Michael Chandler has a new home.
The former Bellator MMA lightweight champion signed with the UFC and will be the backup for Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Justin Gaethje at UFC 254 on Oct. 24. UFC President Dana White announced the signing on SportCenter, Thursday, Sept. 17.
The 34-year-old fought under the Bellator banner since 2010 and was considered one of the top fighters in the world outside of the octagon. He most recently fought out of his contract by knocking out Benson Henderson in the first round of the Bellator 243 headliner on Aug. 7. It is the first time Henderson has been finished in six years.
Chandler won five of his last six contests. “Iron” lost his Bellator strap by a first-round TKO loss to Patricio “Pitbull” Freire at Bellator 221 in May 2019. The three-time Bellator champion first captured promotional gold with a fourth-round submission win against Eddie Alvarez at Bellator 58 in November 2011.
He eventually lost the title after losing a split decision to Alvarez in the rematch at Bellator 106 in November 2013. Chandler climbed his way back up the rankings after back-to-back losses to Will Brooks in 2014.
He reclaimed the vacant title by finishing Patrick “Pitbull” Freire via first-round TKO at Bellator 157 in June 2016. He lost it about a year later with a first-round TKO loss to Brent Primus at Bellator NYC in June 2017. Just two wins later, he won the belt for a third time with a unanimous decision win against Primus in the rematch at Bellator 212 in December 2018.
He now looks to take the UFC title for the first time. Nurmagomedov, the current champion, is set to defend his strap against the interim champion, Gaethje. The lightweight title fight will take place on “Fight Island” in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi.
White told ESPN, Michael Chandler will fly to Abu Dhabi and make weight. If either Nurmagomedov or Gaethje are forced to withdraw, Chandler will be the replacement.
Chandler enters a stacked lightweight division. Tony Ferguson and Dustin Poirer were targeted for the same date in October, but the promotion could not make a deal with Poirier.