Former Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler is leaning toward a Khabib Nurmagomedov victory at UFC 254.
Nurmagomedov, the undefeated UFC lightweight champion, is set to defend his title against Justin Gaethje, the interim lightweight champ, in the main event of UFC 254 on October 24. Chandler, who recently signed with the UFC, is expected to be on standby in the event that Nurmagomedov or Gaethje is unable to compete on the night.
If Nurmagomedov and Gaethje do fight on October 24 as planned, however, Chandler is expecting the champion to retain is title—although perhaps not in the lopsided fashion to which we’ve grown accustomed.
“You’re crazy if you bet against him not being able to take Justin down,” Chandler said. “You’re crazy if you think Justin is going to be able to go in there and land combinations at will like he was Tony Ferguson. The reason I like the Tony Ferguson fight is, he’s a standing target. He’s a stationary target. He takes punches in order to give punches later on down the line.
“Khabib’s not that guy. Khabib is going to be in Justin’s face. We haven’t seen Justin back up a lot. I think Justin is going to be fighting on his heels a lot, which is never something we’ve seen him able to do. His leg kicks won’t be as effective on his heels. His power punches, his hooks, aren’t going to be as effective on his heels. And I think we’re still going to see, I won’t say dominant victory by Khabib, but I think we’re going to see a lot of the same Khabib-esque type of fight, just in a less dominant fashion.”
While Chandler is expecting a Nurmagomedov win at UFC 254, he does acknowledge that Gaethje should not be discounted—particularly after he beat the streaking Tony Ferguson in May.
“I think Justin Gaethje looked like the best lightweight in the world in May when he fought Tony Ferguson,” Chandler told ESPN. “That version of Justin Gaethje, who stepped into that cage calm and composed and confident, smart and sharp, fighting with the tenacity that he normally brings to the cage, but not the overzealous, overanxious Justin Gaethje ‘I wanna rip your head off’ fighter that we’re used to seeing – that was the best version of Justin Gaethje that we’ve ever seen.
“Now, you take into consideration that Justin Gaethje was a Division-I wrestler, you take into consideration that we haven’t seen his wrestling, but know he’s got great athleticism, great hips, great instincts inside the cage – I think he poses the best threat that we’ve seen thus far against a guy like Khabib. But I still think you’re crazy if you do bet against Khabib.”
What do you think of this breakdown from Michael Chandler?