UFC signs Michael Chandler, who will serve as Khabib vs. Gaethje back-up

September 17, 2020

Former Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler is no longer a free agent. UFC president Dana White on Thursday revealed that the promotion had signed Chandler to act as a back-up option for UFC 254 on Oct. 24 on Fight Island.

UFC 254 is the second of two pay-per-view events that bookend the UFC’s return to Fight Island in Abu Dhabi. Lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov is set to unify his belt with that of interim titleholder Justin Gaethje in the main event.

UFC 253 kicks off the promotion’s return to Abu Dhabi with middleweight champion Israel Adesanya defending his title opposite Paulo Costa.

With Nurmagomedov’s history of sporadic issues keeping him from making it to the cage, as well as the era of COVID-19 forced withdrawals, the UFC wanted to have a back-up plan in place for such a marquee UFC 254 headliner.

The original plan was to have former interim beltholders Tony Ferguson and Dustin Poirier square off on the card with one or the other able to step into the main event, as necessary. But when the UFC was unable to come to terms with Poirier, they shifted to Chandler as an option.

“The last fight, when we leave (Fight Island), Oct. 24 is gonna be Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Justin Gaethje,” White said on ESPN’s SportsCenter on Thursday.

“We have signed Michael Chandler. Michael Chandler is now a part of the UFC. He will be in Abu Dhabi on (Oct. 24) as a back-up in case anything happens to either one of these fighters in the main event.”

Just a few days ago, White had said that Ferguson was still targeted to be on the UFC 254 fight card, but did not reveal the planned opponent.

Many insiders pointed to Chandler as a likely option, but White has not indicated that Chandler would have a fight lined up for UFC 254, only that he would serve as the back-up if either main eventer dropped out.

White has not yet addressed Ferguson any further. So it remains to be seen if he will still be fighting at UFC 254 in Abu Dhabi.

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