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15 Oct, 2020 12:46

Khabib says UFC new boy Michael Chandler is 'number one contender' – if he beats teammate Islam Makhachev

Khabib says UFC new boy Michael Chandler is 'number one contender' – if he beats teammate Islam Makhachev

Say what you will about UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov but he is nothing if not loyal, as he attempts to arrange a top contender matchup between his teammate Islam Makhachev and UFC newcomer Michael Chandler.

The 18-1 Makhachev who, like Khabib, was trained by the late Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov, remains without a ranked victory in his eight fights within the UFC to date - but recent statements from his camp, as well as from his manager Ali Abdelaziz, suggest that they believe he is ready to take on the elite fighters at 155lbs.

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Abdelaziz has been particularly vocal in attempting to arrange fights for Makhachev with the UFC's top-ranked lightweights but these suggestions haven't yet yielded results.

The latest name being suggested is that of former Bellator champion Michael Chandler, who inked a UFC contract several weeks ago. Chandler, 34, has been placed in the position of backup to this month's UFC 254 main event between Khabib and Justin Gaethje and while no fight fan in their right mind actually wants to see Chandler's debut come at the expense the highly-anticipated title fight on 'Fight Island'.

However, one of the men in that fight - Khabib Nurmagomedov - says that Chandler could prove to be exactly the type of test that Makhachev needs to cement his candidacy as a top contender in the UFC's lightweight fold - and vice versa.

And the carrot on the stick? Should Chandler win, Khabib says he will consider him next up for a shot at his world title.

Speaking on his podcast, former UFC title contender Chael Sonnen detailed a conversation he recently had with Khabib in which the Russian champion said that he thinks Makhachev could easily be considered the top contender for his lightweight belt should he beat Chandler in his maiden UFC bout, but that the same would be true of Chandler should he win.

"He said, 'there’s no one I’m closer to than Islam,'" Sonnen detailed. "And he said, ‘I’m telling you right now, if Michael Chandler beats Islam, I will view Michael Chandler as the number one contender, and I want you to get the message out.'

"I said, 'OK, Khabib, when I get the message out, I’m gonna say you called me, you told me this.' He goes, 'That’s what I’m doing. Get that message out.'"

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If Sonnen and Khabib are on the same page here, it remains to be seen if the same could be said of the UFC's perspective on this. The recently-arranged January fight between Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier has obvious world title implications, while Tony Ferguson remains hovering near the top of the division despite suffering his first loss in eight years to Justin Gaethje earlier this year.

So with a logjam forming at the top of the lightweight frame, it seems certain that some fighters are going to have to wait longer than they would have liked for a world title shot - but it is no doubt a benefit to Islam Makhachev, and indeed Michael Chandler by proxy, that they have the champion lobbying their cause.