After testing free agency, Chandler (21-5 MMA, 0-0 UFC), a former three-time Bellator lightweight champion, opted to sign with the UFC.
Dana White made the announcement Thursday on “SportsCenter” that not only has Chandler signed with the UFC, but he will serve as a backup and potential replacement for the UFC 254 main event between lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov (28-0 MMA, 12-0 UFC) and interim champ Justin Gaethje (22-2 MMA, 5-2 UFC) on Oct. 24.
The initial backup plan was a matchup between former UFC interim lightweight champions Dustin Poirier and Tony Ferguson, but after Poirier failed to come to terms with the UFC, the matchup fell through. So the UFC decided to place Chandler as a reserve, instead.
But speaking to “MMA on SiriusXM,” Lee (18-6 MMA, 11-6 UFC) theorized that the UFC’s move with Chandler as a backup is a way for the promotion to prove the UFC’s talent is better than Bellator’s – since Lee doesn’t think that Chandler could win the fight, particularly against Nurmagomedov.
“I expected them to sign Chandler. It seemed like he was getting over Bellator and he’s a competitor, so he probably actually wanted to really test himself,” Lee said. “But the fact that they’re trying to make him the backup for Gaethje-Khabib, I don’t really get that. I think that’s just a way for them to try and (expletive) on Bellator. ‘It’s OK: Let’s throw him in there with Khabib right out of the gate so Khabib would whoop his ass, and now, and now I can (expletive) on (Bellator president) Scott Coker just a little bit more and make him look a little bit worse.’”
Lee, who recently underwent double knee surgery, is expected to be sidelined for the rest of the year. While he rates Chandler’s skills highly, he doesn’t think he has the size to hang with the lightweight elite in the UFC.
“Against Gaethje he might stand a chance. But against Khabib, he’s just way too small,” Lee said. “I think Chandler is way too small for this whole division. I actually hope he gets to fight and once he loses, then it might be me and him in the middle of next year. You never know how things are going to play out. I’ve been looking at Chandler for a long-ass time. That’s going to be a good fight.”