After seeing out his contract with Bellator with a win over long-time rival Benson Henderson, Michael Chandler has officially signed with the UFC.
The former Bellator lightweight champion had long been linked with a move to the UFC and upon entering free agency, Dana White certainly was open to the idea. It’s now been revealed that ‘Iron’ has signed a long-term deal with the organisation and will serve as a back-up for the UFC 254 main event where Khabib Nurmagomedov will defend his lightweight title against Justin Gaethje.
That decision has been met with scepticism, considering just a few weeks before Dana White said that Bellator’s top guys were nowhere near the UFC’s upper echelon of talent. But with Chandler stepping straight into that position, it seems that White may have big plans for the 34 year old.
Should the title fight at UFC 254 fall apart, Chandler would surely be the underdog against either opponent. Khabib is seen as the greatest lightweight of all-time and with his aggressive wrestling style Chandler would almost certainly struggle to string together his best performance. He’d have more chance against Gaethje who’s preference is just straight up chaos, but even then I’d back the ‘The Highlight’. Gaethje hits so hard, is so durable and has elite wrestling to fall back on if he ever felt the need to.
In an ideal world that title fight stays together and Chandler doesn’t get in the octagon on Fight Island. So who should welcome him to the lightweight division in the biggest and best MMA company on planet Earth?
The obvious step down from a potential immediate title shot would be the No.2 contender – Dustin Poirier. ‘Diamond’ was supposed to be on the card at UFC 254 for a fight against No.3 Tony Ferguson but the parties couldn’t agree on financial terms and the fight fell apart. Poirier has been open about wanting to fight for the belt and he sees a fight with Ferguson as the quickest route back to a title shot. ESPN’s Ariel Helwani reported that the UFC did in fact offer Poirier a fight with Chandler, but he declined the fight as he felt he owed Tony Ferguson some loyalty after the latter went to bat for him publicly to earn more money for their showdown.
With that fight seemingly inevitable as next up for both, that means Chandler needs to drop down slightly lower. Next down in those rankings is Conor McGregor but it is highly unlikely that the Notorious one would come out from his ‘retirement’ to fight Chandler, although the UFC did reveal that they are working on ‘something fun’ for a potential return in early 2021.
That leaves the next man down, who’s also conveniently without a fight scheduled right now, Dan Hooker. The Australian was on a tear through the division after moving up from featherweight, with big wins over Al Iaquinta, James Vick and Paul Felder. His last bout came against Dustin Poirier though and in a five round war he was pipped by the better boxer in one of the best fights of the year.
‘Hangman’ has publicly called for the fight with Chandler, claiming that he would send him ‘back to the B Leagues’ if they were to fight. Chandler hasn’t publicly responded to the challenge but the fight would make sense for all parties. A win for Chandler would put him in the title conversation, likely needing just one more win to get there while a win for Hooker shows that he really does belong with the elites at 155lbs and keeps him in the conversation too.
Chandler is arguably the best, most decorated fighter to jump ship from Bellator to UFC at his peak so the chance to see him compete against the best the UFC has to offer is something that all fans want to see.