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SportsMixed Martial Arts

Michael Chandler signs with UFC and will be UFC 254 backup fighter for Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Justin Gaethje

Michael Chandler against Brent Primus during their mixed

Michael Chandler against Brent Primus during their mixed martial arts bout for the lightweight title at Bellator 180 on June 24, 2017, in New York. Credit: AP/Gregory Payan

In Bellator MMA’s 12 years of existence, Michael Chandler has carried the weight of the promotion like no other fighter, making 23 walks to the cage since 2010.

That run ended Thursday afternoon.

Chandler, a former Bellator lightweight champion, signed a contract to join the UFC,

"We have signed Michael Chandler," UFC president Dana White announced during an appearance on SportsCenter on Thursday. "Michael Chandler is now part of the UFC."

With a 21-5 career record, Chandler appears to be in the title conversation right away.

White said Chandler could be in action quickly as he’ll serve as the backup for next month’s lightweight title fight between undefeated champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje at UFC 254 in Abu Dhabi.

With Bellator, Chandler won the lightweight title on three occasions. His first championship came in old-school Bellator fashion as he fought through the promotion’s Season 4 lightweight tournament en route to a victory over Eddie Alvarez for the title in 2011. Chandler defended the belt twice before falling to Alvarez in a 2013 rematch, then lost twice to Will Brooks in interim and full title bouts. Chandler rebounded with two wins before recapturing the vacant lightweight title against Patricky Freire in 2016 and defending against Benson Henderson.

A leg injury during a 2017 bout with Brent Primus resulted in a TKO loss and the end of Chandler’s second reign, but he again rebounded to defeat Primus for the belt in 2018. Patricio Friere took the title from Chandler in May 2019, but Chandler finished his Bellator career with KO victories over Sidney Outlaw and Henderson to set up his move to the UFC.

New York Sports