Michael Chandler Signs With UFC, Serves as Backup for UFC 254 Main Event

By Jay Pettry and Keith Shillan Sep 17, 2020

Sign up for ESPN+ right here, and you can then stream the UFC live on your smart TV, computer, phone, tablet or streaming device via the ESPN app.

Bellator MMA champ Michael Chandler is now on the Ultimate Fighting Championship roster, and he is in prime position for a huge opportunity should things go his way.

On Thursday, UFC President Dana White announced on ESPN that Chandler (21-5) has signed with the UFC. His first scheduled matchup will actually be as a backup opponent in case either Khabib Nurmagomedov or Justin Gaethje cannot compete at UFC 254. That event, the final on a five-card stretch on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, is scheduled for Oct. 24. After much was made about Chandler’s free agency status, he elected to join the ranks of the Las Vegas-based organization in the lightweight division that he ruled across several years in Bellator. Should that match not come to fruition, it is unclear who Chandler would face going forward, but the top echelon of the weight category presents a plethora of promising prospects.

Chandler won his last two fights by first-round knockout, smashing Sidney Outlaw in Japan and Benson Henderson in August. The knockout over former UFC lightweight king Henderson was only the second he had ever suffered, with the first coming against Rafael dos Anjos in controversial fashion in 2014. The only two losses for “Iron Mike” dating back to 2015 have come against Brent Primus by injury and Patricio Freire by knockout. The Bellator mainstay since 2010 has amassed a litany of records across his Bellator-high number of fights (23). His knockout of Henderson gave him the fourth-most strike stoppages in Bellator history.

Although a fighter in the prospective Tony Ferguson vs. Dustin Poirier matchup had been considered up for a replacement in case an issue struck Nurmagomedov or Gaethje, that fight is no longer on the table. Should he need to step up for the headliner, Chandler would become one of a small number of fighters in the modern era getting a UFC title shot in their promotional debut. He would join the likes of Joe Soto, Gilbert Melendez and Liz Carmouche along with a few from seasons of “The Ultimate Fighter” like Nicco Montano, Carla Esparza and Rose Namajunas.

UFC 254 takes place on Yas Island on Oct. 24, with a top billing of Nurmagomedov vs. Gaethje. The co-main event is currently Alexander Volkov vs. Walt Harris at heavyweight, while Robert Whittaker and Jared Cannonier will square off in a potential middleweight title eliminator matchup earlier on the main card.