Long before Michael Chandler was a UFC fighter, he always considered himself the toughest possible matchup for Khabib Nurmagomedov.
With a strong wrestling background, his hands were heavy and his gas tank seemed to never run out, Chandler believed he was presenting problems for Nurmagomedov. Sadly, Chandler never got the chance to be proven right or wrong because Nurmagomedov retired from the sport just as the ex-Bellator champion started his career with the UFC.
Since he gave up the gloves, Nurmagomedov has focused his efforts on promotion through Eagle FC. However, he also devotes a lot time to coaching, including with Islam Makhachev who is widely believed to be the successor to the UFC lightweight champion.
While Chandler has the utmost respect for Makhachev and the 10-fight win streak he’s put together in the division, he still can’t quite compare him to Nurmagomedov, especially when gauging his interest in a potential fight between them.
“Me personally, it’s not even close,” Chandler told MMA Fighting. “I think for me, you just saw the way that Khabib carried himself — he was a star, he was undefeated. Makhachev has only one loss, but his record is not perfect. Khaibb was undefeated. Khabib was a dominant figure. Khabib defeated many men in the top 10, and won the title. He then held on to the title for a while and was unbeatable. Barely didn’t look like he had ever lost even a quarter of round.
“That is what Khabib brought. Do I believe Makhachev has this potential? Apart from the fact that he will never win again, I believe he does have that potential. This is how I viewed it. I don’t think I would ever get as excited about fighting him as I was when I came into the UFC or even years before I came to the UFC, how I believed I would give Khabib the best test in the lightweight division. This is where I am at the moment. Khabib may just win Coach of the Year
Despite Makhachev’s claim to being the next generation of Nurmagomedov’s heir, Chandler is still a stumbling block when it comes time to proclaim him the greatest lightweight athlete in the sport.
Beyond the fact that Makhachev isn’t the UFC champion, Chandler knows from personal experience how tough the fights can be at the top of the division, and that’s simply not a test that the Dagestan native has faced just yet.
“We bring our criticisms of Makhachev only because he hasn’t been here for a very long time,” Chandler explained. He said that he was here for a while and that his star is rising, but it was all connected to Khabib. And he had never fought anyone in the top 10.. He fought Dan Hooker and won.
Makhachev hoped to settle all those debates when he was scheduled against Beneil Dariush back in February, but an injury derailed the fight from actually happening. The signs point to the fight being rescheduled later in the year. Dariush has seven wins, four by knockout, and four others were via submission.
If Makhachev can get through Dariush like he’s done his past 10 opponents, then Chandler will gladly become a believer.
“He’s on an incredible streak.
“Dariush,” Chandler stated. He’s been a top -10 man for quite some time now, and after defeating Tony [Ferguson], Chandler said that the guy has knockouts and submission wins. The guy also fights hard and pounds hard like Tony.
” I think this is a fantastic test. I think it’s a big test. I think him fighting Dariush does definitely solidify him.”
As he gets ready to fight Tony Ferguson at UFC 274, Chandler expects that a win would put him back in the race for the title at 155 pound after previously fighting for it in 2021..
On that night, Chandler had current champion Charles Oliveira badly hurt in the opening round before the Brazilian came storming back in the second. Oliveira will be defending his title against Justin Gaethje, who is another familiar face after their clash in the 2021 Fighting of the Year.
If Chandler handles Ferguson the way he expects, he hopes that he’ll get some consideration to potentially face either Oliveira or Gaethje next, although he knows there’s still a lot to be settled before anyone is declared the No. 1 contender in the division.
“I beat Tony, [there’s] the winner of Makhachev and Dariush and then you’ve got Conor [McGregor] coming back, who will obviously always want a title shot right away, and I think the UFC would always oblige,” Chandler said. There will be three individuals jockeying to win that fight, no matter what. Conor, the winner of Makhachev and Dariush, and then myself, granted if I beat Tony of course. It’s going to be an interesting summer.”