Michael Chandler might be the new kid on the block in the UFC but the former Bellator champion already considers himself one of the top lightweights in the world.
He’s currently in Abu Dhabi cutting weight and preparing as a backup for the UFC 254 main event just in case either Khabib Nurmagomedov or Justin Gaethje are unable to compete this weekend.
Chandler signed with the UFC after spending almost his entire career with the ViacomCBS-owned promotion but now he’s looking to make waves in the biggest fight promotion in the sport.
While he’s preparing to fight this weekend, Chandler says that assuming Nurmagomedov vs. Gaethje goes down without a hitch, his UFC debut will most likely take place in early 2021.
“If anything, I might need a second for the body to heal up a little bit,” Chandler explained when speaking to MMA Fighting. “To let myself get back to neutral and let the engines cool down a little bit and maybe fight by the first of the year next year.”
When he books his first fight in the UFC, Chandler hopes that the promotion will either offer him an immediate shot at the lightweight champion or one of the top-five ranked fighters currently competing in the division.
In order to assess his potential competition, Chandler gave his opinion on each of those six possible opponents.
“Extremely confident [for a fight against Khabib]. Because I don’t care if it’s day 1 or day 1,000, I’ve put in my 10,000 hours in this sport and I’ve been focusing on beating Khabib since he got in the UFC. I’ve been studying him and I knew he was going to become champion four fights before he actually became champion.
“He’s got the champion’s mindset, he’s got the physical attributes and he’s got a style that has looked about as unbeatable as anyone we’ve ever seen in the UFC. I’ve been training to fight Khabib for six years, eight years.”
“What you need to beat Gaethje, you’ve got to keep your hands up but fight him, also. You’ve got to wear him down like Eddie [Alvarez] did and you eventually get the TKO. If you don’t eventually get the TKO, you’ve got to land more shots than he lands.
“For me, that’s the game plan against Justin Gaethje. If you can lure him into a dog fight, I not only think I win that ‘Fight of the Year’ but that’s just a fight that excites me.”
“I think Dustin Poirier’s one of the most respectful guys in and outside the octagon in the UFC. He’s got really great technique. He’s a volume puncher. He’s tenacious. He’s got a great chin. I think that’s got Fight of the Night all over it.
“But I think I would be too much for him in the mixing up both styles of the striking and the grappling.”
“Tony Ferguson’s the scariest guy on the roster. He’s got a screw loose. He never gets tired. You have to separate him from consciousness. That’s what excites me about Tony Ferguson. Getting thrown into the deepest, darkest depths of the UFC roster is exactly what stepping in the cage with Tony Ferguson is.
“That’s why I was willing to do it first fight in the UFC. That’s why I said yes to that fight and I needed him to say yes and he didn’t. I’m excited about that fight. That would be a great, great fight and we would get Fight of the Night.”
“Conor McGregor, international combat sports icon. I hope he really comes back. Obviously first fight in the UFC, I’m not going to be sitting here calling out Conor McGregor. I have not earned that yet but I think I match up extremely well against him.
“I think you avoid that big left hand in the first round. He starts to get a little more flatfooted in the second round. Third round, fourth round, fifth round, I would wear him down and look for a submission victory. Similar to Nate Diaz or what Khabib did to him.”
“I think Dan is a phenomenal competitor. I haven’t have the opportunity to meet him. I did meet Dustin Poirier at my last fight and went straight up to him, shook his hand and said, ‘You are a warrior, the fight you and Hooker put on was absolutely amazing.’
“Dan Hooker is a warrior, he’s a young, hungry lion. He’s definitely one of the guys who is the future of this division, going out there and doing what he did against Dustin Poirier. Although he lost the fight, it was a knockdown, drag-out war. He’s exciting. He’s tough as nails. He’s good everywhere. He’s not spectacular anywhere. He’s dangerous in all positions. That’s definitely a fight that’s interesting and he’s got my attention.”
No matter the opponent, Chandler promises he’ll be ready for any of the top ranked lightweights in the UFC and he’s anxious to prove himself in his new fighting home.
Chandler is also willing to offer a bold prediction when it comes to his future with the UFC.
“I think I’m going to come out of the gate really fast,” Chandler said. “I’m going to win a title in the next 12 months and I’m going to hold that title. Then it will be up to me when I want to retire. I think it will be with the UFC.
“Now we’ve just got to line up the right fight at the right time and I will be UFC champion within the next 12 months.”