Fight Week in Las Vegas, where UFC typically tries to build one of its best cards of the year.

White leaned forward in his chair and flashed a grin before he announced the bout during his news conference following UFC 300. “June 29, Conor versus Chandler,” he said. “Five rounds, 170 pounds.”

McGregor’s next fight has been a subject of much speculation throughout the mixed martial arts world ever since he broke his left leg in a bout against Dustin Poirier in July 2021. It was his third loss in four fights and second straight to Poirier, putting him a far cry from the run he used to grab the featherweight and lightweight titles.

Still, McGregor built himself up to be the the UFC’s biggest star with a wild one-punch knockout of José Aldo in 2015, his bid to hold two belts simultaneously and an entertaining pair of superfights against Nate Diaz that encouraged fighters to think about grabby headliners over than the protocol of divisional progress. 

He last won a fight in 2020. He last won a championship bout in 2016, then lost it about two years later to Khabib Nurmagomedov, a bout that featured an ugly buildup and a melee after their official contest. Since then, the biggest remnant of McGregor’s stardom and celebrity has been his brash trash talk and his star power within the UFC.

UFC set up McGregor’s bout with Chandler with its developmental reality show, “The Ultimate Fighter,” which last year pitted both men against each other as coaches to mentor fighters earlier in their careers. The show has long been used not just to feel out new names but to build up a bout between the coaches, and Chandler, a wrestler, has not fought in two years largely because he has waited for McGregor and the all but certain big payday to come with the matchup.

McGregor’s comeback even prompted the deterioration of the UFC’s relationship with USADA for drug testing, with the sides sparring over whether McGregor should be allowed to return without the customary six months of drug testing. The UFC has a different drug testing program as a result.

McGregor himself mentioned June 29 as the date for his return against Chandler in an odd post on New Year’s Eve, but he has been known for hyping up fights without them actually being made, and he noted that the weight class for the bout had not been determined.

Now, that detail has been worked out, and both McGregor and Chandler will be fighting at heavier weights than they ever have.

Required reading

(Photo: Jeff Bottari / rZuffa LLC via Getty Images)

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