UFC 268 featured several tremendous match ups, but it still felt safe to call Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Chandler the people’s main event (watch the highlights here).
From the second Chandler joined UFC’s roster, fans were considering the eventual scrap between the two, which simply had to happen. The two are so similar: a pair of decorated wrestlers known more for their power-punching than anything else, both of whom were dominant champions in outside organizations.
Gaethje is a touch younger and started fighting a bit later, but pivotally crossed over to the Octagon earlier in his career. As a result, he was the much more established man, the more proven fighter inside the UFC’s Octagon.
Early on, however, it was Chandler teeing off. Credit to Henry Hooft and co. at Sanford MMA, the prepared Chandler well for Gaethje. In the opening exchanges, Chandler was drawing the low kick out of Gaethje and avoiding them, countering with seriously sharp jabs, and doing some low kicking of his own.
It was great strategy! And it was working! Unfortunately, when Chandler’s right hand started connecting on the jawline, he lost the plot a bit. It’s understandable: every time Chandler truly blasted an opponent with his right in the past, they crumbled. Somehow, Gaethje absorbed three or four in a row — CLEAN — and was able to stand his ground.
Chander fell off the gameplan, and Gaethje’s brilliance resumed. He did such a tremendous job of digging low kicks at opportune times, catching Chandler pulling away from exchanges. Once Chandler was a bit more stationary, Gaethje’s boxing smarts were on display, seen when he set up the uppercut that floored Chandler or when Gaethje repeatedly rolled under a punch to answer with his own hook.
It all came to a head in the third round, which ultimately decided the fight. Chandler found early success with body shots, raising the guard then roasting ribs. The momentum actually seemed to be swinging in his direction until Chandler shot for a big double leg. He lifted Gaethje up, but as he moved to slam, Gaethje dove between the legs in something of a funk roll.
Chandler ended up basically slamming himself onto his face. From that point forward, Gaethje had the upper hand, landing big shots to seal the victory and likely, the title shot. He’s earned another shot at a non-Khabib titleholder.
“The Highlight” will be must-watch TV to the end.
This feels like the end of a career chapter for Michael Chandler. Is he still a Lightweight title threat after this loss? Probably not, sadly. He’s 35 years of age, and truthfully, his absolute best was several years ago. The odds of Chandler turning it around and making significant adjustments to catch up against these younger Lightweights simply aren’t great.
That’s okay, though. Chandler did excellent work for years outside of the promotion, and there was definitely a period where he had an argument as Lightweight’s best (somewhere around 2012). Chandler’s UFC record may not be spectacular on paper after a trio of walks to the cage, but he’s certainly proven his greatness to a wider audience given the quality of his fights/performances.
Both men left the cage with a respectable new notch in their legacy.
For complete UFC 268: “Usman vs Covington 2” results and play-by-play, click HERE!