UFC 262: Michael Chandler seeks career validation with lightweight crown

To be considered the best lightweight mixed martial artist in the world, Michael Chandler always knew he would need to wear UFC gold.

The former US college wrestling standout is days away from his dream, when he meets Brazilian submission wiz Charles Oliveira for the vacant lightweight title at UFC 262.

Chandler is no rookie in combat sports, after a decade in Bellator MMA, claiming the organisation's 155-pound title three times and the lightweight tournament crown in 2011.

The 35-year-old was recruited by the UFC in 2020, debuting against Kiwi Dan 'Hangman' Hooker at Abu Dhabi in January.

Chandler viciously disposed of Hooker with a thumping left hook in the first round to earn his 22nd career victory and position himself as top contender for the title vacated by undefeated Russian Khabib Nurmagomedov.

On Sunday (NZ time), he faces UFC veteran Oliveira (30-8), who is riding a phenomenal eight-fight win streak to resurrect his career.

"Even being a world champion in Bellator, I knew I could never call myself No.1, unless I won the UFC title," Chandler tells Newshub.

"I can't say I always looked at the UFC as an end game of my career, but there has been this perfect storm of happenings that has led me to this fight.

"My contract was up with Bellator, and I knew I wanted to come here and Dana [White] wanted me, so that happened very quickly.

"I beat a tough guy in Dan Hooker and then Khabib retired, then they booked Dustin [Poirer] and Conor [McGregor] for their rematch, and that kinda left me and Charles in line for the title.

"This is the biggest fight of my career - I'm not here for a long time, but I'm here to cement my legacy and that starts on Saturday."

Chandler hopes his UFC 257 win over Hooker has expanded his fan base downunder.

The American holds the City Kickboxing striker in high regard and considers Hooker one of the toughest opponents of his career.

Chandler's UFC signing saw many of the top 10 call for a fight with the Missouri native, but the Kiwi was the one to put pen to paper.

"I have so much respect for that man," Chandler tells Newshub. A lot of guys talked a big game, but he's the only one who stepped up to the plate to take a swing at me. 

"He is a family man from a fantastic gym - much like me - and to step in the cage with me - an outsider with no ranking - that took a lot of guts and I hope down the line, I can repay that and we can run it back for the title.

"I hope to come down to New Zealand sometime. It looks like a beautiful country and with people like Dan Hooker representing it, I'd be honoured to fight there."

Michael Chandler knocked out Dan Hooker in January
Michael Chandler knocked out Dan Hooker in January Photo credit: Getty Images
Charles Oliveira and Michael Chandler
Charles Oliveira and Michael Chandler Photo credit: Getty Images

And Chandler would be more than willing to play second fiddle to Nigerian-born Kiwi UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya.

Adesanya is scheduled to meet Italian Marvin Vettori in his first title defence of 2021 next month and should he get past that challenge, a rematch with Australian Robert Whittaker awaits.

UFC president White hasn't ruled out a major event taking place in New Zealand, should the borders reopen, and Chandler is all for fighting down the card from one of the sport's biggest stars.

"Oh man, that would be epic. Izzy is a huge star and an amazing fighter, and it would only benefit my career to be on a card headlined by 'Stylebender' in his own hometown.

"It's all about eyeballs on the sport and that's what Izzy brings, so to fight in New Zealand on an Adesanya card would be a cool moment."

Watch UFC 262 live on Spark Sport on Sunday.