Michael Chandler signs with UFC, to back up title fight

Former Bellator MMA lightweight champion Michael Chandler has signed an exclusive contract with UFC and will serve as a potential backup to the company's highly anticipated lightweight title fight in October.

UFC president Dana White announced Chandler's signing on SportsCenter.

UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov (28-0) is scheduled to defend his title against interim champion Justin Gaethje (22-2) at UFC 254 on Oct. 24 on Fight Island in Yas Island, Abu Dhabi. White said Chandler will travel to Abu Dhabi and make weight, in the event that either Nurmagomedov or Gaethje is forced to withdraw.

Chandler (21-5) has been considered one of the top fighters competing outside UFC for years. Competing exclusively in Bellator since 2010, Chandler recently fought out his contract in August and tested free agency for the first time in his career.

Chandler, 34, confirmed the signing to ESPN via text message.

"Eventually, hard work pays off. You just have to still be standing there when it does," Chandler told ESPN. "I'm humbled by the opportunity and can't wait to go prove what I have been saying for the past 11 years; that I'm the best lightweight in the world. See you at the top!"

ESPN ranks Chandler as the No. 7 lightweight in the world. He held the Bellator title three times in his career, first winning the championship in 2011 by defeating Eddie Alvarez in a fight-of-the-year candidate. Chandler's highest-profile wins have come against Alvarez and former UFC champion Benson Henderson, whom he defeated twice. Chandler's last loss came to Bellator's featherweight champion Patricio Freire in May 2019.

UFC tried to book a lightweight fight between Tony Ferguson (25-4) and Dustin Poirier (26-6) for the same date but could not come to terms on a deal with Poirier. Ferguson publicly campaigned to salvage the fight, but UFC ultimately turned to Chandler as a backup for the UFC 254 pay-per-view.

Sources told ESPN's Ariel Helwani that UFC offered Poirier a fight against Chandler on Wednesday but the sides couldn't come to terms. One issue was the same as before -- pay -- but sources also said Poirier wanted to show the same loyalty to Ferguson, who advocated for him publicly and privately.