Dustin Poirier wants the fight, but will Tony Ferguson get Michael Chandler instead?

As we all know, there’s a big difference between negotiating a contract and not wanting to fight.

The entire MMA community — including the UFC brass — knows Dustin Poirier wants the Tony Ferguson fight. To suggest otherwise is simply unfair to Poirier, a veteran who has developed a reputation as the kind of fighter who is down to fight anyone anytime. Poirier has assured me on multiple occasions that he wants the fight. Heck, he left his family in Lafayette, Louisiana, to start a training camp for a fight that wasn’t even booked yet. Does that sound like a guy who doesn’t want to compete?

Ferguson, as he tweeted earlier this week, also wants the fight. He even urged the UFC to “pay the man.”

We haven’t seen that kind of unity between two fighters in talks to compete against each other since the time Nathan Diaz showed up to a UFC news conference in 2016 and sat next to an empty chair that was supposed to be for Conor McGregor. When Dana White said Diaz would fight someone else at UFC 200, Diaz said he wasn’t fighting anyone other than McGregor that summer.

For now, the UFC is intent on moving on from Ferguson-Poirier, sources say. The promotion really wants a top lightweight fight on the Oct. 24 card as a backup for the main event of Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Justin Gaethje. Makes sense, considering what happened right before UFC 251, when Gilbert Burns tested positive for COVID-19 a little over a week before his title fight against Kamaru Usman. That forced the UFC to scramble and sign Jorge Masvidal to a big deal to save the event.

One name that has been discussed is free agent Michael Chandler, the former Bellator lightweight champion who fought out his contract in early August. The UFC is in advanced talks with Chandler, per sources, and is the front-runner to sign him, though a deal isn’t finalized just yet.

It’s unclear if Ferguson is interested in that fight. White said Tuesday night that Ferguson hasn’t agreed to a new fight yet. According to sources, Ferguson’s first choice is Poirier, but we know how these things go. What if the UFC sweetens the pot for Ferguson to entice him to fight Chandler next month?

The Chandler option is the only other fight that makes sense for Ferguson, in my opinion. I don’t think it makes much sense for him to fight someone lower-ranked such as Dan Hooker or Paul Felder — as great as those fights would be. But considering Chandler is a former champion and considering there is always a little extra excitement anytime another promotion’s former champion signs with the UFC, I think the fans would ultimately get behind the fight.

Which is both a positive and a negative in this sport. What’s fun about MMA is the last-minute nature of it all. Masvidal’s stepping up on short notice was incredibly exhilarating. I have no doubt fans would get pumped up if the UFC can make Ferguson vs. Chandler happen.

But Poirier deserves better. He has always been there when the UFC wanted him, and he has always delivered. Witness the fact that five of his past eight fights were awarded Fight of the Night bonuses and that, given his fighting style and his charitable work, he has turned into one of the most beloved fighters in the sport. Heck, just look at the support he received last week from fans, who don’t usually back a fighter asking for more money. The vast majority on social media were backing Poirier and urging the UFC to pay him what he wants. Poirier has earned moments like this. To see this happen to him is upsetting.

Now, do we know what kind of money he is asking for? No. He wouldn’t tell me, and the UFC doesn’t comment on these things. We do know his disclosed purse was $150,000 to show and $150,000 to win when he beat Hooker in June.

If that is, in fact, how much he made, I think he deserves more to fight Ferguson — or anyone else, for that matter. To be honest, I’m surprised the UFC isn’t trying to figure this one out, considering the kind of good soldier Poirier has been for the promotion over the years and considering how great the Ferguson fight is on paper. I mean, who doesn’t want to see Ferguson vs. Poirier? It’s one of the few fights to be unanimously praised the moment word got out the UFC wanted to book it.

But that’s the fight game. One minute you’re the belle of the ball, the next minute you’re on the outside looking in as the promotion gets excited about its shiny, new acquisition.

At this point, based on where things stand, I think Chandler ultimately signs with the UFC. He has talked to other promotions — such as PFL — but he has always wanted to fight for the leading MMA promotion to prove he’s the best lightweight in the world. I get it.

But the question is: Does his debut come against Ferguson or someone else? Interestingly enough, that’s ultimately up to Ferguson, who can continue to stand by Poirier or decide that being on the same card as the lightweight title fight is good for his own brand. I’m very curious to see how this plays out.

Stay tuned.