Islam Makhachev is going to have to wait his turn if Michael Chandler has anything to say about it.
At UFC 268 this Saturday, Chandler, the No. 6 lightweight in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings, fights No. 3 Justin Gaethje, and the winner of the fan-friendly fight is expected to be in line to compete for the UFC title currently held by Charles Oliveira.
During Thursday’s pre-fight press conference, UFC President Dana White was asked if Makhachev, ranked No. 5 and a winner of nine straight fights, could leap over Gaethje and Chandler in the contenders’ line and get the shot.
Chandler quickly dismissed the suggestion.
“We don’t care what [Makhachev] says,” Chandler said. “Saturday night, me and Justin Gaethje get after it, we’re the No. 1 contender. It’s a No. 1 contender’s fight.”
Makhachev defeated Dan Hooker by first-round submission this past Saturday at UFC 267, and afterward, he said he believes the top five at 155 pounds are “old guys” who have already had their chance to be on top.
Gaethje is a former interim titleholder who challenged Khabib Nurmagomedov for undisputed status at UFC 254, but lost by second-round submission. Chandler a stellar Bellator resume that included three lightweight title runs to a bout for the vacant UFC belt against Oliveira in just his second octagon appearance, but like Gaethje was finished in Round 2.
For his part, White didn’t address the Makhachev question directly, simply stating that Gaethje and Chandler are top five in the UFC’s official rankings and they have their own business to worry about this weekend.
“[Gaethje’s] ranked No. 2 in the world,” White said. “[No. 2 and 4] are fighting on Saturday.”
A spectacular performance would strengthen Gaethje and Chandler’s already formidable cases. Both are known for being prolific fight finishers, and neither is predicting a prolonged contest when they meet in the cage.
“He’s gonna turn into a wrestler real quick, talking about taking steps backwards,” Gaethje said. “We’ll see who’s the b*tch when he starts shooting for legs.”
“First fight of the night, this is why we went to the first fight of the night, we’re starting off with a bang,” Chandler answered. “Starting off with the fireworks. Get your pay-per-view early at the show open, Justin Gaethje goes out in one.”