Former Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler has signed with the UFC, and while he doesn’t have a fight yet, his first could be epic.
UFC president Dana White on Thursday said on “SportsCenter” on UFC broadcast partner ESPN that Chandler (21-5 MMA, 0-0 UFC) is now in the UFC and that he will serve as a backup and potential replacement for the UFC 254 main event between lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov (28-0 MMA, 12-0 UFC) and interim champ Justin Gaethje (22-2 MMA, 5-2 UFC).
UFC 254 takes place Oct. 24 at “Fight Island” on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, White confirmed. The main card will air on pay-per-view following prelims on ESPN and UFC Fight Pass/ESPN+.
Chandler became a free agent after his knockout win over former UFC and WEC lightweight champ Benson Henderson at Bellator 243 in early August. He hinted multiple times after that fight that he might wind up in the UFC, and now it has come to fruition. In addition, White said he was impressed with him after a conversation with the 34-year-old fighter.
Chandler fought for Strikeforce in 2009-2010, then went to Bellator, where he spent nearly 10 years. He won the lightweight title in 2011 against Eddie Alvarez, but lost it to him in a rematch in 2013. That split decision started a three-fight slide that included two attempts to get the belt back against Will Brooks.
In 2016, he beat Patricky Freire to win the then-vacant title. HE lost it to Brent Primus in 2017, but beat Primus in a rematch to get it back and become a three-time champion. But in his first defense, he lost it to Patricio Freire, who was featherweight champion at the time, in May 2019.
He finished his Bellator run with back-to-back first-round knockouts of Sidney Outlaw and Henderson.
Nurmagomedov will be fighting for the first time in more than a year, and for the first time since the death of his father, who also served as his coach, earlier this year. In September 2019, he beat interim champ Dustin Poirier in a title unification bout in Abu Dhabi. A fifth attempt at a fight with Tony Ferguson then was planned for April, but scrapped due to the COVID-19 pandemic.