Michael Chandler knew that despite all of his accomplishments in Bellator MMA, he would still have to prove himself after signing with the UFC.
He’s done that time and again, with all four of his fights coming against top-10 ranked competition, including three opponents who have held at least a piece of the lightweight title, while earning two knockouts and three performance bonuses along the way. Understanding that he couldn’t live on past accolades, Chandler asked the UFC for the biggest fights against the toughest opposition as soon as he joined the promotion — and that’s exactly what he’s faced thus far.
That’s also why Chandler isn’t entirely sold on the hype built around top-ranked lightweight contender Islam Makhachev, who faces Charles Oliveira with the 155-pound title on the line at UFC 280 in October. Despite Makhachev currently riding a 10-fight unbeaten streak, Chandler can quickly dissect his résumé with questions about the level of competition those wins came against.
“Nothing against Islam, you say he looks great, you say he looks unbeatable at times, but he hasn’t really fought anybody,” Chandler told MMA Fighting. “That’s really the truth. He beat No. 14 and then he beat Dan Hooker, who was on a three or four-fight losing streak.
“Now people will say, ‘well, one of your wins was against Dan Hooker, what are you talking about?’ I fought Dan Hooker at a different time. He had just gone 25 minutes with Dustin Poirier, who at that time was the No. 2 lightweight on the entire planet.”
In fact, Makhachev has never avoided top-ranked competition and was scheduled to face one of the best lightweights in the world when he got matched up with Beneil Dariush in February. Unfortunately, Dariush suffered an injury, and Makhachev instead ended up facing Bobby Green, whom he dispatched inside the first round.
If Makhachev goes out and lays waste to Oliveira in similar fashion, Chandler promises he’ll give the Russian all the credit in the world. But he just can’t do that yet without the résumé to back up the hype.
“I’m not saying that [Islam] not that good,” Chandler said. “We just can’t say that he’s that good yet. It’s premature praise.”
On the flip side, Chandler has nothing but compliments when it comes to Oliveira, who was his second opponent in the UFC after he got a shot at becoming lightweight champion back in May 2021.
That night, Chandler had Oliveira hurt early and it appeared the fight was nearly over, but the Brazilian survived before storming back to earn a second-round knockout and claim the vacant lightweight title following Khabib Nurmagomedov’s retirement.
Looking back, Chandler thought he had Oliveira figured out based on so many of his past performances. “Do Bronx” absolutely proved him wrong.
“I was that guy,” Chandler explained. “You remember the buildup to my fight with Charles, I truly believed he was going to quit. We’d seen it in the past. We’d seen that he wasn’t that tough. We had seen that he had a tendency to find a way out in fights. He has proven time and time again, both against me and [Dustin] Poirier and [Justin] Gaethje, he was in a fire in those fights and came back and won every single one of them.
“He has shown his toughness. He has shown his gall. He has shown his continued improvement in his striking, which, obviously, he’s probably the best grappler in the UFC right now today, for sure. He’s become a very effective, basic, long, rangy kickboxer. He’s done very, very well with it. He manages distance very well. If he does get hurt, he can just pull guard, which you saw that in the Gaethje fight and the Poirier fight —— he gets hit, he just falls to his back. It’s actually a very, very great technique because nobody is going to jump into his guard.”
Chandler is the sole person to go to the ground with Oliveira during the champ’s current run and survive to talk about it. That back-and-forth battle is why he’s become such a big fan of the Brazilian.
Much like Chandler, Oliveira has proven himself plenty of times during an undefeated run that dates back four years. The lightweight champ has added a list of legends to his win column.
When it comes to Makhachev, Chandler just can’t say he has the credentials for his name to stand alongside other lightweights that Oliveira has already vanquished. Stylistically, he feels like this is a matchup that his former opponent can win.
“I think Charles is just too slick, too good, and he’s going to give him fits on the feet,” Chandler said. “I don’t think it will be hard to take Charles down, but I think Charles wins the grappling exchanges.
“To make Islam the favorite in that fight is somewhat crazy, I think. Maybe that’s me sticking up for Charles, because watching Charles, seeing what he’s done resurrecting his career, somewhat of a ‘couldn’t be relied on, up-and-down, win some, lose some, journeyman’ to now a very dominant champion on a win streak — he’s definitely one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. I think he goes out there and gets the job done.”