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Michael Chandler reveals how he’ll beat Khabib, Gaethje if he gets UFC 254 replacement spot

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Michael Chandler will be ready to step in and fight Khabib Nurmagomedov or Justin Gaethje at UFC 254 if his services as the backup are needed, and he appears to be extremely confident in both potential matchups.

Chandler (21-5 MMA, 0-0 UFC), a former three-time Bellator lightweight champion, was signed to the UFC this month and immediately placed in a prominent position. He will serve as the replacement fighter should Nurmagomedov (28-0 MMA, 12-0 UFC) or Gaethje (22-2 MMA, 5-2 UFC) fail to make it to the octagon for their 155-pound title unification bout on Oct. 24 at Yas Island in Abu Dhabi.

Although Chandler has yet to clash with UFC competition, he said he fancies either potential matchup. He said he’s training hard to get the call on one month, one week or one hours’ notice, and sees both Nurmagomedov and Gaethje as winnable fights for him.

No one has been able to thwart Nurmagomedov in MMA competition thus far, and even winning a round off “The Eagle” has proven to be a near-impossible task. Chandler said he brings something to the table Nurmagomedov has never seen before, though, and thinks it would alter the complexion of what the champion is normally able to do.

“I think I’m the better wrestler than he is,” Chandler said on Sunday during an Instagram Live Q&A. “That’s not to disrespect his wrestling. I think he has shown to be the most dominant wrestler in mixed martial arts, the most dominant wrestler in the world. What he does to guys, he comes forward with reckless abandon, pushes you against the cage, picks you up, put you down and puts you in the Dagestani handcuff. Full mount, side guard, crucifix, half guard or in your guard – the guy is dangerous everywhere. … I will say, he’s never, to my knowledge, fought a Division-I, high-level Division 1 wrestler. I don’t think he’s fought anybody who is a Division-I wrestling All-American. There’s just a different breed out there. There’s a different breed between a high school wrestler who got into mixed martial arts and stopped doing wrestling many years ago and a guy like myself, who was a Division-I wrestling All-American.

“The game plan against Khabib – he’s not going to take me down I don’t think. If he takes me down, he’s not going to hold me down. I’m going to be able to take him down unlike everybody else who has been up to fight him. As we saw in the Khabib versus Al Iaquinta fight, when he can’t take you down he starts to resort to a little bit of sporadicism, a little bit of – he gets off his game. A little bit of seeds of doubt get planted in his head because he knows he doesn’t have great striking, he knows his ability to win the fight is predicated on him being able to get in your face, to put you up against the cage and pick you up and hold you down. That’s the game plan: Don’t get taken down. But that’s everybody’s game plan. So I’m going to sit here and say I won’t get taken down. You guys won’t be able to see it until possibly Oct. 24, or somewhere down the line. Because I will be fighting Khabib Nurmagomedov for the title in the near future. Get ready for it.”

Although it appears Nurmagomedov would be the preferable foe, Chandler said he has high hopes for a fight with Gaethje to materialize eventually, too. He heaped praise on Gaethje for his performance in winning the interim title against Tony Ferguson at UFC 249 in May, but said he sees flaws in “The Highlight” that, while it would mesh for an incredible fight, would ultimately lead to his demise.

“I think Justin Gaethje looked like the best lightweight on the entire planet on the night he fought Tony Ferguson in May,” Chandler said. “He was calm, he was composed, he was sharp, he was throwing combinations to try to take Tony’s head off, but he never got overzealous. He got dropped in the second round, went back to the corner, came back and still stayed composed. He fought like the best lightweight on the entire planet on that night. So the game plan would be, keep my hands up, keep my chin tucked and get into a fist fight with him. I think I can match his cardio, I can go step for step.

“I think I have more power than he does. I think I could string together the wrestling and the grappling and the striking better than he can, and it will be the best fight possibly in UFC history when me and Justin Gaethje step into the cage, and we will step into the cage. I don’t know if it’s going to be for an interim title, I don’t know if it’s going to be for a No. 1 contender spot, I don’t know if it’s just going to be a main event on ESPN at some point down the road. I don’t know when it’s going to be.”

If an opportunity does materialize at UFC 254, Chandler said he’ll be 100 percent ready. He said he’s training daily and will be flying to Abu Dhabi and making championship weight, and he also didn’t rule out getting an actual opponent booked so he can fight someone if he’s not needed for the main event.

Chandler said he’s by no means hoping for Nurmagomedov or Gaethje to fall out of the fight, but should it happen, he would expect to deliver a win that would change the landscape of the lightweight division.

“My opponent is to be determined,” Chandler said. “I am the replacement fight, the backup fight on Oct. 24, the Khabib verse Gaethje card. I by no means want to see either of those guys not make it to the fight, obviously. It’s not good for them, it’s not good for the UFC. But, it’s always good to have a replacement, a fallback in order, and what better guy than me?”

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