Two of the UFC’s exciting lightweights in Michael Chandler and Tony Ferguson will collide in a pivotal bout for the future of their careers when they meet at UFC 274.
— UFC (@ufc) January 5, 2022
When Michael Chandler said “I’m not here for a long time, I’m here for a good time” few could imagine that it would play out in as electrifying fashion as it did in 2021. After a decorated career in Bellator, Chandler made his UFC debut at 34 years-old and had one of the most exciting twelve month campaigns ever seen by a fighter who had just made their promotional debut. After announcing himself with a knockout of Dan Hooker, Chandler had electrifying bouts against Charles Oliveira (for the title) and Justin Gaethje with the latter being regarded as the Fight of the Year.
Saturday, however, will be a crucial moment for the latest chapter of his career. While Chandler is undoubtedly reaping the benefits of the UFC platform, his place amongst the elite has reached a precarious tipping point. Would there still be exciting match-ups to fill his calendar should he come up short in a third straight bout? Of course. But after being the face of a promotion and been in title contention for over a decade, is the love of the game still enough for Chandler if the road to the belt grows long at this stage of his career.
It's must see TV every time @TonyFergusonXT steps in the Octagon 📺
— UFC (@ufc) April 18, 2022
Former interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson enters the bout with his own point to prove about where he stands in the division. His three fight skid has played out like a sharp plummet that took fans who saw him put together a twelve fight win-streak from 2013 to 2019 by surprise. Saturday is about not only snapping his skid but also about proving whether or not he can still make an impact in the highly competitive lightweight division and work his way back into the title picture.
Though it is of little consolation, his losses have aged well in context. Charles Oliveira is the reigning champion as of this writing and Justin Gaethje could take his place by Sunday morning. Beneil Dariush is considered by many to be right in the mix when he returns from injury later this year. Despite the one-sided nature of the fights, Ferguson faced only the highest level of competition. Chandler is a similarly regarded foe despite being on a two fight skid himself, and a return to form for Ferguson would re-inject momentum into his career.
Stylistically, the bout will see the more conventional Chandler deal with the unorthodox attack of Ferguson. Chandler’s explosiveness in the early going and his proficiency as a wrestler figure to provide plenty of challenges should he avoid taking damage in exchanges with Ferguson. He also carries perhaps the most decisive weapon on either side with his ability to get the fight to the mat should he choose. For Ferguson, shot selection will be crucial as he must be the one dictating the exchanges and keep his combinations short. Done effectively, he will have kept Chandler on his heels for the majority of each round to stay ahead on the scorecards for the decision.
While a victory in impressive fashion would help the winner’s standing, it is expected that the next title shot will go to surging contender Islam Makhachev. That would leave either Ferguson or Chandler to face top eight ranked opponent such as Dustin Poirier or Rafael dos Anjos in their next outing to continue their climb back up the rankings.