Following his first-round demolition of former UFC and WEC lightweight champion Benson Henderson in the main event of Bellator 243, three-time former Bellator lightweight champ Michael Chandler confirmed his intention to explore free agency.
Given his top-level record and marketability, there’s likely to be no shortage of potential suitors for the 34-year-old Chandler, but his comments during his post-fight press conference hinted that his preference is likely to be to join the UFC. So if he did, who should Chandler fight in his octagon debut?
That’s the question we posed to MMA Junkie’s Simon Head, Farah Hannoun and Nolan King in this installment of “Triple Take.”
Simon Head: ‘Iron’ vs. ‘The Diamond’
Let’s cut straight to the chase here. Michael Chandler is an elite-level lightweight who should be expected to make an instant impact if he signs with the UFC. Sure, the promotion’s 155-pound division is a shark tank of talent, but Chandler’s big-game experience, wrestling chops and punching power should make him an immediate contender.
So, with that said, his first assignment as a UFC lightweight should be a fight that gives him the opportunity to prove his championship credentials right off the bat. In my eyes, there’s no better matchup to throw him into from the get-go than a fight with former interim champ Dustin Poirier.
Poirier is at his fighting peak right now, having scored big wins over current interim champ Justin Gaethje, Dan Hooker, and former champions Eddie Alvarez and Anthony Pettis, not to mention former featherweight champ Max Holloway. Poirier will offer the perfect benchmark test for Chandler, who will have his sights set on the division’s best.
Stylistically, it would make for an outstanding fight, as two of the most well-rounded, battle-tested lightweights in the world go toe to toe in a fresh matchup that should produce a championship-ready contender to face the winner of the upcoming title clash between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Gaethje later this year.
It’s a fight with real upside for both men. It provides an acid test for Chandler in the UFC, and it should deliver an absolute barn burner for the fans. What’s not to like?
Farah Hannoun: Paul Felder
If Michael Chandler joins the UFC, he’s surely earned the right to face high-level competition right off the bat.
With top contenders such as Dustin Poirier and Tony Ferguson vying for title contention, the former three-time Bellator lightweight champion should face a stern test in Paul Felder.
Felder is coming off a narrow loss to Dan Hooker, but he’s still ranked in the top 10. A matchup with the gritty, tough and experienced Felder will help Chandler gauge where he stands in the stacked division.
While Chandler is obviously supremely talented, it may be hard to leapfrog the division’s top-ranked fighters from the get go. Beating Felder, who’s only been stopped once by a doctor’s stoppage, is no easy task. So if Chandler can look impressive against Felder, it will say a lot in terms of the kind of impact he can make in the UFC.
Nolan King: A shootout with ‘Cowboy’
Michael Chandler and Donald Cerrone – two of the best lightweight fighters of the past decade. Who wouldn’t want to see them fight? This, of course, is if Chandler signs with the UFC, which I really have a hunch he will.
Not only does each fighter carry a certain amount of name recognition, but the matchup also makes sense for each man.
For Cerrone, the matchup would be yet another in a long list of notable fights he’s had recently. It’ll be another champion he can have on his resume – win or lose, and it’s a fight the UFC would likely be willing to pay for.
For Chandler, it would be a good gauge of where he stands at 155 pounds in the UFC against a name opponent, with the opportunity to make a statement upon promotional entry. It starts him off at the bottom of the rankings and allows the UFC, Chandler and the general public to catch a glimpse of his skills without throwing him in against a UFC-ranked top 10 guy.