After the smoke cleared at UFC 257, the former 3X Bellator MMA Lightweight Champion Michael Chandler walked out with all of the house money. The brash American gambled on himself and scored an emphatic knockout victory over Dan Hooker, and it paid off in spades at one of the biggest events of the year.
Although the lightweight landscape was a puzzling mess to start with at UFC 257, Chandler seized a huge opportunity in the co-main event. As a result, the debutante walked off with a massive KO before Conor McGregor fell to Dustin Poirier in the main event. With Hooker and McGregor chalking up losses, the two Americans are in a sweet spot. Half of the top-ten lightweights are coming off losses. So options are certainly limited for the top lightweight contender, mostly because Chandler’s name is less known within the organization. However, the 34-year-old is itching to get back into the octagon.
How Michael Chandler Fits Into The LW Landscape
First, Chandler was tapped as the main event replacement for the UFC 254: Khabib vs. Gaethje card. While that did not come to fruition, his big win over Hooker left him ready for another big fight. After all, Chandler hardly took damage and knocked off a top contender. He only has one victory at lightweight in the UFC, but some of the wins he picked up at Bellator bolster his credibility. For example, his wins over former UFC champion Benson Henderson implied readiness. Chandler would knock Henderson out in their second outing after an 8-month layoff. Before making a name for himself, Chandler put on two legendary performances against Eddie Alvarez as well. The two share one victory apiece.
Given the uncertainty of the LW champion’s status, Chandler is ready to seize any opportunity. If the promotion was ready to have him be the backup replacement for a title fight in Nov., it stands to reason he is standing in the front of the line now.
Here is a list of who is coming off a win or loss at lightweight inside the top 10:
- [C] Khabib Nurmagomedov – Win
- Dustin Poirier – Win
- Justin Gaethje – Loss
- Charles Oliveira – Win
- Michael Chandler – Win
- Tony Ferguson – Loss
- Conor McGregor – Loss
- Rafael dos Anjos – Win
- Dan Hooker – Loss
- Beneil Dariush – Win
- Paul Felder – Loss
Overall, half of the LW top ten are on the rebound. Since the promotion often matches winners and losers together, Chandler sits in a peculiar position. Although it’s definitely not out of question to pair Chandler and Gaethje together (and who wouldn’t want to see that fight), the problem is most of the top ten are hesitant to square up with a new face like Chandler. In fact, rumors circulated that Oliveira turned down a fight with the D1 All-American. Not only that, but Poirier outright said he would sideline himself to let Oliveria and Chandler throw hands for the title.
29 – and Michael Chandler
With the looming uncertainty of the title picture, Chandler is on a mission. Given “The Eagle’s” dominance inside the cage, it will take a herculean effort to bring him back. Despite UFC President Dana White’s attempts to lure the champion back into the cage, the lightweight great seems content with stopping one fight short of his late father’s goal. If that is the case, who are the best opponents for Chandler to take on in an effort to entice Nurmagomedov to come back to his proving grounds?
While it seems like an interim-belt is inevitable, despite Poirier initially declining Chandler, the MMA climate changes quickly. In order to get Khabib’s attention, Chandler has to make Poirier look like he doesn’t belong inside the cage with him. Surely, grappling with UFC Welterweight Champion Kamaru Usman is good preparation.
Success Found By Closing The Distance
Wrestlers are starting to take over the UFC. As their striking evolves alongside their grappling, dominant threats like Nurmagomedov and Usman are what you get. At the peak of lightweight, getting by without grappling is nearly impossible. Nurmagomedov is a Master of Sport in Sambo, Oliveira is a world-renowned 3rd-degree black-belt in Jui-Jitsu, and Gaethje and Chandler are both D1-All American wrestlers. Unquestionably, groundwork is evolving to a point that striking is struggling to keep up with it.
Chandler’s knockout power and wrestling credentials pose a credible threat to the champion, but unless he takes out the likes of Poirier and more, “The Eagle” may just fly away. With nearly half the division coming off a loss, the former Bellator champion makes for a great infusion into a division that needs it. With the departure of Nurmagomedov and McGregor’s decline, Chandler’s brash personality is the perfect fit for a jagged lightweight puzzle.
How do you think Michael Chandler would fare against Khabib? Do you think Chandler has championship potential in the UFC? Let us know below in the comment section what you think!