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Michael Chandler: Islam Makhachev has to defend title against lightweight division first

Michael Chandler wants to see Islam Makhachev defend the UFC lightweight title before taking any superfights.

All signs are pointing to Makhachev fighting featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski next February at UFC 284, a mega matchup that would serve as a pairing between two of the best Pound-for-Pound fighters in the world and Makhachev’s first title defense. The Russian star captured the belt with a dominant submission victory over Charles Oliveira at UFC 280 this past October.

Ahead of his fight with Dustin Poirier at UFC 281 on Saturday, Chandler spoke to the media about Makhachev’s plans and how he might match up with him.

“I think if there’s a guy out there who deserves to move up I think it is Alex Volkanovski,” Chandler said. “Obviously, the selfish part of me says I don’t want that to happen. I understand how it makes a ton of sense from the promoter standpoint, from the UFC standpoint. You’ve got the No. 1 pound-for-pound guy in the world versus the No. 3 pound-for-pound guy in the world, but I also think that Islam has proved himself to be our champion and is our champion and we have to accept that and I think he’s a phenomenal talent.

“I also think he has to have his first title defense against a lightweight. He needs to get through another lightweight before they start talking about superfights. Once again, I don’t say that to say that the UFC is making a bad decision or the wrong decision if they make that decision to let Volkanovski move up, but I think when I handle business on Saturday night it will be undeniable that they’re going to want to see good, ol’ fashioned, passion and American wrestling versus Dagestani Sambo, Dagestani grappling. That’s what I hope we get to see.”

Chandler, a three-time Bellator champion, has seen mixed results since making his UFC debut in January 2021 as he has gone toe-to-toe with only ranked opponents. He scored a first-round TKO of Dan Hooker in his UFC debut, then dropped back-to-back fights to Oliveira and Justin Gaethje. He brought his UFC record to 2-2 with a Knockout of the Year front-runner finish of Tony Ferguson this past May.

Not only does Chandler think his exciting fighting style puts him at the front of any contender discussion, he also sees himself as having the ideal style to halt Makhachev’s 11-fight win streak.

“I honestly think my wrestling will stop his attacks,” Chandler said. “I think I can take him down. I think I can match him grappling for grappling and I think in the striking department I’ve got more power, I’m faster, and I have better hands. That’s me speaking confidently, obviously, a ton of respect for him. But I do think it’s the most intriguing matchup in the lightweight division. There’s not a better wrestler on the lightweight roster than me. My credentials speak for themselves, being a Division-I All-American is kind of the epitome of wrestling accomplishment. So I think I match up extremely well.

“I think I beat him, but that’s what we all say. That’s what Charles said, that’s what I said about Charles. So hopefully we see that fight early 2023.”

First, Chandler has to get past Poirier in a bout that many expect to steal the show. Fighting at Madison Square Garden at UFC 268 last November, Chandler went three incredible rounds with Gaethje in one of the most brutal brawls in recent memory.

Poirier is currently tied for the No. 3 spot at lightweight in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings with Chandler three spots behind him, so Chandler is confident that a win over Poirier lines him up for another massive opportunity next.

“Ultimately, I just need to put myself into a position where I need to win and no matter what it’s exciting,” Chandler said. “I’ve never, in my entire career, had a boring fight, win, lose, or draw. And I don’t say that to gloat or impress anybody, it’s just my nature. That’s how I wrestled. As soon as that whistle blew, I wanted to get my hands on my opponent, I wanted to put pressure on him and I felt like I was doing something wrong if I wasn’t pressing the action. So I think it’s a very, very good thing and has put me in some positions here and there, but it’s the fight game.

“You’re fighting the best guys in the world here in the UFC and at some point when you know you’ve prepared, when you know you’ve done everything right, all you can do is go out there and just kind of leave it up to chance. I’m definitely a veteran now, my fifth fight in the UFC, things have calmed down a little bit, I’m seeing things more clearly as well. This is a phenomenal opportunity and I think this puts me in line for the title or another huge fight by knocking off Dustin.”

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