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Michael Chandler on UFC 254 backup role: ‘Either I am who I say I am, or I’m not’

Michael Chandler is not short of confidence and is ready to test himself against the UFC’s lightweight elite.

Chandler, a former three-time Bellator lightweight champion, opted to sign with the UFC this week and right off the bat will be serving as the backup and potential replacement in 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.

For years, Chandler (21-5 MMA, 0-0 UFC) has claimed he’s the one to beat Nurmagomedov, and he might just get his chance. But even if he doesn’t get to compete Oct. 24, Chandler wants to take on the division’s toughest tests.

“I told the UFC, ‘Listen, I’m not here for a long time – I’m here for a good time,” Chandler told TMZ. “I want to jump right into that top five right away. Either I am who I say I am, or I’m not. Sink or swim. Throw me in there with the wolves and let’s see where I come out.”

Chandler may have to train, cut weight and fly halfway across the world for a fight that doesn’t even happen, but vows to be ready for the opportunity regardless.

“I fought Aug. 7, so that’s an 11-week turnaround,” Chandler said. “Not a lot of guys would take a fight on an 11-week turnaround, especially with a new organization. But for me, I’ve always been active. The day after my fight, I got right back to the gym.

“I wanted to be ready for this opportunity if there was an opportunity in October or November. But I just heard about that very, very recently, and I’m excited about the opportunity. I know I’m going to be ready to step into that cage Oct. 24 and beat either Khabib or Gaethje if something goes awry.”

Chandler knows his statement of being the No. 1 lightweight is bold considering the numerous blemishes on his record, but he takes pride in his ability to continuously bounce back. After losing his Bellator lightweight title to Patricio Freire in May 2019, Chandler has knocked out his past two opponents, both in the first round.

“No disrespect – I’m a fan of and respect the work of every single guy in the UFC, period. But especially in the lightweight division, I’ve said it for 11 years: I’m the best lightweight on the planet,” Chandler said. “Have I disproven that theory numerous times by losing or having underwhelming performances? Absolutely. But people love a winner, but they love even more a winner who loses, comes back, and sets himself for a comeback.

“I’ve gone through a lot in this sport, and nothing can take this opportunity away from me. If it is Oct. 24, I’m going to be ready, and I think I’m think I’m just a different animal.”

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