Not only will Michael Chandler get to test his skills against the best of the best as the newest member of the UFC’s lightweight roster, but the former Bellator champion is already a potential replacement for Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Justin Gaethje at UFC 254.
Chandler, who signed with UFC earlier this week, has been one of the very best fighters outside of the promotion for the past 10 years. Sure the 34-year-old has lost some wild brawls along the way, but Chandler is one of the most accomplished fighters to ever step foot inside of the Bellator cage.
That said, Chandler is about to dive head first into the deepest talent pool the sport has to offer, especially at 155 pounds. Even if he doesn’t get a shot to fill-in at UFC 254 he’s still going to be staring down a division featuring the likes of Dustin Poirier, Tony Ferguson, Dan Hooker, Al Iaquinta, Charles Oliveira, Kevin Lee, Paul Felder, and Conor McGregor. It’s certainly a step up in competition from what Chandler is used to handling, but it’s something he’s ready to test to prove he’s the best lightweight around.
“I told the UFC, ‘Listen, I’m not here for a long time – I’m here for a good time,” Chandler told TMZ Sports. “I want to jump right into that top five right away. Either I am who I say I am, or I’m not. Sink or swim. Throw me in there with the wolves and let’s see where I come out.”
Chandler, who became the first fighter in over six years to stop Benson Henderson last month at Bellator 243, is eager to step into the limelight and take advantage of his new opportunity. Whether it comes next month at UFC 254 as a late replacement or another matchup in 2020, Chandler is staying ready.
“I fought Aug. 7, so that’s an 11-week turnaround,” Chandler said. “Not a lot of guys would take a fight on an 11-week turnaround, especially with a new organization. But for me, I’ve always been active. The day after my fight, I got right back to the gym.
“I wanted to be ready for this opportunity if there was an opportunity in October or November. But I just heard about that very, very recently, and I’m excited about the opportunity. I know I’m going to be ready to step into that cage Oct. 24 and beat either Khabib or Gaethje if something goes awry.”
At this point, fight fans really don’t know what to expect from Chandler. The veteran has rebounded nicely to earn two-straight knockout wins since losing his Bellator lightweight title to Patricio Freire last year, but that still doesn’t give us much insight into Chandler’s potential under the UFC banner. He certainly has the skill set, experience, and athletic prowess to make a real push towards gold. It’s just a matter of whether or not Chandler can put it all together when the time comes.
“No disrespect – I’m a fan of and respect the work of every single guy in the UFC, period. But especially in the lightweight division, I’ve said it for 11 years: I’m the best lightweight on the planet,” Chandler said. “Have I disproven that theory numerous times by losing or having underwhelming performances? Absolutely. But people love a winner, but they love even more a winner who loses, comes back, and sets himself for a comeback.
“I’ve gone through a lot in this sport, and nothing can take this opportunity away from me. If it is Oct. 24, I’m going to be ready, and I think I’m think I’m just a different animal.”