Abu Dhabi, UAE — Albeit he doesn’t have a fight, unless something happens to either Khabib Nurmagomedov or Justin Gaethje, Michael Chandler is on Fight Island for UFC 254. Ready to step into the octagon, if need be.
The UFC’s biggest signing of 2020, the former three-time Bellator MMA lightweight champion raised plenty of eyebrows when it became know that his first assignment wasn’t a fight, but a back-up roll. But as Chandler (21-5) explained it during the UFC 254 media day on Tuesday, “this one was a no-brainer.”
Recapping how it all came together, Chandler revealed that “Dana [White] said ‘hey, are you ready for October 24?’ I said ‘yeah absolutely.’ He floated the names Ferguson, Poirier, ‘would you be willing to fight these guys?’ and I said ‘absolutely.'”
Of course, neither Tony Ferguson nor Dustin Poirier wound up booked in a fight with “Iron” Mike. When White called again and asked if Chandler would be willing to be the back-up for Khabib vs. Gaethje, Chandler said “absolutely” again. “I gave three yeses. I just wanted to show him right away that I’m here, I want to stay busy. And I also thrive in the uncertainty, kind of the chaos, the unorthodox paths anyway.” Even if, as he put it, he’s taking “guff” from those criticizing him for not actually having a fight on the card.
If either one of Khabib or Gaethje does drop out of Saturday’s main event, Michael Chandler feels he’s ready to step up. “I think in general, I really focus 80% of my training just on myself anyway. I think it really does help that Khabib, you have to prepare more for a grappling style. Gaethje, you need to prepare more for that striking style, striking defense and offense. So somewhere in the middle is the perfect game plan for both of them if you will,” he explained.
“I’ve said it for years, I think my grappling will rival Khabib’s,” he continued. “And as you guys have seen with my past performances, and the dogfights and wars that I’ve been in, I’m also not afraid to go out there and sling leather with Justin Gaethje for five rounds.”
Either way, said Chandler, he plans on being prepared. “I even think that I may be more prepared for them if bad luck does befall the UFC, because I’ve prepared for them, and they haven’t prepared for me,” he suggested. “We’ll see how it all plays out.”
Of late, Chandler has taken a “prove me wrong” sort of attitude with comments lightweight champ Khabib has made about him. Speaking to TSN’s Aaron Bronsteter, Nurmagomedov suggested that Chandler wasn’t a high level fighter. And that he wouldn’t even need to use his wrestling against the former Bellator star.
“He said he doesn’t even need his wrestling to beat me, and that’s fine. I’ve said things like that, and people say I’m being disrespectful. I don’t take it as disrespect,” Chandler responded to the comments. “I think there’s nothing wrong with unrelenting, audacious self-belief in yourself. And the man has it. The man is a champion for a reason, the man is widely regarded as the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet, so he has every reason to believe that he would go out there and run right through me. But prove me wrong. Beat me if you can.”
If Chandler doesn’t make his debut at UFC 254, he certainly has some ideas about what form his octagon premier might take. Tony Ferguson, for one, is an option, especially given the pair have exchanged pleasantries on social media.
“I think he’s down to fight, I think I’m down to fight. I think that’s the perfect fight to introduce me to UFC fans, who I am,” said Chandler. “I think Tony Ferguson is the scariest guy in the division. He’s got a screw loose, and he fights like it. And it’s admirable.”
Coaching on The Ultimate Fighter is another opportunity that appeals to Chandler. “Everything changes with circumstances like that. I would miss the heck out of my family, my body would probably revolt against me for it, but I think I would say yes to that. I was always a fan of The Ultimate Fighter.”
“Revitalizing that franchise under the UFC banner is something that I would love to at least have my name thrown in the hat,” Chandler added. “If they offered that, I think that would be something we would definitely take a big look at. And I do love Las Vegas.”
One rumor Chandler put to rest on Tuesday is that he had turned down a fight with Islam Makhachev at UFC 254.
“That fight was never offered to me, nor was it a fight that I was necessarily interested in,” admitted Chandler, noting that you don’t deviate from the task at hand for a short-notice fight against a different guy.
UFC 254 takes place on “Fight Island” (Yas Island) in Abu Dhabi at the Flash Forum on Saturday, October 24. The main card airs live on PPV following televised and online prelims.