Michael Chandler has signed with the UFC and has already been tapped as the back-up fighter for the UFC 254 main event.
UFC 254 goes down on October 24 on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, and will be headlined by a lightweight title fight between undefeated champ Khabib Nurmagomedov and interim champion Justin Gaethje. Chandler, the former Bellator lightweight champion, will be on-call in Abu Dhabi, and ready to step in should either man fail to make it to the cage on fight night.
Defeating Nurmagomedov or Gaethje is a massive challenge for any fighter, even with a complete fight camp to prepare. Chandler, however, believes he’ll be able to defeat either man on short-notice.
Speaking on Sunday during an Instagram Live Q&A, Chandler broke down his game plans for both of these lightweight titans, starting with the unbeaten Nurmagomedov.
“I think I’m the better wrestler than he is,” Chandler said (via MMA Junkie). “That’s not to disrespect his wrestling. I think he has shown to be the most dominant wrestler in mixed martial arts, the most dominant wrestler in the world. What he does to guys, he comes forward with reckless abandon, pushes you against the cage, picks you up, put you down and puts you in the Dagestani handcuff. Full mount, side guard, crucifix, half guard or in your guard – the guy is dangerous everywhere. … I will say, he’s never, to my knowledge, fought a Division-I, high-level Division 1 wrestler. I don’t think he’s fought anybody who is a Division-I wrestling All-American. There’s just a different breed out there. There’s a different breed between a high school wrestler who got into mixed martial arts and stopped doing wrestling many years ago and a guy like myself, who was a Division-I wrestling All-American.
“The game plan against Khabib – he’s not going to take me down I don’t think,” Chandler added. “If he takes me down, he’s not going to hold me down. I’m going to be able to take him down unlike everybody else who has been up to fight him. As we saw in the Khabib versus Al Iaquinta fight, when he can’t take you down he starts to resort to a little bit of sporadicism, a little bit of – he gets off his game. A little bit of seeds of doubt get planted in his head because he knows he doesn’t have great striking, he knows his ability to win the fight is predicated on him being able to get in your face, to put you up against the cage and pick you up and hold you down. That’s the game plan: Don’t get taken down. But that’s everybody’s game plan. So I’m going to sit here and say I won’t get taken down. You guys won’t be able to see it until possibly Oct. 24, or somewhere down the line. Because I will be fighting Khabib Nurmagomedov for the title in the near future. Get ready for it.”
Michael Chandler then broke down a potential short-notice fight with Gaethje, who is not only a tremendous wrestler but a violent striker.
“I think Justin Gaethje looked like the best lightweight on the entire planet on the night he fought Tony Ferguson in May,” Chandler said. “He was calm, he was composed, he was sharp, he was throwing combinations to try to take Tony’s head off, but he never got overzealous. He got dropped in the second round, went back to the corner, came back and still stayed composed. He fought like the best lightweight on the entire planet on that night. So the game plan would be, keep my hands up, keep my chin tucked and get into a fist fight with him. I think I can match his cardio, I can go step for step.
“I think I have more power than he does,” Chandler added. “I think I could string together the wrestling and the grappling and the striking better than he can, and it will be the best fight possibly in UFC history when me and Justin Gaethje step into the cage, and we will step into the cage. I don’t know if it’s going to be for an interim title, I don’t know if it’s going to be for a No. 1 contender spot, I don’t know if it’s just going to be a main event on ESPN at some point down the road. I don’t know when it’s going to be.”
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