Well, it finally happened. The UFC finally signed Michael Chandler. But Dana White and company did more than just that. After signing Chandler, White announced that the former Bellator lightweight champion would serve as the back up to next month’s lightweight title fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje. So let’s talk about Chandler’s move to the UFC and all the various scenarios it has created.
UFC debutant/title challenger?
Thoughts on chandler being the step in guy for Khabib Gaethje/why he would be the step in guy before any of the top 5 guys— Haugh (@natehaugh1) September 17, 2020
Michael Chandler signing with the UFC is, honestly, not that interesting, at least from the standpoint that over the last month it has become increasingly clear that was going to happen. However, making him the backup to the biggest fight of the year is not only surprising, but a pretty big signal from the UFC about how they view Chandler.
The idea with any backup is that the position is ceremonial, right? I mean, in a perfect world, nothing intervenes with Khabib-Gaethje and so the backup position is largely meant as a way to anoint someone as a top contender, with the bit of added value that if something does happen, you have your bases covered. So by declaring Chandler, someone who wasn’t even Bellator’s champion at the time he was signed, as a stand in, the UFC is essentially dubbing him a top-five lightweight out of the gate. And I’ve gotta say, I don’t love it.
Chandler is a very good fighter, and a few years ago, arguably was the best lightweight in the world (think Anthony Pettis champion time frame). However, I have no confidence that is still true. Chandler hasn’t beaten a legitimate fighter since 2016, and that’s only if you consider Benson Henderson a top-tier guy still. People can kick and scream all they want about how Bellator is as good as the UFC but that’s not true. This isn’t a WEC or Strikeforce situation where those organizations were populated largely by young and emerging talent, so when the UFC absorbed them, that talent could shine. Some Bellator fighters are great, but the overall talent pool is not. Chandler happens to be one of those guys that is great but him going from fighting Sidney Outlaw to facing Khabib is like going from climbing a ladder to scaling K-2.
That being said, I get why they are doing it. Chandler is 34 years old and, likely, cost a pretty penny to acquire. The UFC needs to get value for money here and running him through the lightweight ranks creates a serious opportunity for Chandler to get relegated down almost immediately. I mean, let’s be serious, Eddie Alvarez did not deserve a lightweight title shot but they gave him one because it’s the outcome they wanted when he signed, and so even though he lost his debut and won bad split decisions in his next two fights, they just gave it to him. Essentially, this is the UFC doing the same thing, only cutting out the middleman.
Still, if I were Dustin Poirier or Tony Ferguson, I would be pissed. Both men have more than paid their dues in this sport, especially in the lightweight division, and they are essentially being jumped in line by a guy who lost his title by getting knocked out by a featherweight. Actually, come to think of it, Michael Chandler is a lot like Eddie Alvarez.
If not a title fight, who should Chandler fight?
Is Michael chandler vs Tony Ferguson the fight to make ?— HONG KONG (@AbdullahShwihdi) September 17, 2020
No. Dustin Poirier vs. Tony Ferguson is the fight to make. Just because the UFC is now fundamentally against paying fighters anything at all above the bare minimum (since they’ve got all that fun cheap labor from the Contender Series) doesn’t mean that the fight they were targeting was wrong. Poirier vs. Ferguson is one of the most dynamic, interesting fights the UFC can put together right now and that’s who both of those men should be fighting, both from an in-cage perspective and from a career perspective. It’s why Poirier and Ferguson have been standing with each other publicly. They know it, the fans know it, and even Dana knows it but damn if he’s going to pay for it.
The fight to make for Michael Chandler is, I would suggest, Dan Hooker. Honestly, I’d like a softball for Chandler to get him rolling in the organization but the problem with lightweight is there is no such thing. Any top-15 lightweight presents a real threat to kick over the Chandler applecart immediately so you kinda are just priced into throwing him in the deep end and hoping he can swim. Given that, he needs a top-10 guy, but opponents like Diego Ferreira, Paul Felder, and Charles Oliveira don’t pack enough name value to make a matchup with Chandler sparkle. With Gaethje, Poirier, Ferguson, and McGregor all non-starters, that really limits the UFC’s options. Al Iaquinta or Kevin Lee could also work but Hooker is coming off a Fight of the Year contender and a win over him would allow the UFC to vault Chandler into a true title fight. Give me Michael Chandler vs. Dan Hooker as the main event of a Fight Night at the end of the year.
How will Chandler fare in the UFC?
Is is just slightly too late for Chandler to come to the UFC? How do you see him doing against the top of the division?— strike.mx (@strikemxnyc) September 16, 2020
In short: yes and poorly. Like I said above, a few years ago and Chandler probably would have done much better in the UFC, however, at 34, I have serious questions about his potential.
The thing with Chandler is that the lightweight metagame is not in a space conducive to his skill set. Chandler is essentially a wrestle-boxer and check out the rankings: there aren’t really any of those there right now. There’s a reason for that. A few years ago, that’s all that populated the top of the division but the fighters have adapted to that style. Could Chandler beat some top guys? Sure. It’s lightweight, anyone can beat anyone else on any given day. But let’s go through the top-10 matchups for Chandler.
