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Still a Michael Chandler fan, Scott Coker says UFC 254 role reflects Bellator’s quality

Bellator president Scott Coker still holds new UFC signee Michael Chandler in high regard despite a professional parting of the ways between the two.

“Michael has been the face of Bellator for the past 10 years, or his whole career, pretty much,” Coker told MMA Junkie, in his first public comment on Chandler’s departure. “He’s had some of the most amazing battles in the history of Bellator.”

In early August, Chandler (21-5 MMA, 0-0 UFC), the former Bellator lightweight champion, fought out his contract and entered free agency for the first time. After a brief exploration period, Chandler was signed by the UFC. Bellator had the chance to match the UFC’s offer but made a business decision against a counter. The two parties, according to Coker, are still on good terms.

“Michael and I talked about this,” Coker said. “We said one day he’ll come back, and we’ll hang your poster up on the rafters, and maybe you’ll be the first person inducted into the Bellator Hall of Fame. It’s basically like I’m a GM. Me and my team are like a GM staff of a football team. It’s like, ‘Look, do we want to keep this guy? Or do we want to sign these guys?’ There’s only so many TV slots, so we’re going to have to make some tough decisions. Letting Michael go was one of the tough ones, but I think the company is headed in a great direction.”

Chandler, 34, is currently slated to serve as the backup fighter for the UFC 254 pay-per-view main event title fight on Oct. 24 between UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and interim UFC lightweight champion Justin Gaethje. Should either headliner withdraw or be removed from the fight, Chandler will step in and challenge for the belt.

Chandler’s insertion into the UFC lightweight title conversation comes before he’s even stepped foot inside the promotion’s cage. In Coker’s eyes, for the UFC to hold Chandler in such high regard is a reflection on the quality of Bellator’s talent pool.

“I personally really think he’s an amazing human being and a great family man,” Coker said. “He’s got great values and is a real martial artist. He exemplifies everything I love seeing in an athlete and saw when he represented our brand. … It was, ‘OK, we’re going to rebuild this 155-pound division. He has some great opportunities. Let’s let him go.’ At the end of the day, we could have matched it, to be honest. But I just felt like his destiny lies elsewhere.

“He’s a guy I’m always going to support. I’m going to watch all of his fights. And what does it say about the quality of fighters in Bellator when a guy like Michael Chandler leaves and gets put right into the immediate title shot conversation? Right? It shows you how great these fighters are over here.”

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