At UFC 254, Khabib Nurmagomedov successfully defended his lightweight title against interim champion Justin Gaethje. Afterwards, Khabib announced his retirement from the sport, opening up the lightweight division to a number of interesting possibilities. Public opinion believes that ultimately the winner of the yet-to-be-official bout between Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier planned for next year will likely be crowned the new champion, however there are a number of top contenders out there vying for the opportunity, including the UFC’s most recent acquisition.
Earlier this year, former three-time Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler left his longtime home and signed with the UFC. With such a decorated career in Bellator, the UFC immediately began to push “Iron” Mike, having him serve as the alternate to the Khabib-Gaethje title bout. Now that that job is over though, Chandler is looking to get his first fight in the organization, and he’s hoping it comes against one of the top contenders.
“Tony Ferguson, Justin Gaethje would be number one and number two of the guys I want to fight,” Chandler said on the UFC Unfiltered podcast. “I think it’s a great introductory fight to the UFC fans of who Michael Chandler is. They’re both great fights, they’re both guys who fight. As you guys have seen who watched my fights, guys who run away, that’s the best way to try to beat me is to try to run away from my pressure. Justin Gaethje, Tony Ferguson are going to meet me in the middle of the Octagon and we’re going to have a blast. So either of those guys sounds like a great fight.”
Though either man would undoubtedly lead to an excellent fight, the question of whether Chandler deserves to be immediately thrown into contendership is one that has been asked by many fans and some of his peers. Chandler was not the reigning Bellator lightweight champion when he left the organization and some viewed him being vaulted into a potential title shot for his first bout as disrespectful to the lightweight contenders who have been stacking up wins in the UFC. But Chandler feels that a top-five opponent is a fair request given the UFC’s previous situations with former champions from other organizations.
“I think if we do look at the past as a predictor of the future or right now, you look at Ben Askren, he drew Robbie Lawler right away,” Chandler said. “High profile fight, top-five guy. You look at Justin Gaethje coming over a couple years ago from WSOF which, no shade towards them at the time or his track record, but my resume, some of the fights and wins I have, and Bellator as an organization, I think, is a step above where he came from, he also drew a top-five guy right away in Michael Johnson. So I don’t think I’m being entitled by coming in and saying I would like a top-five guy right away.”
When Chandler was first signed to the UFC, a bout with Tony Ferguson was considered but ultimately fell through as Ferguson was uninterested. Now, following UFC 254, Ferguson and Gaethje present a real possibility, especially considering that McGregor-Poirier is the presumptive favorite to compete for an interim title, if not the real thing. And if that comes to pass, Chandler says he doesn’t blame the UFC, that he has no expectation of being thrust into a title fight immediately, but that he just wants the chance to earn one with a big win.
“That’s the UFC’s job to make that decision,” Chandler said. “Let’s be honest, I share a division with the biggest name in combat sports. The most polarizing guy we may ever see and his name is Conor McGregor. So if Conor McGregor is in the weight class, and there needs to be an interim belt, chances are he could be fighting for it and I don’t fault the UFC for that. I realize I’m the new guy, the lowest guy on the pecking order. I just want to come in and earn it.”