While the record shows one victory and 2:30 of Octagon time, UFC lightweight Michael Chandler put in a lot more work than that in earning his title opportunity at UFC 262 this Saturday.
The three-time Bellator lightweight champion signed with the UFC last September and then agreed to serve as a backup for the title fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje at UFC 254.
He successfully made weight ahead of the title bout, but was not required to participate in the fight that was won by the champion Nurmagomedov, who announced his retirement following the victory.
Chandler then had his first and only outing in the promotion against Dan Hooker at UFC 257 and stopped him halfway through the opening round.
With an impressive body of work that now includes a victory over a highly regarded UFC lightweight, Chandler was tabbed to fight for the vacant belt this weekend.
The High Ridge, Missouri, native has a history of being willing to test himself against the best in world, from NCAA Division I wrestling straight through to his professional career and believes the timing was perfect to move to the UFC and once again face the best fighters in the world.
“It’s a testament to patience, it’s a testament to making the right decision at the right time and I think I did it at the exact right time,” Chandler told TSN. “I think I just turned 35-years-old, I don’t feel a day over 25, I feel like I’m the happiest, healthiest and hardest to kill that I’ve ever been and my performances will be indicative of that. I’m just glad I had that vision at the right time, I’m glad I had the vision in the first place and I’m glad I’ve now had one fight under my belt, I’ve got one finish under my belt in the UFC and now I’m going to get a literal belt, a championship belt.”
To get his hands on the gold, he’ll face one of the toughest challengers in any weight class in the promotion in Charles Oliveira, a man who has not suffered a loss since 2017 and has his name all over the record book. Chandler knows he has to be ready for anything from his championship opponent.
“I think he’s very unique,” said Chandler. “Obviously he has a wealth of knowledge, a wealth of experience. One of the longest active win streaks in the UFC right now, maybe the longest active win streak. Most submission wins in UFC history, the guy is slick on the ground, he is ever improving in the striking game. He’s got a great record to boot, a ton of experience inside that UFC Octagon, a ton more than I have. So it’s a tough test, it’s a tall order and I love a challenge.”
To prepare for the UFC veteran, Chandler had his own treasure trove of knowledge to draw upon as he trained at Sanford MMA, the Florida-based gym, including a former UFC title challenger and a couple of men that have already stepped into the Octagon against Oliveira.
“Obviously Gibert (Burns) is one of the best grapplers on the plant, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt and a ton of submission wins himself, plus a ton of knockouts,” said Chandler. “He’s a guy that is even more dangerous with his striking than he is with his grappling. We have a ton of great bodies down at Sanford MMA, Vagner Rocha runs our jiu-jitsu program, he’s running our fight-minded jiu-jitsu program that we have at Sanford MMA. Working with Gilbert Burns, Herbert Burns, teammates with Nik Lentz, who fought Charles Oliveira a couple times. Teammates with Jared Gordon who fought Charles Oliveira. All of this is great insight and great study to be able to put together a game plan, what works, what doesn’t work.”
While Chandler admits the title shot is happening faster than even he thought it would, he is ready to take control of what could arguably be considered the toughest division in all of MMA.
“I think the baddest man on the planet, who could separate anyone in the world from consciousness is that heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou, but I do also believe that the lightweight division is the most exciting, the most electrifying division on the planet,” said Chandler.
“I’m extremely excited to not just be a part of it, but to kick down the door to the party, make myself known as of January 23, now win the title on May 15 and become the face of it, the number one guy of the lightweight division inside the UFC and no, to answer that question, I did not think it would happen this quickly. I by no means asked for it, I didn’t come into the UFC asking for title shots. It happened quicker than I thought, but if you want to hear God laugh, just tell him your plans, right?”