Michael Chandler found himself in the crosshairs of Islam Makhachev this past Saturday following the Dagestani lightweight’s win over Thiago Moises at UFC Vegas 31. While Makhachev called out several top contenders, he made special mention of Chandler and addressed the ex-Bellator champion directly, who was working the analyst desk for ESPN.
Chandler praised Makhachev’s performance in the moment but demurred when asked about the callout, and that’s because he has his sights on someone else: Justin Gaethje.
“Gaethje should be next. There’s no doubt about it,” Chandler said this week on an Instagram live chat. “There is no secret [Makhachev] and Gaethje both share the same management, so obviously that management would want to say, ‘Hey, throw Islam on the trail. Throw Islam on the Chandler trail so that it takes the heat off of Gaethje.’
“But Justin Gaethje: Come on, bro. You call yourself a fighter, and you are — you’re one of the most exciting guys in mixed martial arts. Be prepared to make a highlight or be made a highlight, because that’s what I am. That’s what I’m ready to do.”
Chandler, 35, is currently the No. 5-ranked lightweight in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings. He lost to Charles Oliveira via second-round TKO in his most recent outing at UFC 262 after nearly finishing Oliveira in the opening frame to capture the then-vacant UFC lightweight title. A three-time Bellator lightweight champion, Chandler defeated Dan Hooker via first-round knockout in his octagon debut in January at UFC 257.
Chandler and Gaethje have circled each other ever since. In March, Gaethje tweeted about expecting to fight Chandler at UFC 257 — a matchup which obviously went to Oliveira.
Chandler said this week that he expects to return to the cage in either November or December and implored Gaethje to answer his call for a bout between top contenders.
“I’ll tell you what, I’ve said Justin Gaethje’s name no less than 100 times since I’ve signed with the organization,” Chandler said. “He’s been asked to fight me three or four different times. Every time he’s declined. He and I are ranked two spots away from each other. He has not fought since last October. He needs to get a fight in if he thinks he’s going to fight for the title. For some reason him and his camp have no interest in fighting me.
“So that’s the fight I want, that’s the fight I think it should be. Two of the best guys fighting. It’s also a fight that I know the fans want to see. I know that’s a fight you guys want to see, so that’s my hope, that’s my thought. And I don’t really get why we haven’t heard anything yet.”