Khabib - Chandler will get smashed like everyone else.
Gaethje - Gaethje hits much harder and can take a much better punch.
Poirier - An all-around better striker, especially with boxing.
Ferguson - Better striker and serious submission threat.
Conor McGregor - Much better striker. Probably a good enough wrestler to keep it standing.
Hooker - More dynamic striker. Wrestling could make it interesting.
Oliveira - More dynamic striker and submission threat if Chandler wrestles.
Felder - Better striker and more durable (this one is pretty close).
Ferreira - Honestly, no telling what this could look like.
Iaquinta - winnable.
Lee - Winnable, but on paper, Lee is way better at everything Chandler wants to do.
I mean, there’s just not a lot of room for Chandler to operate in there.
The UFC’s lightweight division is a f*cking shark tank. Look what happened to Will Brooks when he came over. You have to be nearly perfect every time out and even then, it’s still a crapshoot. That’s why Khabib’s run is arguably the most impressive run in the sport’s history. Adding Chandler to that shark tank makes it even more dangerous but it’s like adding a Mako when there are already Great Whites there.
(Fun fact: this analogy falls apart under scrutiny as pelagic sharks do not fare well in captivity. Still, I think the point gets across.)
How other Bellator fighters might fare in the UFC.
How would you see AJ McKee or Pitbull doing if they were in the feather weight division the UFC has?— Daniel (@TPDGNCR) September 16, 2020
Once you start discussing how Chandler will do in the UFC, the next logical progression is how other top Bellator fighters might fare and, by and large, I think much of the same things apply here.
Bellator has a number of excellent fighters, but for the most part, I don’t think any current Bellator fighters would come in and wreck shop in the UFC. Patricio Pitbull is certainly a top-10 featherweight, and arguably a top-five one, but his size would give him serious issues with the best the division has to offer. Douglas Lima is a sensational welterweight, almost certainly a top-five guy, but Kamaru Usman would be like fighting a much, much better version of the Rory MacDonald Lima struggled with. Newly crowned bantamweight champion Juan Archuleta could hang around the top-10 of the division but I struggle to see him making too much headway in the stacked 135-pound class.
But A.J. McKee, that’s an interesting one. If you scroll back up to where I mentioned Strikeforce and the WEC, the reason the fighters from those organizations were so successful in the UFC when they came over is because of the timing of it all. Luke Rockhold, Tyron Woodley, Donald Cerrone, Benson Henderson, and Anthony Pettis were all on the upswing of their careers and they continued to grow in the UFC. In recent years, Bellator has put a lot of effort into developing young talent and fighters like A.J. McKee are the ones who interest me the most in the UFC. I’m not saying he’d come in and be champion, but McKee is one of the brightest prospects in the entire sport and I could definitely see him developing into a true world champion if Bellator ever let him go.
Khamzat Chimaev’s double dare
Is Khamzat making a mistake being this confident in a victory over a grizzled MMA veteran?— Aspiring Sports Burner (@aspiringburner) September 17, 2020
Oh, yeah. UFC Vegas 11 is tonight. Almost forgot all about that with the Chandler news. I suppose we should answer at least one question about that and we’ve all talked Tyron Woodley vs. Colby Covington to death so Chimaev seems as good a topic as any.
To put it bluntly, no, he is not. Gerald Meerschaert is a well-schooled veteran, a journeyman, a gatekeeper, however you want to put it. That’s not an insult but a statement of fact. Meerschaert is not a good athlete but he’s a determined fighter and has spent his life maximizing his skills. That is incredibly commendable but it’s also woefully inadequate in light of what he is facing. Athleticism is functionally a cheat code in MMA because the sport still exists at a point where you can be entirely unathletic and still succeed. Khamzat Chimaev is not that. He is, in fact, incredibly athletic and he marries that with being very schooled. That adds up to a very bad night for Meerschaert.
Now, granted, Meerschaert is the biggest test of Chimaev’s career to this point but he also is a gift of a style matchup. What, is Meerschaert going to stop takedowns? Sure isn’t. So is he going to win off his back? I mean, I guess he can try but strength against strength with a vastly superior athlete is a recipe for disaster nine times out of 10. There’s a reason people are so high on Chimaev, and it’s not just the Khabib parallels (right down to the troubling relationship with Ramzan Kadyrov), it’s because thus far his career has looked much like every other uber-elite level prospect in MMA’s history. Good fighters win, great fighters finish, and world-class fighters obliterate inferior opposition. Chimaev has done the last one in spades. I don’t think he will run over Meerschaert the same way he has with all of his other opponents, but I also don’t think he’s in much danger this fight.
Then again, that’s why they actually fight the fights. Perhaps Meerschaert will prove me wrong tonight.
Thanks for reading this week, and thank you for everyone who sent in Tweets! Do you have any burning questions about at least tacitly related to combat sports? Then you’re in luck because you can send your Hot Tweets to me, @JedKMeshew and I will answer them! Doesn’t matter if they’re topical or insane. Get weird with it. Let’s have fun.