MICHAEL CHANDLER will be on standby ready to save the day at UFC 254 if needed – where he is gambling on enhancing his legendary career.
Chandler was signed by the UFC after his contract with Bellator expired, a promotion he spent nine years with and had three championship reigns.
Michael Chanlder is on Fight Island on standby Credit: Getty Images – Getty
He had hoped to face Dustin Poirier, 31, or Tony Ferguson, 36, on Fight Island – but neither came to fruition.
Instead, the 34-year-old accepted an offer from UFC president Dana White to be a substitute with the possibility of an immediate title shot.
In an interview with BT Sport, Chandler said: “I wanted to prove to Dana White right away and the UFC fans right away and the UFC brass, everyone who is involved in the greatest mixed martial arts promotion in the world – who Michael Chandler is.
“I’ve never turned down a fight, I’ve never missed weight, I’ve never pulled out of a fight.
“We signed the deal, the slot kind of opened up, October 24th, Poirier was talking about fighting Ferguson, then that contract negotiation fell through.
“Dana said, ‘Hey, what do you think about October 24th – are you down to fight?’ I said absolutely.
“Then he called me back and said, ‘Hey, Poirier or Ferguson, would you take either of those fights?’ I said yes.
Chandler wanted to fight Dustin Poirier or Tony Ferguson Credit: Getty Images – Getty
He is in Abu Dhabi to provide cover for either Khabib or Justin Gaethje Credit: Getty Images – Getty
“Then he calls me back and says, ‘Hey, if I can’t get you those fights, will you be the reserve for the October 24th fight?’ I said yes.
“Three yes’s in a row, I’m not a yes man, I will stand up for myself when the time is right, because everyone needs to do that, but to me this is just my job.”
The coronavirus pandemic has forced the UFC to completely re-locate due to travel restrictions into the US.
To accommodate international fighters and allow superstars to headline on pay-per-view, the promotion launched Fight Island, situated in Yas Island on Abu Dhabi
Chandler now finds himself out in the Middle East, where the UFC had the brand new Flash Forum arena built for them in July.
Despite Justin Gaethje, 31, and Khabib Nurmagomedov, 32, successfully making weight, Chandler knows now more than ever that opportunities can arise at any moment.
Nurmagomedov and Gaethje headline UFC 254 in a unification bout Credit: Getty Images – Getty
He said: “If there ever was a year that you’re the alternate on one of the biggest lightweight fights in UFC history, 2020 is the right year to be sitting right here.”
Chandler was born and raised in the small town of High Ridge in Missouri where he later became a champion high school wrestler.
He then enrolled at the University of Missouri where he continued his grappling career, while majoring in personal finance management services with a minor in real estate.
After being convinced to carry on competing by future MMA champions Tyron Woodley and Ben Askren, Chandler followed suit and turned pro in 2009.
But the decision to pursue a fighting career once seemed unimaginable for Chandler, who was raised in a place with a population of just over 4,000.
Chandler explained: “I think the notion of me ever getting paid to be an athlete was way too far fetched from where I came from.
“I came from a place where, to be a professional athlete seemed like a dream, it seemed like a glimmer in a little kids eye.
Ben Askren and Tyron Woodley inspired Chandler into an MMA career
Chandler signed for the UFC after his Bellator contract expired Credit: Getty Images – Getty
“But when I went to Mizzou, I wrestled in high school there at North West high school and then went to Mizzou, and then realised I had this calling on my mind, and I was good at physical hand to hand combat.
“I wanted to give it a try but it was never something I wanted to do and I never really thought I could ever become a professional athlete.
“I was just a small guy, from a small town, who was talking to do small things because going outside those county lines meant you were taking too big of a chance on yourself and you may fall flat on your face.
“I think my story resonates with a lot of people.”
Chandler beat the odds and made believers out of people as he won nine straight in the cage before beating Eddie Alvarez for the Bellator lightweight title.
With only five defeats in his 26 fights, it looked as though the American would become one of the best to have never fought in the UFC.
Despite years of loyalty to Bellator – where he cemented himself as a star – Chandler believed now was the time to move on.
Chandler spent nine years at Bellator with three title reigns Credit: Getty Images
And when UFC president Dana White did come calling, he was prepared to risk his legacy and become the new contender on the block.
Chandler said: “For some reason, doors stayed closed for a certain amount of time, until they’re ready to be opened.
“It just seemed like this was the right time.
“Going into free agency, it was the scariest moment of my life, during a worldwide pandemic, training partners testing positive for Covid.
“The last fight of your contract you have to show up, you have to show out, you have to show the world who you are.
“I came out with a knockout in my last fight and went into free agency with a bang.
“When I had that first meeting with Hunter Campbell and had that phone call with Dana, I knew this was always were I wanted to end up but right now is the right time.”
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