Michael Chandler’s road back to a UFC title shot will be FAR from smooth… a blockbuster showdown with Justin Gaethje could be next but other top contenders will want to hunt him down
- Charles Oliveira will take on Conor McGregor or Dustin Poirier in his next fight
- He came back to earn TKO win over Michael Chandler in UFC 262 main event
- Chandler had secured title shot off the back of debut victory back in January
- But now he faces a tough road back to the top against other hungry contenders
Michael Chandler was the consummate professional in defeat when the microphone was put in his face after a shattering low of losing his UFC title shot.
Charles Oliveira came back to stun the former Bellator champion despite the American having come close to winning in the first round.
A few more punches on target, a few more seconds on that guillotine and he could have been waking up in the morning with the lightweight belt.
Michael Chandler suffered defeat in his lightweight title fight against Charles Oliveira
The 35-year-old insisted he will bounce back and figure out what went wrong on Saturday
Justin Gaethje could be next for Chandler in what would be a barnstorming bout
Title opportunities do not grow on trees in the UFC and Chandler, while deserving over the course of a career, had circumstances and luck on his side in recent months.
Khabib Nurmagomedov’s retirement and meant the belt was vacant. Dustin Poirier’s decision to fight Conor McGregor in their July 10 trilogy took two top contenders out of the equation, and he had the most compelling case.
His KO of Dan Hooker in January was arguably the best UFC debut of all time but to earn an opportunity for the title after one fight alone was fortuitous.
Now, Chandler must pick himself up and get ready to earn his way back the hard way.
After Saturday night’s crushing blow, he reflected: ‘I just felt like I was in the right moment,’ Chandler said. ‘A smile was on my face again. I feel like I am fighting on borrowed time still.
‘You know, there was moments in my career where I never thought I’d end up here. I never thought that the door would open.
‘And now it has and the first one was the highest of highs and this ones… it is not the lowest of lows.
Few gave Oliveira a chance of finishing Chandler on the feet but he did so in the second round
‘Because Charles Oliveira is a world class fighter, and fighting for the UFC title is a world class opportunity. But as my son knows, every young man falls but every young man gets back up.
‘The sun will rise tomorrow when I fly home without the belt. We’ve got some explaining to do but we’re going to figure it out.’
Figuring it out is the UFC’s job now. Chandler’s defeat opens up a number of possibilities for match-making. Oliveira will take on one of McGregor or Poirier next in his first title defence, so what will the UFC do with the rest of the hungry contenders?
Justin Gaethje is still floating around the top of the division at No 2 and has not fought since losing decisively in Khabib’s final defence last year.
He’s been the odd man out for a while, unable to fit into any of the narratives in regaining a title shot but now might be the perfect time, and perfect fit.
The loser of Conor McGregor’s trilogy fight with Dustin Poirier could face Chandler
Chandler’s style would complement Gaethje, who is just as all-action and nicknamed the ‘Highlight’ for a reason.
Chandler is 35 so will want a relatively fast turnaround, previously speaking about his plans for two golden years in the UFC.
That should suit Gaethje down to the ground and he even stoked the fires before the contest, saying: ‘Although I think Chandler will win I’m hoping he gets knocked out.’
The foundations appear to be in place for that match-up but perhaps the UFC will want Chandler to slide slightly further down the rankings to prove himself again.
He will also have a keen eye on whoever loses on July 10. If McGregor was to suffer defeat and still remain hungry enough to stick around, that would be a marketing dream, with both men able to sell a fight.
Their desire to keep things on the feet could also make for a blockbuster clash. If Poirier loses, no doubt Chandler would want to take him on too.
Islam Makhachev is rated incredibly highly and would no doubt love to face Chandler
A win over ‘Diamond’ who has faced anyone and everyone at lightweight, would give ‘Iron’ the kind of credibility in the UFC he’s looking for.
The Tony Ferguson fight does not quite make sense with El Cucuy looking badly on the wane after he was manhandled by Beneil Dariush for a third successive loss.
But Islam Makhachev, Khabib’s friend and team-mate, could be a huge challenge to take on.
Makhachev is expected to meet Thiago Moises on July 17 but is widely expected to come through and make a run at the belt.
Rafael dos Anjos called out Chandler for dodging him last year and is another option
Chandler has said ‘yes’ to every proposal his paymasters have put in front of him but even he might hesitate here.
The Dagestani’s wrestling game is sensational and he’s ranked No 10 currently, meaning it would be a long way for Chandler to fall.
No 7-ranked Rafael dos Anjos is another option. He slammed Chandler for turning him down last November, saying: ‘If you don’t take a fight because you don’t have enough time to drop weight I get it, but don’t tell me you have other plans.’
‘I became the champion of the BIGGEST organisation fighting everyone they put in front of me. Shame on you.’
Chandler said he will learn the lessons of his defeat and pledged to compete for the belt again
So there is enough bad blood there to add some fuel to the fire and it would be no surprise if that fight was made.
As it stands, Gaethje appears the most logical option for all involved as a win for either man brings them within touching distance of the title again.
But if Chandler is forced to go lower and take on the likes of Makhachev or Dos Anjos, defeat would make that greasy pole to the top even harder to climb.
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