Michael Chandler Wants A Top 5 Opponent For His UFC Debut

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  • Former Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler signed with the UFC last September.
  • Chandler was the back-up fighter for the main event of UFC 254.
  • The three-time Bellator champion is asking for Tony Ferguson or Justin Gaethje for his first UFC bout.

Last September, the UFC signed former Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler to an exclusive contract and immediately installed him as the back-up fighter in case either Khabib Nurmagomedov or Justin Gaethje couldn’t make it to UFC 254. Well, both fighters made it to fight night. Nurmagomedov successfully defended his title and then announced a surprise retirement.

In the aftermath, Chandler has asked for Tony Ferguson or Justin Gaethje as his first UFC opponent. Via UFC unfiltered, Chandler said:

Tony Ferguson, Justin Gaethje would be number one and number two of the guys I want to fight. 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.”

Drawing A Top Five Opponent

Because of his high profile resume, it’s highly possible that Michael Chandler will draw a Top 5 opponent for his UFC debut. In the history of the UFC, we’ve seen several precedent events that would merit Chandler’s case.

When Ben Askren transferred to the UFC after the Demetrious Johnson “trade”, he drew former welterweight champion Robbie Lawler in his Octagon debut. Justin Gaethje earned a fight with Top 5 ranked Michael Johnson during his maiden UFC appearance. Before Askren and Gaethje, Eddie Alvarez faced the high-profile Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in his UFC debut at UFC 178.

Askren, Gaethje, and Alvarez are considered three of the UFC’s top signings from the other top MMA promotions. They were champions in previous organizations and when they made the leap to the UFC, they were given a high profile and Top 5 ranked opponent for their initial assignment. For his part, Chandler says that he would prefer no. 3 Tony Ferguson or no. 1 Justin Gaethje as his first dancing partner.

A Special Case

But while either man would lead to a terrific fight, the question of whether Chandler deserves one of them in his UFC debut is one that is asked by fans and fighters alike. While he was considered a prized signing by the UFC, Chandler wasn’t the Bellator lightweight champion when he left the organization. To put him in contendership right away would be disrespectful to the fighters in the division who have put in the work just to get in the rankings. Chandler though, could be considered a special case.

Not only is the 34-year old a former Bellator lightweight champion, he is a former three-time Bellator lightweight champion. Chandler first won the belt in 2011 when he submitted Eddie Alvarez at Bellator 58. He successfully defended the belt twice before losing to Alvarez via split decision in a rematch.

After Will Brooks vacated the belt in 2016, Chandler won it a second time at Bellator 157 by knocking out Patricky Freire. After defending the title successfully against Benson Henderson, Chandler suffered a leg injury and lost the belt to Brent Primus one fight later. Four fights later, he defeated Primus in rematch to become the first and only three-time Bellator lightweight champion. Current champion Patricio Freire took the belt in Chandler’s next fight.

Stacked Division

Even with Khabib Nurmagomedov’s retirement, the UFC’s lightweight division is stacked with star power and talent. No. 2 ranked and former interim champion Dustin Poirier is scheduled to lock horns with no. 4 and former lightweight champion Conor McGregor on January 23rd. Although there has been no official announcement from the UFC, that bout could very well be for the interim lightweight championship.

Earlier this week, UFC President Dana White said that he believes Khabib Nurmagomedov will return for at least one more fight. That was perhaps the wisdom behind the UFC’s move not to vacate the lightweight belt after UFC 254. However, while Khabib thinks about his future, the UFC cannot hold the division hostage. Because of that, they’re likely going to have an interim champion while it awaits Khabib’s fate.

But whether Khabib returns or not, things look bright for the lightweight division of the UFC. Of course, the fact that the promotion’s biggest star in Conor McGregor is there is a big plus. But the possible rivalries that could be created with Tony Ferguson, Justin Gaethje, Dustin Poirier, and Dan Hooker look to be exciting. You can add in Michael Chandler to the mix.

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